Disappointed by the lack of good quality Latin-American food in Evanston? (Sorry Chipotle, your heavy burritos and E. coli outbreaks just aren’t cutting it anymore.) Have no fear, new restaurant La Principal arrived in our humble college town late last year to fulfill all of your Mexican street food desires.
Located deep in downtown Evanston, but just a few steps from the Main Street Purple Line stop, La Principal is a breeze to get to whenever you’re craving some delicious tacos, tortas or guac that the dining hall just can’t deliver.
Although the view of the deserted Metra station wasn’t exactly breathtaking, the dimly lit, intimate interior with deep teal walls and red and gold accents was far more inviting. After a short wait, the dinner crowd thinned and we were seated at a table along the wall, our stomachs empty and our mouths watering.
The menu was small but diverse, with options ranging from tacos, sandwiches called tortas and traditional Mexican stew called pozole. Everything was made fresh in-house except for the bread, which was baked daily by Hewn Bakery.
We were quick to order chips and guacamole and elotes, or grilled Mexican corn on the cob as our starters.
The waiter was quick to arrive with a basket of well-salted, extra crunchy tortilla chips that added flavor to a very creamy, yet bland bowl of guacamole. (#SpoonTip: snag a lime from another dish and add it to the guac to give more flavor.) But we ate the whole thing, so we can’t complain about it too much.
The elotes were the perfect combination of savory and sweet with just the right amount of smoky char from the grill. Each cob was slathered in a sauce of spiced mayo, covered in chile seasoning and then rolled in cotija cheese. It was saucy enough to make you have to lick your fingers, but not too much that it was embarrassingly messy.
By the end of the appetizers we were starting to get full, but not full enough to stop us from ordering a slew of main courses. The restaurant offers tacos à la carte along with tortas cut in halves, making them easy to split for two. We weren’t brave enough to try the beef tongue taco, so instead we ordered a short rib torta and three tacos.
Sandwiched between two slices of crusty yet soft bread was tender, sweet braised pork rib that melted in your mouth. Be careful taking too big of a bite, because this torta is chock full of fresno chiles that quite possibly could turn your face as fire-engine red as the peppers.
As for the tacos, we first tried the carnitas taco, topped with crunchy corn and salty cotija cheese, which was extremely juicy (maybe a little too juicy for the thin tortilla to handle) and flavorful. Then, we moved on to al pastor taco, which featured crispy, smoky and tender pork garnished with a hearty bed of cilantro. This taco was a bit dry, but we made up for that by dousing it in one of the restaurant’s homemade sauces, a mango pineapple habañero concoction that we literally wanted to bathe in. The restaurant offers two other sauces, fresno chile and jalapeño, but we’d be lying if we said they hold a candle to the other option.
Next up, we took a necessary break from the pork and tried a sweet potato taco, one of several vegetarian options on the menu. It was a dignified effort to get veggies on the menu, but it fell a bit short with its lack of flavor and undercooked sweet potatoes. Not sure if it was the fullness of our stomachs or the disappointment, but this was just one taco we couldn’t finish.
However, we still had room for dessert.
We dug into the classic Mexican churros, or fried dough rolled in cinnamon sugar, and a bittersweet chocolate dipping sauce. Crispy on the outside but doughy and soft on the inside, the churro was the perfect finishing touch to our delicious meal.
Overall, we left stuffed and satisfied, already planning what we would order during our next trip. If you’re looking for authentic, quality Mexican food close to campus, look no further than La Principal.