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updated: 4/2/2014 8:59 AM

Naperville's Zapatista does Mexican right

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  • House guacamole is made to order at Zapatista restaurant in Naperville.

       House guacamole is made to order at Zapatista restaurant in Naperville.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Steak and shrimp fajitas molecajete at Zapatista restaurant in Naperville.

       Steak and shrimp fajitas molecajete at Zapatista restaurant in Naperville.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Chicken torta and house salad at Zapatista restaurant in Naperville.

       Chicken torta and house salad at Zapatista restaurant in Naperville.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Plantain sopecitos is a pleasant way to start a meal at Zapatista restaurant in Naperville.

       Plantain sopecitos is a pleasant way to start a meal at Zapatista restaurant in Naperville.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Zapatista delights diners with flan of the day.

       Zapatista delights diners with flan of the day.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Zapatista opened in Naperville in early 2013. Its sister eateries are in Northbrook and Chicago.

       Zapatista opened in Naperville in early 2013. Its sister eateries are in Northbrook and Chicago.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Zapatista opened in Naperville in early 2013. It has sister eateries in Northbrook and Chicago.

       Zapatista opened in Naperville in early 2013. It has sister eateries in Northbrook and Chicago.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
By Thomas Witom
Daily Herald Correspondent

Mexican restaurants are an abiding and popular feature on our culinary landscape. The problem, however, is that many seem content to get by with less-than-stellar service and dishes that, however authentic, too often border on the humdrum.

Not so with Zapatista in Naperville. This stylish establishment, which debuted in January 2013, raises the bar a notch with its well-conceived and well-executed menu focused on traditional regional Mexican fare.

Diners can find representative dishes such as tacos al pastor (featuring adobo-marinated pork, pineapple relish, onion and cilantro) from the northeast part of the country to Huachinango Veracruza (pan-roasted red snapper) to tamales (corn tortillas with poblanos, panela cheese and mole verde) from Oaxaca.

The meal starts with complimentary tortilla chips and a lively red salsa -- a good munch while perusing the bar's plentiful offerings from house-made margaritas and a selection of wine, beer and sangria to more than 75 tequilas.

Lunch specials, including gluten-free and vegetarian options, are offered daily, and one can order from the dinner menu at any time.

Guacamole, an afterthought at a lot of places, is a standout at Zapatista. This tasty shareable appetizer ($8.99) -- mashed avocado nicely seasoned with onion, garlic, lime juice and diced tomatoes -- is made to order with spice levels to suit individual preferences.

Ceviche, queso fundido (Mexico's answer to cheese fondue) and smoked chicken empanada were among other available starters.

Enchiladas de Mariscos, my main course, at $23 was pricey but worth every penny. It came with three flour tortillas stuffed with pan-seared tilapia and topped with four shrimp and a single sea scallop (two would have been better) in a delectably creamy chipotle sauce. Sides of black beans and Mexican rice shared space on the plate.

A dish that had comfort food written all over it, spinach and mushroom quesadilla, pleased my wife. It also came with caramelized onions and chihuahua cheese and an optional supplement of chicken. Positive experiences with the chilles rellenos and carne asada burrito were also reported by the two other diners who completed our party.

The meal ended on a high note as we shared two noteworthy desserts, including a mousse-filled chocolate torta and a showy Platanos Estilo Foster. The latter, flambeed tableside, featured caramelized plantains, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla-infused tequila and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Other treats included such standards as flan and tres leches cake.

Zapatista accepts reservations and seats about 75 at tables and snug booths in the main dining room, plus more at the adjoining lounge. There's free Wi-Fi connectivity and the restaurant can handle private gatherings and catered events.

The staff is attentive and knowledgeable. And our waiter informed us that live music was planned for Thursday nights after 7 p.m.

• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.

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