Chicagoans love their brunch and if you are also a fan of Mexican food, there is no better option than Cantina Laredo, located at the intersection of State and Illinois in River North. The brunch menu, available on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., focuses on modern twists to traditional brunch options. As an added bonus, all brunch dishes include a complimentary mimosa made with fresh-squeezed orange juice, Bloody Mary made with Tito’s vodka, or Bloody Maria made with Casa Noble organic tequila.
Consulting Chef Daniel Espinoza and Executive Chef Damon Workman together have created a modern Mexican midday menu, featuring starters such as yogurt with fresh fruit and agave honey, crispy crab tostadas with chipotle aioli, beet and goat cheese flatbread and seasonal ceviche. Large plates include breakfast tacos, shrimp and grits, barbacoa hash, omelet al pastor, crab cakes benedict, French toast, huevos benedictos, chilaquiles, carne asada huarache and more.
I was recently asked to bring a friend and sample the offerings from this new brunch menu. I called one of my best friends, the one I know is probably the biggest fan of both Mexican food and of Cantina Laredo particularly. The two of us visited on a Sunday at noon and were treated to one of the most extensive and superb brunch meals either of us has had in quite some time. Not only was the food exceptional, but the service was superior and although the restaurant was busy, the ambiance was still comfortable and urban chic – never noisy or distracting. I enjoy a long, leisurely meal and that is exactly what we were able to experience.
We started the meal out with the Bloody Maria – Cantina Laredo’s unique take on the traditional Bloody Mary recipe. They do offer a Tito’s Vodka Bloody Mary but the Bloody Maria is made from Casa Noble organic tequila. I do not consider myself an aficionado of tequila, but I do know good from bad – and this is an excellent product. The tequila flavor is subtle and smooth and blends well with the tomato juice. If you can disregard the gigantic celery garnish, this will be one of the best Bloody Mary-type cocktails you have had in a while.
For the American palate, no Mexican meal seems to be complete without the addition of chips and salsa. At Cantina Laredo, at least, they do stand out. The chips are lightly salted, fresh, and warm. The salsa is made from roasted tomatoes and is only mildly spicy. I had a difficult time not continuing to sample this even after I was already completely full. As another superior starter, you should certainly say “yes” to the tableside guacamole service. I love good guacamole, and there is something special about having someone create it fresh and “to order” while you watch. I am allergic to raw onions, and often I am unable to eat guacamole when I visit a Mexican restaurant because the onions are already there. Here, I was able to have them dial down on cilantro (which I do not enjoy) and omit the onions.
One of the restaurant’s most inventive menu items is the seasonal ceviche. The chefs change this recipe out weekly, and often work together in the kitchen as a team to develop new and interesting options. For our visit, the ceviche was a citrus-cured salmon with persimmon and black radish escabeche, and a light mango habanero sauce. It was served atop crunchy chicharrones. All I can say is “Wow!” If this specific preparation is any indication, you must order the ceviche when you visit – no matter what the recipe might be. It is sure to be a standout menu item for you as it was for us. The addition of the chicharrones was inspired.
Choosing an entrée was difficult, but we finally opted on two:
- Carne Asada Huarache (grilled skirt steak, crispy corn masa, black beans, spinach, egg, sour cream, salsa fresco, pico de gallo, salsa de molcateje) Although this may sound like a huge number of ingredients (and it is), the combination is a perfect hearty brunch offering. The steak is fork tender and the other ingredients are all savory and full of flavor. I prefer poached eggs, so if you are also in that frame of mind simply ask for that substitution.
- Barbacoa hash (barbacoa, crispy potatoes, shaved radishes, egg, chipotle mayo, salsa cruda) What’s not to like here? The barbacoa is packed with flavor and the other ingredients all complement that savory mound of shredded beef. The crispy potatoes deserve a mention – crisp on the outside, soft inside, and sprinkled with a spicy salt mixture. Again, as with the Carne Asada, we opted to substitute poached eggs and that proved to be a perfect choice.
After all of that, dessert was not on our minds. Still, we did ask to see the dessert cart and the options were quite tempting. For our visit, those options included a Mango Tres Leches Cake, Mexican Apple Pie (with Mexican brandy butter and cinnamon ice cream), Tres Chocolate Brownie (served hot in a sizzling skillet with Mexican brandy butter and vanilla ice cream) and the ubiquitous Churros (with raspberry chocolate sauce and creamy mango sauce to dip). Considering the extraordinary quality of everything else on the menu, I can only surmise that the desserts will be amazing as well.
The Cantina Laredo brunch menu is available on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. The restaurant is located at 508 N. State Street. For more information, call (312) 955-0014 or visit the Cantina Laredo website. You can also follow their social media conversations on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.