Zentli - Evanston
"Zentli" means "corn" in Nahuatl, the ancient language of the Aztec, and corn is used in just about every dish served at Zentli. Esquites (Mexican street corn), tlacoyos (flat disks of cornmeal topped with vegetable and proteins, popular on the streets of Oaxaca) and tacos, lots of tacos.
Zentli is the creation of businessmen/foodies Marcos Rivera and Danny Howard, who together with artist Alfonso Peloto Nieves, have said that they created Zentli “to remember and honor the creativity and hard work of the Mexican people…the wisdom of our ancestors…[and] our venerable Mother Earth.”
The corn-forward cuisine served at Zentli is substantial, warming and deeply satisfying. Esquites are an excellent way to start a meal: corn cut off the cob with cotija cheese, chili peppers, lime and...mayo (it's way more delicious than it sounds).
Tlacoyos are thick, oval tortillas filled with black beans, cheese, salsa and a choice of nopales (cactus paddles), chorizo/potatoes, and chicken stew or mushrooms -- one of the most popular foods in Oaxaca.
Pambazo, also known as a "drunken sandwich," is a bolillo (kind of a French roll), filled with potatoes/chorizo or Beyond Meat, then soaked in guajillo chili salsa and grilled.
There are a lot of awesome tacos at Zentli, including al pastor, which you see being served all over the streets of Mexico City, with meat cut off a large revolving cone before being dressed with little slices of onion and pineapple, fantastic. For the vegetarians, there's a vegetable taco, served flat and topped with charred fresh vegetables and fresh cheese.
Drinks include the ever-popular Michelada (beer with spicy tomato juice) and chicha (mezcal, purple maize, hibiscus, pineapple, lemon, demerara), plus, of course, Margaritas.
Zentli is a pleasant restaurant, as the Evanston Round Table reports "Zentli is softly lit with a welcoming staff, and a small bar with not one but two TVs, showing – rather than sports – old black-and-white Mexican movies. The menu, though not extensive, is original. The atmosphere might be called casual-romantic." Casual romance? Why not?