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posted: 8/30/2011 12:01 AM

Libertyville's Casa Bonita cooks up homey Mexican fare

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  • Molcajete -- skirt steak with green onions, banana peppers, queso fresco and black beans -- is one of the options at Casa Bonita in Libertyville.

       Molcajete -- skirt steak with green onions, banana peppers, queso fresco and black beans -- is one of the options at Casa Bonita in Libertyville.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Guacamole and chips make an easy choice for a starter at Casa Bonita in Libertyville.

       Guacamole and chips make an easy choice for a starter at Casa Bonita in Libertyville.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Owner Alicia Patterson and chef Reynaldo Perez serve a wide variety of Mexican fare at Casa Bonita in Libertyville.

       Owner Alicia Patterson and chef Reynaldo Perez serve a wide variety of Mexican fare at Casa Bonita in Libertyville.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Bartender German Marquez offers up a selection of tequilas in the bar at Casa Bonita in Libertyville.

       Bartender German Marquez offers up a selection of tequilas in the bar at Casa Bonita in Libertyville.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Louise Harkin, left, of Glencoe dines with husband John, daughter Ellys, 13, and her daughter's friend Ellie Kalman, 13, at Casa Bonita in Libertyville.

       Louise Harkin, left, of Glencoe dines with husband John, daughter Ellys, 13, and her daughter's friend Ellie Kalman, 13, at Casa Bonita in Libertyville.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Red snapper is served Yucatan-style at Casa Bonita in Libertyville. The fish is wrapped in a banana leaf and baked with onions, tomatoes and peppers in an ajiote sauce.

       Red snapper is served Yucatan-style at Casa Bonita in Libertyville. The fish is wrapped in a banana leaf and baked with onions, tomatoes and peppers in an ajiote sauce.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Casa Bonita's camarones Acapulco features butterflied Gulf shrimp in garlic butter with a rosemary and garlic wine sauce.

       Casa Bonita's camarones Acapulco features butterflied Gulf shrimp in garlic butter with a rosemary and garlic wine sauce.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Casa Bonita sits along Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville.

       Casa Bonita sits along Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
By Carolyn Walkup

Mi casa, su casa -- my house is your house -- is a welcoming Spanish phrase that fits the atmosphere at Casa Bonita in downtown Libertyville.

An attractive hacienda-style dining room with hand-painted wall murals sets the scene for a homey meal. The bar side of the large room replicates the more casual feel of a beach-side cantina. Weather permitting, sidewalk seating gives diners an open-air option.

After being greeted and seated by the hostess, a server quickly brought over a basket of freshly made chips with two salsas. Both salsas were relatively mild: the pico de gallo -- a classic mixture of fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic, cilantro, jalapeņo and lime juice -- and the smoky chipotle, providing an interesting contrast of flavors.

There were enough chips to accompany the guacamole we ordered, which was presented in an edible hard taco shell bowl. A house specialty, this creamy-textured version was mildly flavored and wonderfully fresh.

Several other botanas (appetizers) are available, including a combination platter of shredded beef flautas (tortillas stuffed and deep-fried), chicken quesadillas and ground beef nachos with sour cream, all intended to serve at least four. A Mexican version of shrimp cocktail, served with avocado slices and chips or saltines, is a popular favorite.

The large menu makes selecting entrees challenging. Among the items designated as Casa Bonita's house specialties are steak relleno, grilled skirt steak stuffed with Gulf shrimp, sweet peppers, grilled onions, mushrooms and cheese; and pescado Yucatan-style, red snapper filet wrapped in a banana leaf and baked with onions, tomatoes and sweet peppers.

After much perusing, I chose the trio of enchiladas -- corn tortilla-wrapped chicken, cheese and seasoned ground beef, all topped with melted Chihuahua cheese. The chicken came with ranchero sauce, the beef with salsa Verde and the cheese with mole.

Presentation on a large oval platter with refried beans, golden Mexican rice and shredded lettuce left no space between the enchiladas, causing the sauces to run together somewhat. I most enjoyed the cheese with salsa Verde -- a tangy sauce based on tomatillos -- and also the beef with mole. All sauces were medium in heat, which suits the palates of many of us who grew up on more bland cuisines.

My companion chose tacos al pastor in flour tortillas -- grilled chunks of marinated pork loin, onions and cilantro, accompanied by guacamole as well as the ubiquitous refried beans and rice. This choice is another Mexican classic I've often enjoyed, but the pork was rather dry. Adding salsa from our first course pepped up the flavor.

Saving a little room for dessert from the five choices, we shared one order of pastel de tres leches, the traditional white cake made with three milks (none of them fat-free, by the way). A drizzle of dark chocolate and a strawberry accent made a pretty presentation, and the cake was perfect -- moist and rich -- best savored in small portions.

Coffee was disappointing, not tasting freshly ground, and cups were not kept refilled. Otherwise, service was efficient, if a bit rushed.

Tequilas are the house specialty, with 10 versions of margaritas and a long list of brands. The mostly high-quality sipping tequilas include a premium list of those aged longer than three years and priced from $15 to $45 a shot.

Non-tequila drinkers have a wide choice of other liquors, beers and a few wines.

Casa Bonita is a good choice when you feel like taking a taste trip without the cost of airfare.

Reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not review restaurants it cannot recommend.

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