This weekend, I decided to head to La Cecina for some authentic Mexican eats. When my friend and I got out of the 15-minute Uber at around 3:50 PM on a Saturday, the place looked kind of sketchy, with bars on the windows and a massive, outdated neon sign. That was the first signal that this place was going to be legit.

coffee, pizza, beer
Jade Goldstein
coffee, wine, beer
Jade Goldstein

Upon walking in, the décor looked straight out of a telenovela, and the place was mostly empty (after all, I didn't visit during peak hours). A waitress smiled and greeted us in Spanish, immediately grabbing menus and seating us by the window. 

gastronomy, wine, tea, beer, coffee
Jade Goldstein

Seconds later, chips and salsa appeared.

Chips and Salsa: 9/10

Jade Goldstein

This was the first sign of excellence. The tortilla chips were clearly homemade (and tasted as such). Not too salty or powdery, and a tad bit oily. The salsa was packed with flavor, but it was a little bit watery and thus clumsy me kept spilling it on my menu. The jalapeno in the salsa tasted excellent, but I had to use the given spoon to cut it up as it was sitting pretty much whole in the cup. 

I’m just nitpicking, though. So far, La Cecina was not fucking around.

Now I had to decide what to order. The menu is quite extensive, so be forewarned. After a few mild nudges from our server (no big deal, I was just kind of overwhelmed and felt a bit rushed), my friend settled on the Cecina steak fajitas, and I settled on the mole chicken enchiladas. We also split an order of guacamole.

Our gracious waitress took our menus, and it was about 10 minutes before our guacamole came out.

salsa, chili, sauce, vegetable, guacamole
Jade Goldstein

This might be some of best guac I’ve ever had. The lime and salt were not overdone, which are common fatal flaws with guac. This made for a balanced flavor, but the lack of acidic lime made for a very heavy and filling appetizer. Beware if you aren’t starving! Less than two-thirds of the way through the guac, I was already starting to fill up.

After another 15 minutes, the food came. The portions, I immediately noticed, were massive. I was definitely going to be taking leftovers home.

Jade Goldstein

Let’s first talk about the sides, which were the same for both dishes: beans and rice.

Beans: 10/10 

The refried beans were creamy and subtly flavorful but not too heavy. They were addicting, too. My friend isn’t a huge beans guy, so I was scooping them off his plate.

Rice: 5/10

The rice was light and airy and quite easy to eat. However, they were not nearly as flavorful as the beans. No matter, though; there was plenty of other food to fill up on.

Next, let's talk about the restaurant namesake: the Cecina fajitas.

Cecina Fajitas: 7/10

meat, chili, vegetable
Jade Goldstein

First off, the sour cream was light and sour; its weight was not overwhelming at all (unlike Chipotle’s sour cream). The Cecina beef was very tender. Maybe it had some flavor subtleties I wasn’t picking up on, but my impression was that it could’ve been less oily and more flavorful. The fajita peppers, my friend noted, should’ve been spicier. The handmade tortillas, much like the tortilla chips, were up to snuff.

Putting the flavors together in the fajita itself, however, created flavor tones that my friend really loved. I had a bite, and I agreed. If this isn’t authentic Mexican, then take me to Mexico.

The other main dish was the mole enchiladas.

Mole Enchiladas: 9/10

chicken, meat, sauce
Jade Goldstein

This dish got better as I ate. The first bite was a little mole-dominant for my taste, but as I cut through each new bite, the chicken and cheese connected with the mole for a truly divine culinary experience.

As for the nuts and bolts, the chicken was flavorful and moist. The cheese and sour cream complemented everything well. The mole sauce was interesting, subtle, and not overpowering.

To top it off with something sweet, we split a lemonade. 

Lemonade: 8/10

tea, milk, coffee
Jade Goldstein

The drink was sweet and pleasant with bright taste tones. I saw our waitress blend it with a blender with real lemons. It could’ve used more tartness and less sweetness, but overall it offered a refreshing ending to a savory meal.

After our feast, we asked for the check. Our meal, at $37, was a steal given our piled-high takeout boxes. The guac was the price gouger at $8, but avocados are expensive (hey, this isn’t SoCal), so we totally understood.

Overall, whether you’re a foodie looking to explore south of the Loop, or you need to order pick-up so future drunk you will thank you at 2 AM, La Cecina’s authentic, cheap food will kick that inner Mexican grub craving that Chipotle will never satisfy.