From-scratch Mexican dishes make Naperville's Quiubo a must-try
Intimate. Urban. Lively. If you miss the inherent energy of many downtown Chicago eateries -- tables situated close together in a low-lit room, groups of friends talking animatedly, sometimes funky music played a little too loud, and delectable craft food and drinks -- not to worry. Quiubo (pronounced cue-boh) in downtown Naperville's Water Street District fills the bill, and how.
The newest restaurant from the Bien Trucha Group, which includes Bien Trucha in Geneva and a toda madre in Glen Ellyn, opened in March. Serving seasonal Mexican dishes made from scratch in a fun environment has been quite a draw. So much so that I would recommend making reservations, preferably a few days in advance. Especially if you plan to stop by on a Friday or Saturday night. Or even a Sunday, when the small industrial-tinged dining room was nearly filled to capacity. And while the bar near the entrance was mostly empty on our visit, my guess is that it gets quite crowded on weekends or during pachanga (the daily happy hour from 3 to 5 p.m.).
No matter though if you have to spend a few minutes at the bar, as the craft mixed drinks are all made from freshly squeezed juices -- no pre-made syrups here. Plus, there are seven mostly local craft beers on tap as well as Mexican beers on the menu and a small selection of red and white wines hailing from Portugal, Chile, Spain and Argentina. If you prefer to go the nonalcoholical route, I recommend the limonada. A refreshing bubbly lemonade made with fresh lime juice, sugar and soda -- it was better than any fresh lemonade I've had in Mexico.
Our friendly and informative server explained that Quiubo is a scratch kitchen that emphasizes freshness, more along the lines of a tapas restaurant where sharing is encouraged and dishes come to the table as soon as they're ready. While we perused the menu, I couldn't help but notice the brightly painted murals by Mexican painter Spaik decorating the silvery concrete walls. The oversized blue serpent behind the bar lends a whimsical air, which made me smile.
As for the fare -- share, we did. Complimentary crispy corn tortilla chips accompanied by a small bowl of steaming refried beans arrived at our table. We used the second basket of chips to scoop up our decent-size appetizer, the creamy, juicy langosta ceviche -- Maine lobster and tilapia with roasted corn, onions, cilantro, chayote, guajillo and mango citrus juice. The piquant flavors blended together seamlessly. This was a table favorite.
We also shared two orders of tacos, which come four to a wood tray. The Bientrucha tacos (grilled skirt steak, chorizo, melted Chihuahua cheese and roasted tomatillo-serrano salsa) were quite good and filling. The chopped skirt steak was lean and tender. While there was a bit of a burn from the peppers and chorizo, it wasn't overwhelming. The barbacoa tacos -- the winner in my book -- were filled with melt-in-your-mouth braised short ribs, pepino relish, melted Chihuahua cheese, scallions, lettuce and avocado-salsa cruda. Again, these weren't too spicy, but I prefer mild heat so the flavors, especially the delicious meat, shine through. I would definitely order these again, but with a little less lettuce, which seems more like an unnecessary filler.
Of note: The tacos are messy, with fillings oozing out the side if you're not careful.
For sides, we ordered the arroz (white rice, poblano peppers, sour cream and Chihuahua cheese) and papas (potato cubes, adobo salsa and queso cotija) with the recommended fried egg on top. While initially skeptical of the arroz (sour cream and Chihuahua cheese mixed with rice?), the tasty concoction was just the right combination of creamy and sticky. The papas, while decently seasoned, were slightly greasy. The fried egg was a nice touch, but it probably wasn't necessary.
Of the three dulce options, the churros, which our server said were the most popular, won out. The piping hot fried dough was tempered with cinnamon sugar, ice cream and a squiggle of caramel-guajillo sauce. It didn't stand a chance as my daughters quickly divided up and devoured the dessert.
Service throughout was seamless and well-paced. As a nice gesture, our waiter brought out two petite scoops of ice cream drizzled with the sweet but savory caramel-guajillo sauce for me as he knew that I couldn't try the gluten-containing confections. A plus for service.
I'm looking forward to a return visit to Quiubo -- really, it can't come soon enough.
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120 Water St., Suite 122, Naperville, (331) 702-2711 or quiubomx.com/
Cuisine: Modern Mexican
Setting: Urban, intimate restaurant and bar
Prices: Primeros: $3-$14; segundos: $7-$16; tacos: $11-$13; fuertes (entrees): $19-$24; dulces: $8
Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday; happy hour: 3 to 5 p.m. every day (only bar and lounge service with limited menu); dinner: 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday; 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Sunday brunch: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.