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Mystery Diner: Puebla offers Mexican fare with a twist

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014 5:06 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 1:31 p.m. CDT

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Puebla Modern Mexican, located in the First Street Plaza in downtown St. Charles, is a hip, contemporary Mexican restaurant stirring up the flavors of its namesake town – Puebla, Mexico.

Neo Pizzeria owner Tony Alfonso owns Puebla.

The restaurant boasts more than 50 types of tequila, unique taco selections, salsas, botanas and tortas.

An extensive drink menu features tequila flights, a wine list and an array of margaritas, such as the Smokey Sweet ($10) made with fresh mango, blueberry, lime juice and chile morita. Margaritas range in price from $9 to $16.

The beer flight features brews from 5 Rabbit, a Chicago-based Latin-American inspired craft brewery.

My dining companion and I visited the eatery on a weekday for lunch. The restaurant can seat about 150 people, and there were only a few tables occupied by customers when we arrived. Though the restaurant was not full, the service, which was quite accommodating, was pretty slow overall.

We lounged in a large, sprawling booth flanking the windows and facing the bar, which is fit with flatscreen TVs mounted on rustic wood planks running vertically along the wall behind the bar. Rusticity and modern edge converge within the confines of Puebla. Cast iron elements pair nicely with urban lighting and textured deep woods. Mustard yellow bar-height seating and wallpaper mimicking Spanish-mosaic tile add pops of color.

I ordered a Coke, which came in a large, glass bottle, and my dining companion stuck with water.

We started with the Guacamole Elote ($8) with grilled corn, epazote, serrano and queso fresco and the slightly spicy Chile de Arbol salsa ($2) made with grilled tomatillo, roasted serrano, garlic and roasted chile de arbol. Puebla charges for chips and salsa, which will set you back $2 for a petite sampling. The idea is that you order a couple to try the different flavor combinations. There are six salsas to sample and six different flavor-infused guacamoles, as well as three ceviches – one with squid ($11), shrimp ($14) and octopus ($13).

The corn-layered guacamole tasted fresh and chunky, which I always prefer, but it could have used a little more salt to really bring out the flavor of the avocado.

Among the many taco selection – including the Taco Del Dia – my dining companion and I opted to share an order of the Al Pastor ($10), chili marinated pork with grilled pineapple chunks, onions and cilantro; and the Estilo Baja ($11), crispy-battered tilapia, red cabbage slaw, tempura avocado, siracha crema and cilantro.

To accompany the tacos, we ordered the Elote Mexicano ($5), a well-plated dish of sweet corn, chili mayonnaise and crema epazote.

Although, the Al Pastor Tacos had a tendency of falling apart in our hands, they were the table favorite. The pineapple added a pop of sweetness to the chili-marinated pork.

The Baja tacos’ tempura avocado pieces – fried avocado chunks – were very strange, and I don’t think frying the avocado necessarily added anything special to the dish. If anything, the fried flavor overwhelmed the other ingredients. The siracha crema kept the dish from tasting dry, but there should have been more of it.

The Elote Mexicano tasted great, and all of the components of the dish were spot on.

But, overall, everything could have been slightly better-seasoned to really bring out the flavors of each dish.

With hip, trend-setting drinks; unique Mexican dishes; and a cool, casual vibe, Puebla makes for a nice – though slightly expensive – night out in downtown St. Charles.

If you go

What: Puebla Modern Mexican Where: 51 S. First St., St. Charles Information: 630-945-3408 or pueblamodernmexican.com

• 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. The Mystery Diner visits different restaurants and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a review.

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