Quest for the Best: The Area's Best Mexican Restaurant

By+Life+Spaces Staff

In each issue of Life+Spaces, we mix a little business with pleasure and embark on a journey to find the best businesses in a particular category. For each issue, our staff votes on a theme and then sets out to search for the business that is best in its class. As the temperatures warm up, we were thinking margaritas. Fajitas. Chips and salsa. Cinco de Mayo. Margaritas—did we mention that one already? Thus, we were led to this issue’s Quest for the Best category: Mexican Restaurants. 

We searched the ends of the earth (and by ends of the earth, we mean Michiana) for the restaurants who are serving up the most flavorful and most delicious Mexican dishes in the area. Our criteria? Enticing menu options, fresh ingredients, outstanding service, a fiesta-like atmosphere, drink pairings, and meals that were authentically reflective of Mexican culture. These seven restaurants brought the feast to the fiesta! 

 

Taste of Mexico

Steak Fajitas

2637 W Western Ave.

South Bend, IN 46619

(574) 232-8960

Featuring several dishes of authentic Mexican faire and a decor to match, Taste of Mexico has lived up to its name! Upon entering the establishment, prepare to be greeted by brick inset arches, Spanish-style murals, and green and orange walls featuring several televisions. In every way possible, this shop reminds you of the culture of Mexico.

When seated, customers are presented with tortilla chips and dip to munch on while considering their orders. The sauce is spicy, and smoothly blended with just enough of a kick to warrant a drink between servings! The staff is friendly and partially bi-lingual, though it helps if you know a bit of Spanish when ordering.

I ordered the steak fajitas with everything. And boy, do they come with everything! After a reasonable wait, our food arrived with the steak on a sizzling plate piled high with seared green pepper, onions, and tomatoes. Then came another plate with avocado, lettuce, creamy beans, cheese, rice, and a couple of lime wedges—all of it local, fresh and prepared daily. The wonderfully prepared steak could have stood on its own, both in taste and quantity, but add to that the addition of so many ingredients, and it’s next to impossible to finish all on your own. 

With a full bar and club through a set of double doors off to the side, Taste of Mexico also offers patrons the chance to enjoy a bit of dancing, music, and adult refreshments before or after their meal. I also hear they cater large gatherings featuring a wide selection of dishes. Whether your group is large or small, Taste of Mexico offers you a true authentic Mexican dining experience that Taco Bell and other ‘Americanized’ Mexican dining can’t compete with.

Jim Brow, Designer

 

Taqueria Chicago

Wet Burrito Chimichanga & Chicken Enchiladas

2920 W Western Ave

South Bend, IN 46619

(574) 234-6775

Located on Western Avenue in South Bend is a humble-yet-lively haven for savory Mexican food. I ventured out during my lunch hour with Life + Spaces designer Kaitlyn Smale and together, we consumed an absurd amount of chips and salsa. The lunch hour produced a casual and bustling atmosphere with an endless line of patrons coming in to place or pick up to-go orders. We settled into a booth and were immediately greeted with a menu that had an overwhelming number of options, but I immediately jumped to the burritos section while Kaitlyn was craving enchiladas. 

After we told our server that we just needed a few more minutes (more than once—there were so many tempting options!) to decide, we finally made our selections. I chose the “Wet Burrito Chimichanga” purely for the burrito/chimichanga combination which is basically a deep-fried burrito. This particular item is filled with a delicious blend of refried beans, fresh tomatoes and lettuce, cheese, sour cream and a choice of meat (I chose chicken). The final touch was the green mole sauce that smothered the entire burrito. The sauce delivered a simultaneous sweet and spicy flavor in each bite. 

Kaitlyn ordered three chicken enchiladas wrapped up in corn tortillas and covered with the same green mole sauce that I had. The enchiladas shared the plate with fresh avocado next to a bed of fluffy, flavorful rice. The various flavors were dynamic, but didn’t overpower one another; instead, each bite resulted in a complementary flavor and texture combination. 

We both were determined to leave nothing behind on our plates—it was that good. However, the generous portions convinced us to take home some leftovers. Both Kaitlyn and I re-heated our leftovers for the next-day’s lunch and agreed that they were just as good!

Jenna Guerin, Staff Writer & Kaitlyn Smale, Lead Designer

 

Monterrey Grill

Steak Fajitas & Pollo Loco

507 E McKinley Ave

Mishawaka, IN 46545

(574) 204-2281

When the Life+Spaces editorial team decided this issue’s Quest for the Best was going to be focused on Mexican restaurants, I knew I was up for the challenge. And when a challenge involves queso and burritos, I take it very, very seriously. 

