ST. CHARLES – Chef Roberto Barojas of Lupita’s Cocina, a gourmet Mexican restaurant in St. Charles, delivers artfully plated dishes with simple yet smart flavor combinations that sing on the palate.
Fresh is key at Lupita’s, and it’s apparent in the food, drinks and decor. Framed photos of fresh ingredients used in Mexican cuisine hang from the dining room walls, fresh-cut flowers add a touch of elegance to the ambience and hand-crafted margaritas are concocted with fresh fruit and juices made on the spot.
Straddling the line between casual and business casual, Lupita’s has an inviting dining room boasting charm and vibrancy. White tablecloths are finely draped across surfaces set with red roses in skinny glass vases. Red, folded napkins mirror the wall color that spans the length of the slender dining room.
An outdoor patio, which is where most guests were dining about 6:30 p.m. on a recent Thursday evening, was set with ironclad tables fit with a few umbrellas; boxes of fresh, colorful flowers broke up the monotony of the fence circumnavigating the patio; party lights hung from above; and music in Spanish gently trickled from a corner speaker.
For less than $40, my dining companion and I enjoyed an appetizer of chips and guacamole and three orders of tacos (four per order). Portions tend to be on the smaller side, which allow guests to sample multiple items on the menu.
The guacamole ($6) was served in a spherical shape on a stark-white plate with a palm-sized triangular tortilla chip elegantly positioned on top. The creamy dip was made with a colorful combination of avocado chunks, tomatoes, cucumbers, serrano peppers, cilantro and onions laced with virgin olive oil.
Lupita’s serves salads ($8), enchiladas ($13.50), tortas ($8 to $8.50), fajitas and entrées such as Pollo en Mole Negro ($15), with wood-grilled chicken breast served on Oaxaca black mole with garlic mashed potatoes; and Cochinita Pibil ($16), slow-roasted pork marinated with achiote and sour orange juice topped with cheese, pickled red onions and habanero salsa over rice and beans.
The most enticing menu item that stole my attention was the vast array of taco options – eight to be exact. We settled on the Mazatlan Tacos ($9.95), the Acapulco Tacos ($10.50) and the Pastor Tacos ($9.95).
The Mazatlan Tacos consisted of battered fish fried to a golden crisp with green cabbage, pico de gallo and a creamy aioli chipotle sauce layered on small, flour tortillas. With fish tacos, it’s always about the sauce, and Lupita’s nailed it.
The Acapulco Tacos looked and tasted like we had just ordered them from a beach bar on the Mexican Riviera. The pinkness of the shrimp teamed with hues of marigold, crimson and forest green from the tropical pico de gallo and cilantro created a beautiful semblance of flavors and colors.
The pork in the Pastor Tacos was drenched with adobo sauce and topped with a thick sliver of pineapple on top of purple onions with salsa verde. This dish also paired salty and sweet components extremely well and was my dining companion’s favorite of the three dishes.
Chef Barojas’ flavor-forward, visually beautiful dishes have me hooked. I’ll come back soon to try the other five taco dishes, and I have a feeling he won’t disappoint.
• The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at Shaw Media. The diner’s identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. Only positive dining experiences will result in published reviews.