Branch Out with Unique Mexican Meals
Mexican cuisine has become just as ubiquitous as beer and brats in Milwaukee. The Latino community on the South Side is at the heart of the Mexican dining scene, but restaurants serving up Mexican and Mexican-inspired food are dotted all over the city and suburbs. From tacos al pastor carved off a food truck’s rotisserie to Qdoba—Milwaukeeans will always be equal opportunity eaters—it’s easy to find unique Mexican menu items that go far beyond elementary school hard-shell tacos.
5832 W. Burnham Ave.
2258 S. Kinninckinnic Ave.
8701 S. Howell Ave.
Taqueria el Cabrito
1100 S. 11th St.
2501 W. Greenfield Ave.
Antigua, a restaurant with a menu inspired by Mexican, Caribbean and South American flavors, offers a couple twists on typical red-sauced enchiladas. Cheese curd enchiladas ($14.99) blend a traditional rich mole sauce with Wisconsin’s favorite squeaky cheese for a fusion dish that’s uniquely local. Also offered are enchiladas Yucatecas ($15): braised shredded pork-filled tortillas topped with a striking, bright yellow sauce you won’t find anywhere else, made primarily with yellow bell peppers.
Riviera Maya in Bay View centers their entire menu on an assortment of homemade moles and salsas. Up to six are offered at any given time, making the typical “red or green?” sauce question seem paltry. They range in color and flavor from the fresh, creamy pipián verde pumpkin seed salsa to the velvety, brick red mole de Oaxaca with chocolate, peanuts and pasilla chiles. Order a mole sampler to help you choose which salsa you’d prefer bathing you shrimp enchiladas ($18).
Moving to the far south suburbs, El Fogon in Oak Creek serves up a burrito that’s equal parts Wisconsin and Mexican. The fish fry burrito ($9.50) combines two totally different but well-loved items into one big bundle. Breaded fried perch, cheese, lettuce, pico de gallo and chipotle sauce make for an uncommon option on your next Friday fish fry outing.
For a more traditional Mexican meal, head to Taqueria el Cabrito. The specialty of the house is birria, a long-simmering goat stew (and indeed, cabrito means “young goat”). It's served in a huge bowl, deep red, flecked with chiles and full of tender meat. Take advantage of the onions, cilantro and lime served on the side to add freshness to the rich broth.
El Canaveral, housed in a former Schlitz tavern with a long history, makes two typical Mexican staples really well: tortillas and salsas. It’s not uncommon to get two or three different types of salsa when you sit down at a Mexican restaurant, but four is a little more unusual. Two of the salsas are creamy from the addition of cooking oil to create an emulsion with cooked peppers: one is green with jalapeños, the other orange with habaneros. A tomato-based salsa and a smoky version with chile de arbol complete the set. They’re lovely scooped up with tortilla chips, but order some handmade corn tortillas instead. They’re thicker than some, but still pliable and full of fresh-from-the-comal charred flavor. For two things so integral to Mexican cuisine, you’d think more Mexican restaurants would take the extra time to get them right. It’s worth the effort to find one that does.