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Bites Nearby: Mexican Spot Serves Up Heat In Glencoe

Guanajuato pairs lively atmosphere with fresh flavors.

Since opening last summer, Guanajuato has added a little spice to Glencoe's dining lineup. Named for a state in the Mexican highlands where the restaurant's owner and executive chef were born, the spot's casual atmosphere and wide selection of Mexican dishes has been attracting big crowds.

I called ahead before my first visit to Guanajuato and was told the restaurant doesn't take reservations but a party of two wouldn't have any problem finding space at 7 p.m. Friday. When we arrived, the place was packed with a mix of families, couples and groups in the 40-and-up set.

The wooden bar is lit by bright-colored hanging lamp and displays top bottles from the restaurant's impressive collection of 40 tequilas, all of which can be mixed into a margarita. It took a while for the hostess to notice us, and when she did she said the wait would be about 15 minutes and directed us to the bar. Again, it took a bit to get service and when we did, the bar was out of raspberries and mango puree, ingredients in several of the restaurant's specialty cocktails. But once our drinks arrived with complimentary chips and salsa, those inconveniences all seemed minor.

The salsa had a solid kick and the chips were fresh, thick and crispy. They went great with the refreshing and well mixed mojito and strawberry margarita, which offered potent tequila and strawberry flavors without being too sweet or strong.

No sooner had we moved to our table than a pair of guitarists approached. The duo performs from 6 to 9 p.m. every Friday and Saturday, and their singing and instrumentals are solid, providing a lovely bit of atmosphere.

Our server was very knowledgeable about the menu, recommending a few popular dishes along with his favorites -- the Michoacan grilled avocado and shrimp ($15.95), a lightly grilled avocado filled with shrimp and served with vegetables and rice; and enchiladas San Miguel ($12.95), a set of three enchiladas filled with cheese, chicken or steak sautéed in a red sauce and topped with diced carrots, potatoes and cheese. Even though the restaurant was busy, he took the time to go into detail about an odd-looking dish on a neighboring table. El Molcajete ($15.95) is a traditional Mexican countryside meal where grilled cactus, onions, black beans, steak and salsa are slowly simmered together and served in a hot pot so the flavors continue to mix as you eat. While we waited for our entrees, the chips, salsa and our water were kept full and our server was good about asking for more drink orders.

We went with his suggestions and ordered the margarita salmon ($15.95) and mar y tierra ($17.95). We were pleased with his advice. The salmon is a thick cut of crispy-topped fish served over black beans, peppers, spinach and mushrooms. The mushrooms worked particularly well, mixing their savory flavor with the light fish. The mar y tierra, a Mexican surf and turf, includes sautéed garlic shrimp and flank steak served with avocado, rice, refried beans, salad and corn or flour tortillas. The shrimp were nice, but the real standout was the steak -- tender meat with a savory marinade that was fantastic by itself or wrapped up with the sides.

We'd been considering the flamed bananas ($6.50) for dessert, but when we asked our server's opinion, he said that dish gets a pretty mixed reception and steered us toward the sopapillas ($5.50). We were happy he did. The crisp tortillas, baked with cinnamon and sugar, drizzled with a Mexican caramel sauce, topped with whipped cream, sliced fresh strawberries and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, made for a decadent but not too rich finish to an excellent meal.

Guanajuato is open 11 a.m.-1o p.m. daily at 73 Green Bay Rd.  For more information, call 847-242-0909, , or check online at myguanajuato.com.

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