A Look at Mundial
By Chuck Sudo in Food on Aug 7, 2007 4:00PM
Take a walk down 18th Street in Pilsen and you won’t go far without passing a carnitas shop, pizza joint, hot dog stand or Mexican grill. It’s a varied mix of cheap (read: affordable) and cheap (read: not very good). For tablecloth dining options in the neighborhood, diners are often limited to May Street Café or Picante Grill, two places both given the Chicagoist review treatment. The former closes down when convenient (e.g the previous weekend during Fiesta del Sol), and the quality of the latter has declined to that of a serviceable cantina with constant turnover in the kitchen.
Close to the Blue and Pink Line stop at 18th Street is Mundial-Cocina Mestiza. For folks who like some inventive takes on Mexican and other aspects of so-called "Nuevo Latino" cuisine, Mundial rates mention with May Street Café and other places like Xel-Ha and Cuatro. Mundial also has the added benefits of being reasonably priced for its location and two working chefs in the kitchen in Eusebio and Katie Garcia. While foodies, folks out on a dinner date, and people who want something more than standard cantina fare flock down for visits during the evenings and weekends, the Garcias are working tirelessly to make Mundial a destination restaurant for long-time Pilsen residents, a personal issue for them as they live in the neighborhood. It’s a hard row to hoe when the Garcias find themselves in competition with established taquerias like Nuevo Leon and Cuernavaca nearby. The Garcias just celebrated one year in business, and with a little luck and a lot of work, they should reach two years and beyond, as well.
The Garcias (along with their business partner Mario Coto) are veterans of the local dining scene, having worked the lines at mk, Bin 36, and Park Grill. Visitors to Mundial can expect traditional Mexican dishes infused with a liberal dose of Mediterranean flavor. Take, for example, the entrée pictured. The amazing salmon al carbon is grilled to order (medium, for Chicagoist), served on a bed of caramelized green papaya and mango, with an avocado-cilantro aioli and chili oil. We loved the way the contrast in flavors between the chili oil and aioli blended together, and we loved the sharp contrast in textures between the almost candied papaya and the soft flakes from the salmon. An added bonus: this dish comes with a small plate of homemade fresh tortillas. Some may say that this entrée is a bit pricey at $19 ($15 if you visit Mundial for lunch), but there’s enough food here that this can easily serve two people. Picking at each other’s plates is encouraged.
Another menu item that could possibly feed a family of four is the tamale mejos appetizer (pictured). Again, using fresh homemade tortillas, the Garcias craft this amazing tamale wrapped in a black bean puree, served atop a banana leaf with mounds of grilled chicken in a spicy red mole. We have to admit, there was so much of this appetizer that it nearly spoiled our appetite. And at $7, it’s a steal. We’ve had few appetizers that stand up to this. Mundial also serves one of the best ceviches in the city, teeming with marinated fish and sirloin. It's a dish born of inspiration: a unique take on surf-and-turf, and an inventive way to introduce folks who aren't seafood fans to ceviche.
Other draws that make Mundial a great place to frequent are its view of the open kitchen if you’re seated in the main room, its ease of accessibility to the trains, and its BYOB policy (they charge a minimal corkage fee). From the main dining area we watched as the hands of Eusebio Garcia never stopped to become the Devil’s playthings. During our visit, there were only four people in the restaurant, yet he was always doing some sort of kitchen prep when he wasn’t cooking.
If you’re planning a visit to Pilsen in the near future, we highly recommend dropping by for lunch or dinner at Mundial-Cocina Mestiza. They’re located at 1648 W. 18th Street, open seven days a week from 11 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. Reservations are accepted, and the phone number to make them is 312-491-9908.