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  WINDY CITY TIMES

SAVOR The Outpost Mexican Eatery; Mercadito
DISH Dining Guide
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2020-09-29

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For the last print issue of Windy City Times, there are two restaurants in the spotlight—and they both happen to be Mexican eateries.

The Outpost Mexican Eatery

The Outpost Mexican Eatery ( 520 W. Harrison St.; TheOutpostMexicanEatery.com ) is seemingly not accurately named. An outpost is a remote spot, and this quaint eatery is a two-minute walk from the Clinton Blue Line stop.

However, that's just a quibble about this spot that specializes in authentic Mexican cuisine.

Owner/operator Anna Kamilis and chef/business partner Jesus Martinez were strategic in opening this restaurant, as it's near the Old Post Office ( a nine-story structure that was recently in the news for its 3.5-acre rooftop park that has tennis and basketball courts ). However, the timing was unfortunate, to put things mildly. "We opened March 1," said Kamilis, who is straightforward but very amiable. "Unfortunately, the pandemic hit and the shutdown happened. Then we reopened only curbside and delivery in April and half of May. On June 3, we opened [the interior]."

When asked about opening during a pandemic, Kamilis replied: "We're here anyway. What am I going to do—stay closed and not make any money?" She added that some nearby residents and construction workers "have been wonderful." However, she said that the place "is missing about 300,000 people from other [adjacent] buildings," such as the Old Post Office and the FBI building."

However, Kamilis said that the pandemic is only part of the problem. "It wasn't just the COVID; it was also the rioting and looting. The pandemic was the cake and the rioting and looting were the icing. I live in the suburbs and people looked at me like I was crazy when I said I was going into the city—because of how Chicago was being portrayed."

The menu is as straightforward as Kamilis. When there are only a few items on the menu, they better be done well—and they certainly are. "I like making what people like the most," Martinez told Windy City Times, "but I like putting a traditional twist to it. So, like instead of the regular ground beef, I have a picadillo—which is Mexican-style—that's like a stew." And the chorizo doesn't get more authentic: It's Martinez's dad's recipe.

Authentic tacos, burritos, sides and snacks are all made with premium ingredients, including steakhouse-cut USDA Prime Angus beef, fine local produce, housemade tortilla chips and hand-crafted salsas. The steak burrito bowl I had was sublime, as well as the kicky chorizo/eggs combo. ( Breakfast is served all day. ) The horchata was pretty good, although I detected a little grit.

Hopefully, when the dust has settled and a COVID-19 vaccine is found, I've no doubt The Outpost will still be here. It should, for at least two reasons: the will of Kamilis and the cuisine from Martinez.

Mercadito

If The Outpost is blue-collar, then Mercadito ( 108 W. Kinzie St.; MercaditoRiverNorth.com ) may be its white-collar equivalent. Mercadito specializes in Mexican dishes, but it also has that River North vibe ( which doesn't work for everyone ).

Starting with a cocktail is seldom wrong—and it's a wonderful thing to do here. My friend loved her sangria while I went with the delightful Misty's Sleeve ( which includes Don Julio Blanco, ginger, hibiscus, orange, lime, green yucateco and hibiscus salt ).

That drink set the scene for quite the experience. For an appetizer, I opted for the divine street quesadillas ( with Mexican cheese, corn, poblano, zucchini, tomatillo salsa and crema fresca ) while my dining companion couldn't stop raving about her crispy chipotle shrimp, falling in love ( or at least heavy like ) with the jicama that's part of the dish. Entrees then went in different directions for us; I loved my steak tacos ( with avocado salsa ), but my friend only liked her shrimp tacos, much preferring the beer-battered crustaceans in her appetizer. If you have room after trying the apps and entrees, try the tres leches cake, which was delicious and more than moist. ( Can a cake be wet? )

In addition, there are vegetable sides, including esquites/elotes, Brussels sprouts with chorizo ( absolutely wonderful ), and mac and cheese with poblano and Chihuahua cheese. And of course, there are various salsa and guacamoles, of differing heat levels.

Guests may pre-order meals and cocktail kits to go directly online, or with Uber Eats or Grubhub. However, if you choose to dine at the venue, be aware that conditions were extremely safe ( including coded menus that you download to your phone ), adhering to the city's guidelines.

One note: I want to thank the people who have read Dish in the print issues of Windy City Times. Your feedback has meant so much.


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