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updated: 7/10/2014 3:42 PM

El Puerto's menu as stunning as its setting

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  • Chicken fajitas come sizzling hot at El Puerto in Fox Lake. Ask for additional tortillas right away, as the meat and vegetable portion is generous.

       Chicken fajitas come sizzling hot at El Puerto in Fox Lake. Ask for additional tortillas right away, as the meat and vegetable portion is generous.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • El Puerto offers stellar chile relenos.

       El Puerto offers stellar chile relenos.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Caramely and custardy, the flan at El Puerto is the perfect ending to a meal.

       Caramely and custardy, the flan at El Puerto is the perfect ending to a meal.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Owner Saul Moya welcomes diners to El Puerto, a Mexican restaurant on the shores of Nippersink Lake.

       Owner Saul Moya welcomes diners to El Puerto, a Mexican restaurant on the shores of Nippersink Lake.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • El Puerto is on the shores of Nippersink Lake in Fox Lake.

       El Puerto is on the shores of Nippersink Lake in Fox Lake.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • The deck at El Puerto is the beautiful place to enjoy the Ultimate Margarita.

       The deck at El Puerto is the beautiful place to enjoy the Ultimate Margarita.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • El Puerto in Fox Lake is open year-round but especially popular in the summer.

       El Puerto in Fox Lake is open year-round but especially popular in the summer.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • The patio at El Puerto overlooks Nippersink Lake.

       The patio at El Puerto overlooks Nippersink Lake.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
By Jennifer Billock
Daily Herald Correspondent

Fox Lake may be full of lakeside restaurants calling your name, but for fresh, flavorful food, great drinks and a dining room full of bold colors, El Puerto is the must-visit dining spot.

El Puerto (Spanish for "port" and not to be confused with la puerta, Spanish for "door") sits right on Nippersink Lake's shores, at Leisure Point. The restaurant has quickly become my favorite place for Mexican food. With a full bar (try the margaritas), a lakefront patio and a wide selection of seafood, steak and traditional Mexican dishes, El Puerto has something for everyone -- and it's all exceptional.

The restaurant is a cilantro-lover's paradise. The herb is in the salsa, the sauces, sprinkled over the food. We ordered the compuesto appetizer (two bean and cheese nachos, two chorizo Mexican pizzas, two chicken quesadillas and sour cream) and it was smothered with the vibrant leaf specks. If you don't like cilantro, the greenery is easy enough to scrape off and could be held as a garnish.

Cilantro aside, the food was seasoned quite well. Nothing was overpowering, and all three components blended together with ease. Everything was bite-sized and easy to hold, too. This should be the appetizer of choice for large groups, since the little pieces are so easy to grab and carry across the table.

For dinner, we had the chimichangas and the steak and chicken fajitas. Bad news first: The chicken in the chimichangas was pretty dry. Ground beef and chorizo filled the other two respectively, and both of those were exceptional. Just stay away from the chicken.

The chimichangas themselves are somewhat small, so if you want a larger meal, try the enchiladas. The mole sauce exudes spicy, chocolate goodness, and you'll go back to the restaurant many times just for that sauce.

The fajitas arrived on a sizzling plate so aromatic my mouth watered. Both meats were cooked to perfection and seasoned lightly. Peppers and onions accompanied the steak and chicken, along with rice and guacamole. These were a far cry from the fajitas of area chain restaurants. The only downside here is that three tortillas is not enough for a fajita meal. I had to ask for more, and because they were so busy, it took long enough to cool off my food. Otherwise, they were spectacular.

Dessert was flan and a step up from the caramel custard less-superior Mexican restaurants tout on their menus. Thick and creamy and rich but not too sugary, the flan pulled the meal together and ended our dinner on a high, caramel-filled, delicious note.

If you are headed to El Puerto and only have time for one thing, let it be the flan. You won't be disappointed.

Service can be slow on busy days, so sit back and enjoy the view while you wait for your food. Hopefully you're lucky enough to get a table outside with a short wait (El Puerto doesn't take reservations for small parties). The patio is gorgeous and right on the lake, so you'll be able to watch boats pull up to the restaurant's docks and see others having a fun day out on the water. And the sunset view is gorgeous. You can get the same visual perks sitting inside, but nothing beats feeling the fresh lake air on your face as you sit back and relax with a margarita.

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

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