When it comes to Mexican restaurants in Champaign-Urbana, it seems everyone has their favorite, and it’s usually either El Toro or Dos Reales. So when the opportunity of an uncomfortable dinner with an ex-girlfriend came up, I chose Guadalajara. Newly opened on 912 W. Bloomington Road (just west of Prospect, in the former location of Real Hacienda), it seemed like the perfect place, and after explaining I didn’t want to take her to the capital of the Mexican state of Jalisco, she relented and we went.
Upon first viewing, one has to wonder if all Mexican restaurants share the same architect. Outside, you have your typical hacienda look and inside, you have your stucco walls painted brown, beige, or taupe with maybe a little green thrown in for zest! The inside felt very open and airy, and yet, it still held a smidgen of quaintness to it. Of course with the following of the Mexican restaurant status quo, there is an adjacent patio. The patio comprises some very festive Mexican music playing through speakers and multiple large tables perfect for families, or a guy who does not want to sit within arm’s reach of his acquaintance; this is where we chose to sit.
After being brought the obligatory homemade chips and salsa, which were very favorable, we were asked what to drink. Their menu boasted four domestic beers and eight imports which included Carta Blanca and Bohemia. The coup de gras, though, was the discovery of the margarita selection, priced between $2 and $6. Offering a multitude of sizes and flavors (banana being one), one cannot help but to stare in awe.
After ordering our margaritas (strawberry), we attacked the menu. A battle it was, as the menu consists of over a hundred items to please your palate. Beteween all the combination plates, dinners, pollo (chicken), fajita, vegetarian plates, a la carte, enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos, steaks, and appetizers, it can leave a person feeling very overwhelmed. On closer look, however, one realizes that most choices are just a meat with a slight variation from the previous plate on how it’s prepared.
The prices were rather agreeable. They offer a lunch section where two thirds of the dishes are under $5. The combination plate section offered meals for fewer than seven dollars. The rest of the meal options ranged from six to ten dollars, leaving it on par with every other restaurant in the Chambana area.
In the end the ex-girlfriend chose arroz con pollo — chicken and cheese on a bed of rice — and I chose the #15 combination; one chalupa, one tostada with beef and nacho cheese, and one beef taco. The food was served rather quickly, and also leaving one to wonder how fresh it is. All qualms are calmed upon first taste though. The beef was seasoned perfectly and the combination with what appeared to be freshly shredded mozzarella cheese was quite succulent.
Even considering that all three of my items were different revisions of the same ingredients, I didn’t get tired of consuming them. The portioning seemed rather large, too, which is always good when margaritas are offered. The arroz con pollo wasn’t a letdown either. Served on a large plate, the chicken, cheese, and rice were shown no restraint as they were all piled on together. This made no difference as it was served with tortillas to slap all the food onto. The chicken itself was very well seasoned (zesty!) and even the flavor of the rice could be had through the cheese goodness it was soaked in. Considering the aforementioned comment that most plates are a slight variation on the same thing, one can’t really hold it against them since their main meat ingredients are very delectable.
Our bill was just under $26 for three margaritas, one beer, and two entrees. Considering the tip for the very good service, a nice date here will run you on average between $20 and $30. Couple that with the generous portioning and laid back ambiance, it is definitely a restaurant to put on your radar.