Karen Sorensen and Dawn Aulet have a lot of experience in the news business. They have both spent late nights in newsrooms, covering elections and breaking news - the kinds of stories that make journalists really hungry. So they know a good meal when they get one. But, that does not mean that they agree. So, we bring you the first in an occasional series - "Dine & Dish."
Karen and Dawn headed to La Mex on the recommendation of Joe Hosey, the third editor for Joliet Patch. He loves the place, but he's from New York so what does he know, anyway?
Look up “Mexican restaurant” in the dictionary, and you may well get a photo of .
Most of the time, that's a good thing. The food at this longtime fave is always consistent, fairly priced and solid, and the atmosphere is textbook south of the border, with arched doorways, colorful artwork and wrought-metal lamps casting a golden hue.
If you palate is eager to sample fare beyond the traditional burritos, enchiladas and tacos, however, you'll not be finding it here. Best to head to the East Side of town if you're feeling adventurous.
That said, there is nothing wrong with solid and consistent, and on that count La Mex delivers.
In fact, on this particular Friday, when a long morning made an afternoon margarita mandatory, consistent was most welcome. You won’t go wrong ordering the traditional on-the-rocks variety that La Mex does very well. A nice combo of sweet and salty with enough alcohol to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth and enough flavor to having you downing it like a kid with Kool-Aid on a hot summer day.
For some reason, flautas – sometimes called taquitos, a tube-shaped tortilla stuffed with meat and sometimes cheese -- are my thing when I’m going for “traditional” Mexican (and yes, I know, these aren’t actually “traditional” in that you’re not likely to find them in Mexico).
You won’t go wrong ordering them here. What you’re served isn’t very pretty – it’s a little bit of search to find them under the shredded lettuce, salsa, guacamole and sour cream – but they’re prepared very nicely.
It’s easy to over-fry these, leaving you with something so dry you need to saw to cut through them or so rubbery they should be served with scissors, not to mention leaving the meat -- I typically order chicken -- tasting like bits of straw.
Here, they’re crunchy, flavorful and complemented well by a sweet tomato salsa. While they could have stood just a little more meat, I can't really fault them given the $7.95 price tag, which included traditional sides of refried beans and Spanish rice.
I guess I am spoiled when it comes to Mexican food. The best tacos I have ever eaten came from my kids' great-grandmother on their dad's side. Tita's tacos were so good that anyone who ate them suggested she open her own stand. And, Tita wasn't Mexican. Locally, my two favs for Mexican food are and . The first restaurant I have never had a bad meal at, the second has the best Mole sauce I have ever tasted.
Back to La Mex. I agree with Karen's analysis that this is basic. I liked that the restaurant was willing to swap out the flour tortilla with a corn tortilla so I could have a quesadilla. The food, every time I have been here, is good. But, that's it. I have never been blown away. I also, though, have never been unable to finish what I ordered.
Another plus to the restaurant is the live music. On my first visit to La Mex, I went out to dinner with my parents. It was a nice surprise to have a Mariachi band entertain us.