Mago Grill & Cantina — Made to Order

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NMAG0512_TableForTwo_1With colorful Mexican wrestling masks lining one of the interior walls and a compact patio area out front that figures to see plenty of action in the warm months ahead, the second outlet in Chef Juan Luis Gonzalez’s budding Latin empire (the original is in downtown Arlington Heights) is a bright and boisterous addition to the dining scene at the Promenade of Bolingbrook.

If our visit was any indication, intimate conversation may be best reserved for weeknights, as Saturday evening found a loud and lively crowd chatting it up over margaritas and mojitos in the smallish bar area while awaiting good news from the hostess stand. Those hungry hopefuls would have even more to talk about once they got a look at the menu, beginning with the only appetizer that really matters.

Guacamole, Reclaimed

You have to feel for poor guacamole, whose otherwise solid reputation has been sullied time and again by careless restaurateurs invoking its good name while churning out their bland, indifferent variations. If this type of common abuse has caused guacamole to become something of a litmus test for any Mexican dining experience, it is one passed at Mago with the same sort of flying colors that adorn the walls.

NMAG0512_TableForTwo_2At other restaurants, the presence of a traditional volcanic molcajete on each table would seem presumptuous, a blatantly ham-handed attempt to upsell the appetizer menu. Here, it’s more of a convenient acknowledgement of the inevitable. As delicious and creative as they were, we never really gave the trio of colorful salsas that started us off another passing thought once that rolling smash-to-order guacamole cart sidled up to the table.

By laying out the array of fresh ingredients and giving diners the ability to customize texture, flavor and spice to their liking, the real sense of love and devotion to be found in Mago’s take on the classic was apparent. Better still, the tableside prep helped assure this wary guacamole lover – who’s been fooled one too many times before – that this wasn’t simply a deceptively marketed “avocado dip” that was scooped out of a tub from the back refrigerator. Delicious justice at last.

Moles and More

After that very promising and filling start, we were hopeful that Gonzalez hadn’t put all of his avocados in one basket, so to speak. But the breadth and ambition of the ensuing dinner menu was well matched by the creativity and care in its execution and then some.

NMAG0512_TableForTwo_4The rich, complex sauces known as moles get a full-page devotion on this menu, including a brief history, detailed descriptions of the four house specialties (plus one “mole of the day”) and a list of possible entrees with which to pair them. I opted for a spicy mole ranchero over skirt steak, the various peppers collaborating nicely to complement the tender beef without overpowering it. My companion, meanwhile, settled on one of her traditional Mexican favorites – chicken enchiladas in a zesty salsa verde.

As pleased as we were with our choices, though, one almost can’t help but leave Mago with a hint of regret. After all, we had passed over a host of tempting alternatives including some incredible sounding taco options (pastor, chorizo, tilapia, pulled pork) – to settle on our entrée choices. Given the enthusiastic overflow crowd we encountered, however, it seems more or less assured that Gonzalez will be thriving in Bolingbrook long enough for us to sample the rest on future return visits – if we can find room after another encounter with the guacamole cart, that is.

Mago Grill & Cantina

641 E. Boughton Road