Lulo's Cuban Cafe in Grayslake is truly a family affair.
The brother-sister team of Rick Felipez and Hayden Felipez-Taylor own and run this casual and vibrant eatery at Prairie Crossing and a young girl can often be seen helping her family make making sandwiches. I wonder, too, if anyone in the family plays the piano sitting in the dining room.
Lulo's Cuban Cafe970 Harris Road, Grayslake
Setting: Casual, intimate
Entrees: $6 to $13
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
When I stopped in on a recent evening, Felipez-Taylor (also the chef) had stepped out and while that meant we had to wait for her to return before we got our meals, it was refreshing to know that someone without the Cuban food expertise was making our food.
This is Felipez-Taylor's first restaurant, and one she should be proud of. The Cuban flavors shine and make Lulo's a great place for a quick lunch or a sit-down dinner with friends and family.
We started with the black bean soup and croquetas. The soup was thick and heavy with beans and was spiced well enough to taste more than just the earthy beans. It came with a lime wedge that added a nice acidity to the dish. A dollop of sour cream on top would have been a nice cap to the soup.
The croquetas are practically the size of tennis balls, filled with a piping hot mixture of minced ham, potato and onion and deep-fried. They're creamy and light inside and crunchy on the outside. Get someone to share the order with, though -- with three to an order these are incredibly filling.
The Cuban sandwich stacked with ham, roasted pork and Swiss cheese was good, but I expected something a little different. At Lulo's the traditional mustard has been substituted with a mojo dipping sauce, a spicy citrus condiment. The sauce mingles well with the flavors in the sandwich, but in my mind nothing can replace the standard mustard. This sandwich's other major flaw was the pickle. The thin slices had little to no flavor and added nothing but a little crunch to the sandwich. Pulled pork or ropa vieja (shredded beef) might have been better options.
My dining partner had the fish and chips special, available every Friday. The halibut provided a refreshing step away from the traditional cod. The gluten-free batter was light yet still crispy falling halfway between a tempura and a beer batter. Big chunks in the tartar sauce made it a little difficult to get much on the fish with a dipping motion, so piling it on with a fork was the way to go. Skinny, crispy fries with a light seasoning added to the Cuban flair spicing up the standard Friday meal.
Other entrees include traditional baked chicken with yellow rice, marinated steak with sauted onions.
Two desserts are on the menu and I went with flan over the lemon and almond polenta cake. Now, I've worked as a pastry chef and I've tried lots of flan and this was hands-down the best I've eaten. It was denser and creamier than others I've enjoyed and chef Taylor later told me she adds the cream cheese to the custard (genius!). The sauce had just the right amount of bitter caramel flavor to take the dish to the next level. The only thing that would have made it better would be a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.
The family atmosphere and friendly attitude, as well as the food, will keep me coming back to Lulo's. It's a great choice for a local restaurant with a unique ethnic flair.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.