Our guidelines for this experiment were no fast food chains and no greasy spoons. That said, there are plenty of places to find a good meal for less than ten bucks, including a family-run Mexican restaurant in Villa Park, where there's much more on the menu than just chips and salsa.
Fast food Mexican is one thing, but freshly-made Mexican with high-quality ingredients is another thing completely. At first glance, Villa Park's Tierra Grill looks like a chalet, perhaps the remnant of a long-ago fast food joint. But inside, it's all about recipes that have been passed down over time.
"All our recipes, they're from my grandma, who was from Jerez, Zacatecas. So, basically, most of these are all her recipes; some of them are my dad's," said Daniel Diaz, Tierra Grill.
Flautas are fried, but then topped with a homemade salsa containing tomatillos, cilantro and jalapenos. A tequila salad contains romaine and red onions tossed with a lime-tequila dressing; fresh avocado, cotija cheese and crispy tortilla strips add a good crunch. Tortilla soup has a nice chicken broth, it's also topped with those crispy tortilla strips.. and a Tex-Mex platter of fajitas comes with the usual sides of guac, sour cream cheese and lettuce.
Charbroiled chicken is another winner, arriving with Mexican rice, refried or black beans, but the most original dish they offer here is something called a trenza.
"A trenza is our version of a calzone. We make them fresh everyday; we have three flavors: chicken fajita, vegetable and steak and potato," said Diaz.
Beginning with a homemade dough, it's rolled out until just thin enough to hold ingredients, but sturdy nonetheless. Fitted over a baking sheet, a homemade tomato sauce is ladled across the center. In the case of the veggie, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, poblano peppers and broccoli are piled on, then a mound of freshly-grated chihuahua cheese. The dough is sliced along the sides, which allows them to fold the trenza dough over, much like a braided bread. After it bakes for about 25 minutes, it's ready to serve.
Dessert highlights include a mild tres leches in a shallow pool of condensed milk, super-soft and creamy flan and a ridiculously sweet chocolate bread pudding topped with walnuts and kahlua caramel sauce.
Diaz says like everything else on the menu, the dishes are a result of getting the best products they can.
"We always make sure we get fresh ingredients everyday."
The restaurant also has a large, outdoor patio, which is the perfect place on a warm day to sip some homemade horchata.
535 E. St. Charles Rd., Villa Park