Two for Tio—Uncle Julio’s

March 2016 View more

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It’s the go-to dinnertime mantra of concerned mothers, well-meaning dieticians and nosy carb-cutters the world over: “Don’t fill up on the bread.”

While arguably sound in theory, this little nugget of shared nutritional wisdom unfortunately trivializes one of the most enduring and vexing gastronomic challenges a diner will face—from crummy diners to five-star palaces—that complimentary breadbasket is often one of the most enticing items to hit the table. Even the most die-hard paleo enthusiast, after all, would be hard pressed to take a pass on a warm, freshly baked roll.

At most Mexican restaurants the standard pre-meal temptation is, of course, the equally dreaded and revered bottomless chip basket. Paired with an interesting salsa or a mound of chunky guacamole, that never-ending bounty of salty corn wedges can be enough to deep-six a diet and spoil an appetite before the waiter even has a chance to recite the specials.

Tortilla Time

Such is the gauntlet thrown down at the recently opened Naperville outlet of the Uncle Julio’s Mexican chain, a handsome addition to the ever-expanding Freedom Drive dining campus that boasts a decidedly homey atmosphere and an expansive wraparound patio that should prove popular in the summer months ahead.

From the moment the first basket of those warm, impossibly light and delicately decadent chips arrived at our table, my companion and I were immediately transported back to our long-ago days at DePaul University, when the Lincoln Park branch of the Julio’s empire was a regular haunt and those chips were both one’s salvation during a not-uncommon two-hour wait for a table and one’s downfall when that call finally came and the thought of mustering the capacity for a full meal had long since been rendered moot.

And the chips are only part of the “bread problem” at Uncle Julio’s, because the restaurant’s petite, house-made tortillas are just as addictive. Whereas tortillas elsewhere may function as mere conveyances for a variety of fillings, these freshly made beauties can more than hold their own as a solo act. If our server had twisted one into a funnel in which to serve our drinks, he wouldn’t have heard a complaint.

Hot Stuff

All of which is a roundabout way of sheepishly confessing/explaining that a large part of why I ultimately settled on the filet-and-chicken fajitas when it came time to choose an entrée was the little cache of piping-hot tortillas I knew would accompany my sizzling platter of meat, onions, peppers and accoutrements (by selecting the Guadalajara combo, I also enjoyed three bacon-wrapped and queso-stuffed grilled shrimp—a wholly unnecessary but more-than-welcome addition to the growing excess of the evening). While not usually a fan of the build-your-own dynamic of the fajitas platter, the near-flawless execution of the concept here—lean cuts of steak, generous helpings of guacamole and pico de gallo and, yes, those tortillas—rendered the self-imposed labor of assembly a delicious afterthought.

Across the table, my companion opted for a personal favorite from both the genre and those college memories—a pair of chicken enchiladas that were good enough to almost forgive the fact that their presentation required slathering the killer tortillas in an admittedly tasty bath of tangy salsa verde. Our meals were served with the requisite sides of beans and Spanish rice, both of which were far better than the throwaway versions that show up elsewhere. And they, like almost everything else on the table, paired very nicely with the chips and tortillas, if one was so inclined.

And one was. So with all due respect to mom and Dr. Atkins, we chose to bypass their advice for a night, and you should too.

Fill up on the bread.

Uncle Julio’s
1831 Arbriter Court, Naperville


Photos by Greg Shapps