At Momcorn in Gurnee, it's all in the name. The restaurant's main draw: maize.
Maize as in corn on the cob, corn tortillas, corn-based drinks, handmade tamales.
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Momcorn5101 Washington St., Gurnee, (224) 610-0407, momcorn.com
Cuisine: Authentic Latin American
Setting: Casual, friendly walk-in
Entrees: $2 to $9
Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
Perhaps "popcorn" is the first word that pops to mind when you hear "corn," but co-owners Kathy Ross and Sergio Rivera wanted to pay homage to the woman in everyone's life and give Mom her time in the spotlight.
Momcorn serves a mix of authentic Latin American and Mexican food; many menu items are gluten-free and made from scratch. Although no alcohol is available, the drink choices (Coke products, fruity virgin sangria and two Mexican sodas) do not disappoint. Aside from those, get the Chicha Morada. It's a Peruvian drink made from corn (of course) brewed with clove, cinnamon and lemon into a chilled drink. The taste is similar to an iced fruity chai tea. That drink alone is enough to make me want to come back, but the fresh, quality ingredients on the menu add a feather to the restaurant's cap.
The corn theme is evident throughout the restaurant, with the walls painted yellow and green and artistic shots of corn hanging everywhere. Nearly everything on the menu is corn-based, and the star attraction is the corn on the cob, or elote. This dish comes smothered in a mix of mayonnaise, paprika and cheese. For a less messy experience, get it served in a cup. The best thing about this sweet corn is that it's always cooked perfectly. It's not mushy and has the nice firm "pop" of fresh corn kernels.
We started with the elote and an order of tostones. The fried plantain slices were mildly sweet and had just enough salt to really bring out the plantain's essence. We also tried the tortilla soup and the pozole soup, which had hominy, chicken, onion, cabbage, red sauce and lime. I was surprised to see that even though we let the tortilla soup sit for a few minutes, the corn tortilla strips stayed crispy through the end of the cup. A word of warning about the pozole soup: You may be told it's not TOO spicy, but don't be fooled. One spoonful had me sputtering and trying to deal with the fire. The first bite may be a doozy, but stick with it -- the soup is quite good.
For dinner, I had the chicken chimichangas (beans, rice, chicken and veggies wrapped in a deep-fried tortilla). The menu says the vegetables are on the side, but make sure you ask for that specifically -- mine were tossed into the wrap with everything else. The chicken was wonderfully juicy and although it made the tortilla fall apart, it was the crowning jewel of the dish.
We also had a chicken tamale (made fresh by Ross and never frozen), flautas and a ground beef burrito. On the whole, the entrees seemed to lack seasoning, but the fresh ingredients chef Arturo Nunez uses make up for the slight imbalance in flavor. Even with just one bite, we could tell none of the food had been frozen and no ingredients languished in a cooler for a few days before use. Everything was top-shelf quality.
Our other dining partner took advantage of a special meal not on the regular menu. The 300 Likes Plate was created in celebration of the restaurant reaching 300 likes on Facebook. It comes with seasoned tilapia and the Latin salsa salad, both on the spicy side but flavorful with hints of citrus.
For dessert, the sweet empanadas come filled with your choice of strawberry, guava or pineapple; we chose guava. Creamy cheese and a piece of guava resembling a thick jam were stuffed inside pockets of dough and deep fried. It was crispy and warm with a mild sweetness to the fruit. The dessert comes in a small portion, so we chose to add to the sweet fried flautas. Only one flauta cut in half comes with the order, but it is packed full of caramelized plantain with a cinnamon caramel sauce. It tasted great, but the cost for such a small portion would deter me from ordering it again.
If you don't see the binder on the counter when you get there, make sure to ask for a copy of the secret menu. I won't give away the surprise, but I can say for sure that you won't be sorry you asked.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.