A modest takeout window on Noyes street offers a glimpse into the heart of Tomate Fresh Kitchen, a small yet mighty eatery serving up Latin American street food. Chef and Founder Tania Merlos-Ruiz opened Tomate back in 2013, and its popularity among Evanston residents and Northwestern students over the years have made it a must-try. We met with Merlos-Ruiz and decided to review some of Tomate’s most popular items.

Grace Wang


Everyone knows and loves a classic burrito, and Tomate’s wide selection of starches and proteins – from sweet potato to fried tofu to carne asada – provides an option for everyone. Each burrito is served with mashed Cuban beans and rice with a side of habanero salsa. If you so desire, you can order it as a burrito bowl as well!

Grace Wang

We decided to order the al pastor burrito with sour cream, guac and pico de gallo. Each bite of hearty black beans, smoky pork and spiced rice melts in your mouth, complimented by the creaminess and acidity from our chosen add-ons. Adding a bit of salsa gives the burrito a kick of spice and an unexpected citrusy sweet and sour flavor. We appreciate that the spiciness of the habanero complimented the other flavors in the salsa rather than overpowering them.

Agua Fresca

For a refreshing drink, be sure to check out their agua frescas. They have rotating seasonal flavors that include basil berry, cherry limeade and tamarind with lemon. We tried the mango ginger and were not disappointed. Unlike other ginger-based drinks which are typically quite strong, this agua fresca had a milder ginger flavor. Its hot yet freshening spice enhanced the mango’s sweetness. The drink wasn’t overly sweet, making it a good palate cleanser between filling bites of food.

Quesadilla (spicy mushroom)

While a quesadilla is just a cheese-stuffed tortilla, Tomate sure makes this classic best. We tried the spicy mushroom quesadilla with poblano peppers and three cheeses. It came out piping-hot with cheese oozing out of every slice. The crispy tortilla balanced out the creamy, melted cheese inside, and the peppers gave a light kick to each bite. We thoroughly enjoyed every component in each mouthful, from the umami mushrooms and cheeses to the spicy peppers and salty tortilla. Tomate also offers a chicken tinga, ground beef and carne asada quesadilla as well as plain cheese. Even though people typically order burritos at this go-to Evanston spot, the quesadillas are just as satisfying. Be sure to try it out on your next visit.

Grace Wang


Tomate’s tacos come with various fillings, all topped with cilantro and onions, a seemingly simple combination that packs a punch of salty, fresh and herbal flavor. Add-ons include cheese, sour cream and more. We tried the carne asada tacos. A chewy tortilla was the perfect vessel for delivering carne asada with a complex mix of spices including chili, garlic and cumin. The sharp flavors of raw onion and cilantro cut through the heavy flavor of the meat to deliver a refreshing bite.

Grace Wang

Plantains (dessert)

Tomate’s sweet, caramelized plantains are the perfect finish to an authentic Latin meal. Plantains are starchier than bananas, but when cooked, this tropical fruit becomes the ultimate sticky and sweet treat. Tomate personalizes their plantains by adding sour cream and a pomegranate syrup. We were blown away by the texture: lightly crispy and sticky outside and a soft inside. Packed with fiber, antioxidants and other healthy nutrients, this dessert is guilt-free!

Grace Wang

Tomate only takes online orders with no seating area inside, but that doesn’t stop this Evanston staple from stealing the hearts of hungry students. The freshness of ingredients and love that goes into each dish can be felt after just one bite. There’s so much more on Tomate’s menu to try, such as their tamales, gorditas and empanadas. We believe everything on the menu will pack the same authentic taste. Tomate effectively brings many traditional Latin street foods to Evanston. The small shop might be unassuming and easy to miss, but what’s cooking inside deserves so much attention.