Monterrey Grill was an obvious choice for me, as I’m what one might call a ‘regular’ here (let’s just say Dollar Margarita nights hold a special place in my heart). However, I’m also a girl that puts 95 percent of my focus on the chips and salsa and only the remaining 5 percent on the actual meal, so I needed a little help in deciding what to try. Thankfully, our waiter knew exactly what to indulge us with and spared me the stress! While our entrees were being prepared, we were treated to an entertaining (and delicious!) surprise: table-side guacamole. Now I admit, I’m not particularly picky when it comes to chips and dip, but this guacamole went above and beyond. Made with fresh avocados, tomato and lime juice, it was the perfect combination of flavors with just the right texture.

Our food came so quickly I was mildly disappointed I couldn’t indulge in the chips for a bit longer–that is, until I actually saw the meals! The fajitas arrived at the table still sizzling, the aroma of the tender meat and fresh vegetables floating my way. This dish consists of steak (marinated in salsa for several hours prior to preparation) sautéed with onions, tomatoes and bell peppers and is served with a generous plate of rice, 

beans, pico de gallo and guacamole. An option of fresh corn or flour tortillas (we chose corn) also accompany this dish. We particularly enjoyed the do-it-yourself aspect of the fajitas which allowed for numerous flavor combinations.

The second dish that arrived was the “Pollo Loco,” a generous helping of chicken breast topped with sautéed onions and a delectable cheese sauce. This entree also came with a large plate full of extras, leaving very little excess table space at this point (don’t worry, we weren’t complaining!). We were especially pleased with this tender, flavorful entree, vowing to order it the next time we return! 

We ended the night sipping our margaritas and enjoying the authentic music, both too full to finish our meals despite our best efforts. No worries though, they made excellent leftovers. There is no doubt that a return to Monterrey Grill is in the near future!

Kaitlyn Smale, Lead Designer

 

Flamingo’s Mexican Restaurant

Barbacoa Torta & Churros

425 S Main St

South Bend, IN 46601

(574) 234-1546

I didn’t have to travel far in my quest for this gem. Located in downtown South Bend, and formerly known as El Paraiso, Flamingo’s offers an authentic variety of dishes sure to please the discerning diner. For my visit, one of the owners, Jose Garcilazo suggested a sample of popular menu items with detailed descriptions of each. 

We chose a torta served on a 15-inch bolillo (Mexican bread) which was custom ordered from Central Bakery. It also came with a thick, corn tortilla gordita, freshly baked and deep fried. Each is filled with a choice of authentically prepared meats and a variety of toppings including: fresh-sliced avocado, tomato, cheese, onion, lettuce, beans and sour cream or mayo. 

For the torta, we chose barbacoa or barbequed beef. True to tradition, this dish is slow cooked for eight hours in a pot lined with maguey/agave leaves and seasoned with laurel and spices. The asada or steak was chosen for our gordita, and as tender and flavorful as it was, it didn’t quite compare to the barbacoa, which can be purchased pre-cooked at $10.99 per pound!

Dessert was a combination of crispy churros filled with strawberry, caramel and vanilla. It’s then drizzled in chocolate and cream and surrounded by deep-fried plantains. These churros are a definite must-try item!

Flamingo’s was filled with pleasant surprises such as the mysterious weekly special, never known ahead of time, but always prepared with traditional family recipes. Also notable is that many ingredients used to prepare the Flamingo’s various dishes can be purchased in the attached Flamingo’s Grocery, then taken home to cook at your leisure! ¡Buen provecho!

Jenelle Huskey, Sales & Event Coordinator

 

El Arriero

Pollo Ranchero & Steak Gordito

4505 Ameritech Dr

South Bend, IN 46628

(574) 243-1177

When we started on this journey to find the best Mexican food, my mind immediately jumped to El Arriero on the northwest side of South Bend. The Mexican restaurant recently opened in January 2015 close to where I live, and while you never need an excuse to indulge in a little south-of-the-border cuisine, I had been holding out for a special occasion to try it. The perfect opportunity revealed itself when we chose Mexican restaurants for our Quest for the Best. My husband and I decided to try it for date night which proved to be an excellent choice when we realized that El Arriero’s atmosphere is both elegant and romantic—something we were surprised to find out based off the casual look of the restaurant’s exterior. The interior décor is tasteful and inviting with subtle Mexican music playing in the background. 

We grabbed a booth in the restaurant area next to the bar lounge. The bar features flat screen TVs throughout, booth seating, high-top tables, and an impressive showcase of top-shelf and premium liquors in the lighted bar display. My husband and I began our dining experience the way Mexican food should truly be experienced—with a tall Dos Equis beer on tap (although the frozen margaritas being served by the next table over had me second guessing my decision all night). 

