Located in the South Loop, Zapatista offers beautiful rustic Mexican décor and some of the best Mexican cuisine in Chicago. Opened in August 2005, the restaurant was named Zapatista because the great-grandfather of one of the original partners fought alongside Emiliano Zapata during the Mexican Revolution. Through the restaurant’s name, owner David Yanda explains, “we’re honoring the history and culture of Mexico.”
Zapatista boasts a large dining area, a long stone-clad bar and a sidewalk patio in the summer. The restaurant gracefully combines elegance and comfort, making it a haven for friends enjoying a fun evening away from the traffic of downtown yet close enough to easily hop a cab to a club after dinner. Zapatista is also perfect for families gathering for brunch or soul mates immersed in an intimate dinner. Stressed out? Sip your favorite drink at the bar and catch the latest game. Whatever the social function, Zapatista is diverse enough to make it successful. As Yanda emphasizes, “We welcome everybody: families, businessmen, tourists. And it’s not just a Friday and Saturday date night restaurant. We want people to experience this every day of the week.”
With its fine Mexican artwork and interior design, Zapatista is also authentic without being stereotypical. Its tribute to Emiliano Zapata reflects this authenticity. When asked about Zapatista’s atmosphere and decor, Yanda explains, “We designed it after a typical home that you might see at that time period in Mexico.” The goal is to offer “a sophisticated, kind of romantic Mexican restaurant experience,” he adds.
The menu, originally conceived by renowned Mexican chef Dudley Nieto, is now being shaped by chef Roberto Reyes. Reyes, with 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry, makes sure that everything Zapatista does is truly Mexican. Carnitas are cooked in the style from Michoacan, where Reyes grew up cooking alongside his father at the family carnicería.
I first stepped into Zapatista about three years ago, attracted by its inexpensive brunch specials. Back then you could get a mountain of chilaquiles with steak and eggs for a ridiculously low price of $5. Since then, my excitement about this place has reverted me to a demanding child tapping on everyone’s shoulder asking, “Have you been there yet? Huh? Huh?” Zapatista has been the site of many memorable meals with friends and family. It’s even where I had one of my most fun moments with my mom, when we enjoyed a great brunch out on the sidewalk patio. Sheltered from the tepid rain pouring down around us, we recounted old family stories and adventures from our trips to Mexico. The food, the setting and the rain made this moment possible.
So, don’t wait for me to tap you on the shoulder. Grab a friend, a coworker, or some familia and check it out. When you visit Zapatista, you’ve got to have these must-trys:
For starting out: The homemade salsa beats any other salsa in Chicago (sorry, die-hard La Pasadita fans). You might as well order an extra bowl when you get to your table. We always do! Guacamole lovers must try the made-to-order guacamole.
For brunch: Weekend brunch deals offer a mix of traditional and unique dishes — from chilaquiles to motulenos, a hearty dish of eggs, mole Poblano, bacon, caramelized plantains, refried black beans and hash browns. Brunch deals, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, range from $5 to $9, although adding a choice of meat to some dishes will cost you extra.
For lunch or dinner: The fajitas with your choice of meat or vegetables, are served in dangerously hot lava stone molcajetes (watch your fingers!) and are soaked in a delicious cuatro chiles salsa with asadero cheese, scallions and chile poblano. Dinner is reasonably priced and comparable to other Mexican restaurants in the Loop.
For drinks: You cannot leave Zapatista without trying the delicious La Señorita. There’s nothing delicate about this drink. In fact, they should rename it La Mamasita. The drink consists of a frozen blend of margarita and sangria with fruit and a hint of lime. Even the aroma of La Señorita is heaven!
For dessert: The Mexican cheesecake. Chihuahua cheese, the gooey ingredient of quesadillas, and Cotija cheese in a dessert? Any Michoacano native, by birth or legacy, knows only too well the piercing smell of a sweating wheel of Cotija cheese resting on a cardboard box in your parents’ basement. Adventurous eaters, you will be pleasantly rewarded. Who would have thought that these cheeses would taste so sweet when delicately baked into a cheesecake?
Zapatista, one of my favorite places to enjoy fine Mexican cuisine, is well-worth the visit. Fellow North Shore dwellers can check out Zapatista’s suburban digs in Northbrook. Zapatista also has plans to open a new location in Naperville. For more news on the upcoming Naperville location, visit Zapatista.
South Loop, Chicago
1307 S. Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60605
992 Willow Road
Northbrook, IL 60062