Moe's Cantina surprises with one of the best Chef's Table events of the year

Our most recent Chef’s Table event was another surprise for most of the participants.  River North has its share of Mexican and Mexican-inspired restaurants, from extremely high-end to the occasional dive.  Right in the middle of this continuum sits one of the best of the Mexican offerings in River North – Moe’s Cantina, located at 155 West Kinzie. 

Like many people, the 25 participants on the Chef’s Table event came thinking of Moe’s as a bar first and a restaurant second.  After the amazing meal, everyone agreed that those two distinctions should be reversed.

We started the evening with their unique Passion Fruit Sangria (Lunazal Reposado, habanero-infused syrup, passion fruit puree, pinot grigio, ground chili pepper rim, jalapeno chili pepper-Lunazal Reposado “boat”).  A large half of a jalapeño rests across the top of this drink, filled with tequila.  You can either shoot the tequila directly out of the pepper or mix it into the drink.  The experts at Moe’s will tell you the best way to savor it is to first sip the sangria, then take some of the salt from the rim, then shoot the tequila.  And if you’re very brave, take a bite of the pepper, too. Very inventive!  And the sangria was fresh and not too sweet.

The meal began  with the ubiquitous “chips and salsa.”  The chips are made fresh in-house (as they should be) and the salsas are stellar.  We sampled twelve of their premium, home-made salsas.  If you are adventurous, ask your server for the “secret hanañero salsa.”  It’s not on the menu, so you have to ask for it.  Beware!  It’s very, very hot but if you’re a fan of spicy hot salsa, then you must check this one out.  They also served their chunky, home-made guacamole.  When you order the guacamole at Moe’s, they make it fresh so you can have them adjust the recipe to your specifications.

Tacos are of course a staple on Mexican menus, but at Moe’s they are elevated above your “standard” taco with such intriguing options as oyster, octopus, seared tuna, and lamb.  We tried two  varieties:

  • Tacos Al Carbon (Chopped sirloin steak, yellow onions, cilantro, salsa tostada) The sirloin is tender, delicious, and definitely worth a try.  The flour tortillas are imported from Mexico, so you are sure to sample something authentic that you cannot get anywhere else in the city.
  • Tacos Al Pastor (Mesquite grilled pork tenderloin with three chile spice rub marinade, grilled vegetables, cilantro, onions, salsa taquera) – This is a standard taco on most Mexican menus, and theirs is good.  It tends to be a tiny bit dry, but if you add a dab of salsa and some of the tasty roasted veggies they provide on the side, you will love this taco.

Here’s a suggestion.  Try out Moe’s on Tuesdays then they offer “All You Can Eat” tacos for $22.  That may sound steep at first, but when you factor in the high quality of items like the Tacos al Langosta, you will easily see this as an amazing bargain.  It’s all “mix and match” so you can have as many of each as you want.

As our Chef’s Table feast continued, we were treated to some of the amazing mesquite-grilled skewers including Carne asada (Seasoned skirt steak), Camarones de Cantina (jumbo shrimp, barbeque-chipotle  sauce), Camarones Con Tocino (Jumbo shrimp, bacon, fresh basil), Pollo asado (Garlic-rubbed chicken breast), Salchicha de Jabali (Wild boar sausage, chimichurri sauce) and Vegetales (Tomatoes, corn, asparagus, onions,mushrooms, zucchini,  mixed bell peppers, yellow squash).  Clearly, this is not your typical Mexican restaurant.  It’s far better than most. 

We finished the meal with a serving of the amazing Paella (Shrimp, clams, mussels, Andouille sausage, chicken breast, rice, saffron broth).  There are many restaurants in Chicago that serve paella, but this is some of the best I have tasted.

If you are in the mood for excellent Mexican food without spending a small fortune, then Moe’s Cantina is the perfect solution.  Moe’s is located at 155 West Kinzie.  You can reach them at (312) 245-2000.  For more information, visit their website, “like” them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

Photos by Donna Binbek Photography.






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