There's a worthy Mexican restaurant every other block in Chicago it seems, but Tamalli strives to bring more than the standard burrito and quesadilla to the table. That's apparent the second you look at its menu. Not only are the choices diverse and unique, each item is accompanied by a brief description and history lesson that will make you an expert on Mexican dining (or at least give you enough information to fake it).
The compact, 25 seat-space of Tamalli makes it feel like you're almost in the kitchen; you'll be able to watch (and even converse with) the cooks as they fix your authentic meal. The colorful restaurant resembles owner Carlos Reyna's other location, Maiz, making guests feel like they're sitting at an ocean-side cafe in Veracruz as opposed to beneath the L tracks in Chicago.
Tamalli features a wide-ranging menu including its namesake tamales and other traditional fare like tacos and enchiladas, minus the grease. Items like sincronzada (ham, pineapple and cheese on tortillas) and alambre cazuela (make-your-own tacos with an array of meats and vegetables), which is found at no other restaurant in the city, indicates that Tamalli moves beyond the expected. Its red salsa has a tangy, breezy flavor that distinguishes itself with a soothing aftertaste. All main dishes are priced right around $6. Desserts and appetizers are limited, but a wide selection of hot and cold drinks does bolster the menu. Nearly every flavor of Jarritos (a carbonated, fruit-flavored soft drink), a variety of licuados (smoothies), aguas frescas (in 18 different flavors) and coffee is available. Tamalli is BYOB.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Brent Kado