Salsa Street's standout South-of-the-border menu surprises, delights in Sleepy Hollow
A conga line of Mexican food fans have found their little slice of Veracruz by way of Sleepy Hollow at Salsa Street Mexican Restaurant & Cantina. Just a few minutes from Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee, the modern eatery's menu leans more toward the Rick Bayless school of South-of-the-border flavor (minus the downtown Chicago prices).
The minimalist dining room has an industrial look with a rectangular wraparound bar at its core. Contemporary Latin music is muy bueno in the background. It was unobtrusive yet complemented our experience on a recent Thursday night. Homemade green salsa, a "crudo" or raw tomatillo sauce, and fresh tortilla chips hit the table even before the menu, which is welcome when your Mexican food craving is urging "vamos a comer." The salsa is bright with a nice acidity but very mild on the heat scale. Up your chili quotient by requesting something hotter, say a habanero salsa. It was hot but certainly not incendiary enough to blow the taste buds before our meal. Mama Huerta makes it in a molcajete (mortar and pestle) in the kitchen. The chips are made from a lighter, white tortilla so you can actually down half the basket and still want to attack your appetizer.
Margaritas aren't my go-to cocktail. But, if you're going to have just one, like me, make it the Street Margarita that uses top-shelf ingredients like Patron Tequila and Gran Marnier. It's outstanding. Even the house margarita ($6) is prepared with Cuervo. Next time I'll opt for the Jalapeno Street-rita made with Cuervo 1800 Tequila, triple sec, citrus lime mix infused with jalapeños and served with a salted rim and a jalapeño slice.
Recently, Salsa Street partnered with George Clooney's tequila business, after which the Paloma -- a one serving-size jar of Clooney's Reposado tequila, grapefruit juice, triple sec, freshly squeezed lime juice and a float of Jarritos grape soda -- was added to the menu. Or choose from more than 10 Mexican beers or mojitos for an authentic complement to your meal.
At Salsa Street you won't have to rifle through pages of laminated images of tacos, enchiladas, burritos and other Mexican items. Salsa Street's menu is compact but varied, modern with a roster of appealing street tacos, yet old school enough to satisfy those who love the classics. Canelo Huerta, chef/owner Beto Huerta's dad, is responsible for the authentic recipes. And Beto's role in the process is ensuring modern palates are offered some big, vital flavors.
The nacho variations are incredibly tempting: among them are Street Nachos piled with refried beans, Chihuahua and cheddar cheeses, pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole and your choice of ground beef, chicken, pork or chorizo (you can get steak or shrimp for an upcharge). We opted for queso fundido chili dip starter, which is a melted cheese dish dotted with pico de gallo and either ground beef or chorizo. The chorizo took the salt level too high for our tastes, so I would choose ground beef next time or be even smarter and go for a platter of nachos or the trio of guacamole: three homemade guacamoles including a classic, a spicy and a signature with roasted Poblano and Anaheim chilies plus crumbly Cotija cheese.
When you see the list of Street Tacos, it's obvious the Huertas have succeeded in their aim to create a standout menu. Colorful, creative tacos include al pastor, citrus-seared shrimp or steak, chicken carnitas and a creamy chicken number among the 13 choices. Tacos are made to order with individual toppings and sauces. My crispy fried fish (with lime cabbage, cilantro slaw and pineapple pico de gallo); chicken tinga cooked in onions, tomato and Chipotle sauce; and steak taco were poles apart in flavor and textures but spot-on delish. I appreciated that the tacos are made with one tortilla (many taquerias use two and skimp on the filling). You can order tacos individually or in a two- or three-platter version that comes with cilantro rice and beans. Next time I'm going for the wild mushroom taco and the Mexican pot roast taco, especially since I learned that the barbacoa is chef Huerta's braised-for-hours pride and joy (you can also get a dinner entree of the pot roast).
My dining partner opted for his favorite: chile relleno. The sizable portion of grilled and stuffed Poblano peppers did not disappoint. They were stuffed with garlic spinach and Chihuahua cheese, dipped in egg batter and sauteed and served on cilantro rice, with beans and salsa.
Salsa Street aims to tweak its menu two to three times per year to stay contemporary. A few new dishes include sizzling pork chops, sizzling chicken and shrimp and a popular roasted vegetarian platter of colorful veggies accompanied by cilantro rice, salsa, pico and tortillas. Those who love the classics can certainly get fresh versions of burritos, chimichangas, enchiladas, quesadillas and various combinations of fajitas, too.
Desserts include flan, fried ice cream, fried plantains with ice cream and fabulous homemade churros filled with caramel and drizzled with chocolate.
We were attended to alternately by a busboy and two young female waitstaff who were friendly, attentive and efficient with requests. Ask for water when you order your drinks or you may not have it on the table when your mouth feels like it's on fire. Leftovers were expertly boxed for us and someone threw in extra chips to accompany the remainder of the queso fundido. Thoughtful extras like this go a long way to snagging return customers.
Food and beverage at Salsa Street is a samba of flavor at truly affordable prices for such high-quality ingredients. Be on the lookout for the opening of the outdoor patio in May and the debut of the Palatine outpost, which will feature the same menu, in March.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.
Salsa Street Mexican Restaurant & Cantina1025 W. Main St., Sleepy Hollow, (847) 551-5489, salsastreetsleepyhollow.com/
Cuisine: Contemporary Mexican
Setting: Spacious, industrial-looking interior in a strip mall
Entrees: $8.99-$14.99; tacos: $3-$4 each or a two-taco platter with rice and beans is $7.99, a three-taco platter is $9.99
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday
Also: Patio seating opens as soon as the weather cooperates; a Palatine location will debut in March