I was craving chicken, but was dead set against surrendering to my weakness for burritos for the sake of this review, so I chose the “Pollo Ranchero.” The Pollo Ranchero drew me in with promises of tender chicken smothered in mildly spicy ranchero sauce. It did not disappoint. The spice was enough for me to feel as though I was eating authentic Mexican food, but didn’t overwhelm me by being too hot. I am rather picky when it comes to the texture and flavor of chicken, but was admittedly impressed with its almost-smoky marinated taste. Wrap it in soft flour tortillas and add the accompanying guacamole salad and I was sold. 

My husband ordered the “Steak Gordita” and I forced him to describe it to me with his mouth full of tortilla, tender steak and creamy cheese sauce. It came with a mango dressing that offered a hint of citrus in each bite. I took the opportunity to steal a few forkfuls (the entire point of dining out with your significant other is because it’s perfectly acceptable to assume partial ownership over what they order!) and was delighted by the melted cheese sauce. 

The only disappointment I had in El Arriero was that I had nothing left on my plate to take home despite the generous serving. I simply couldn’t stop eating! Next time, I will be returning on a Wednesday for $1.99 margaritas and table-side guac service.

Jenna Guerin, Staff Writer

 

El Camino Real #4

Burrito Barbechos & Pollo Guerrero

427 W Pike St

Goshen, IN 46526

(574) 537-8825

The incredibly delicious mission of finding the area’s best Mexican food led me to El Camino Real #4. Located just minutes from downtown Goshen, this cozy and casual establishment is the perfect place to grab a quick meal with exceptional service. Accompanying me on this quest was my husband, the only person I know who takes food as seriously as I do. Needless to say, he was perfect for the job! 

As we took our seats, a basket of warm chips and salsa immediately graced the table. Unable to resist, we nearly devoured them before opening the menu! Upon recommendation, we ordered Pollo Guerrero and Burrito Barbechos, two of the restaurant’s most popular dishes.

The menu boasted that the Burrito Barbechos was their biggest burrito and it sure wasn’t lying! This mammoth of an entree came to the table stuffed with steak, rice, beans, guacamole, sour cream and lettuce and was topped with a generous amount of red and cheese sauces. The medley of fresh ingredients combined with the perfectly seasoned and tender steak was absolutely mouthwatering and I couldn’t stop reaching my fork across the table to steal some bites!

One of El Camino Real #4’s newest menu items, the Pollo Guerrero consists of chicken breast topped with chorizo, grilled onions and a cheese sauce. It is served with a heaping side of rice, lettuce, guacamole, tomatoes and tortillas. We particularly enjoyed the unexpected addition of chorizo to the tender chicken, giving an additional flavor we had not before seen in this dish! We could not stop talking about the chicken breast’s unique, almost smokey flavor and how delectable it was! When we found out the seasoning is homemade and used to flavor many of the restaurant’s dishes, we knew we would be coming back to try more!

With eyes bigger than our stomachs, we left with to-go boxes and unable to try one of the tempting dessert options. We can’t wait for our next trip to Goshen, when we’ll undoubtedly visit El Camino Real # 4 again!

Kaitlyn Smale, Lead Designer

 

La Esperanza

Mexican Style Burrito & Enchiladas

601 E Jackson Blvd

Elkhart, IN 46516

(574) 522-7340

The Quest for the Best Mexican Food took me to Elkhart for a review of La Esperanza. It provides a comfortable atmosphere with interesting 3D art on the walls. And its vast menu is filled with authentic items, as well as a selection of more familiar dishes, catering to both the aficionados and amateurs of Mexican dining.

We chose a couple selections from the lunch specials and were pleasantly surprised by the speed of service! This is a definite bonus for those who have limited time for lunch. Our first choice was the “Mexican Style Burrito,” served with rice, beans, lettuce, onion and cilantro. The second selection was “Enchiladas,” consisting of two corn tortillas, smothered in a homemade enchilada sauce, and served with beans and rice. Both are offered with ground beef, chicken, steak, pork or chorizo. Our meals were delivered within minutes of ordering and didn’t disappoint in both quality and quantity!

La Esperanza is sure to please from breakfast through dinner. “Chorizo Con Huevos,” consisting of three eggs, Mexican sausage and cheese is a popular start to the day. “Avocado Chicken Salad,” served in a crisp flour tortilla, is a light and fresh meal for mid-day. “Carnitas Rancheras” is pork sautéed in a steaming green salsa and a delicious finale to complete the day. And don’t forget the appetizer—the “Coctel De Camerone” comes recommended as a popular item and is often chosen as a main course! 

Jenelle Huskey, Sales & Event Coordinator












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