El Reboso Family Restaurant

El Reboso Family Restaurant

By Tom Fleming, Restaurant Critic

It should be easy to find a good Mexican restaurant in Winnebago County. After all, Chicago is the second most popular destination for arriving Mexican immigrants, and Mexicans are the fastest growing ethnic segment in northern Illinois, not just in Rockford, but also in Belvidere. There is hardly a crossroads hamlet that does not boast its own taco stand, yet the “good Mexican restaurant” is as elusive a goal as the Seven Cities of Cibola sought by the conquistadores.

If so much Mexican restaurant food is poor, it is not the fault of the immigrants themselves. Anyone who has been to Mexico—or even to the American Southwest—knows that Mexicans have a rich and diverse cuisine that puts their northern neighbors to shame. But Americans have a bad habit of taking over only what is bad in a foreign cuisine—and then making it worse. It is partly because we think in clichés like chop suey or “pasta with red sauce.” Back in the late ’60s, a friend of mine used to make the same casserole, over and over, but one week he would add cream and fines herbs to make it French. The next week he put in oregano and parmesan to make it Italian. Cumin and oregano, he was convinced, would make it Mexican. He must love eating out at the Olive Garden and Chichi’s.

Most Mexicans opening up a restaurant think they have to cater to America¹s well-known bad taste in food. To find a good Mexican place, the best solution is to ask a Mexican, which is what my young colleagues did when the man sent to install a new carpet in our lecture hall proved to be an immigrant who could barely speak English. He had moved to Rockford from Chicago, where there are dozens of good Mexican joints. Here in Rockford, his first choice (among several good places worth future write-ups) was El Reboso. “Good, but too expensive,” was his verdict. He was right about El Reboso being good, but it could only be judged expensive by the standards of Chihuahua or Zacatecas, not by the standards of Winnebago County. In fact, El Reboso puts out one of the cheapest and best lunches in Rockford.

The neighborhood—11th Street south of Harrison—is, politely speaking, uninviting, and the proprietors have not squandered their money on décor. One sign spells the name (correctly, presumably) as Rebozo, while another spells it Reboso, the way it is pronounced. However, the efficient service

and the warm-hearted good manners of everyone working there cover a multitude of decorating and spelling sins. Even the limited English of the friendly waitresses is a good sign of El Reboso¹s authenticity. I have visited El Reboso three times, always in the company of several friends. (On one occasion, our party must have numbered a dozen.) Every one of them, whether they claim to like Mexican food or not, has always praised the food. The tacos (generally not one of my favorite foods) are excellent. The trippa tacos—made with fried chitterlings—are very rich, and the spicy tacos al pastor are a big step above the left-over pork with hot sauce I have been served in Rockford. Since Mexican food is not especially

congenial to my esophagal ulcers, my favorite filling, which is available in a variety of dishes, is lengua (tongue), a rich boiled beef that tastes like home cooking. There is also a variety of other beef fillings: steak, shredded, “tender,” as well as the usual ground beef, and most of them are available in sandwiches, stuffed tortillas, tortilla cups, flautas, tostadas, and enchiladas.

Friends have liked the burritos, but be warned: Even the smaller burrito grande is more than some people can eat. I have not tried the seafood or the combination plates, but I was lucky enough to come on a weekend, when El Reboso offers a special menu that includes menudo and a delicious goat stew. All the meals start with the usual chips and salsa, both mild and hot (I prefer to mix them), and since much Mexican food is on the hot side, Rockford¹s thirsty Sicilians, Swedes, and Irishmen can wash their meals down with excellent Tecate beer, iced tea, or soft drinks—the standard American brands, of course, but also Mexican drinks made with tamarind, strawberry, and pineapple.

Although I have only eaten at El Reboso for lunch, just reading the take-out menu has convinced me to take the family to dinner this week, if only to try the Zacatecas Plate: pork ribs in salsa verde. If you see a bearded old gringo with a cane, wearing a necktie with green stains on it, you will know who he is.

El Reboso is located on 2648 11th Street,

227-4262. Previously Recommended Eurofoods The Rock River Times issue June 16, 2002 Altamore’s, now open (as we asked in the review) every Thursday evening (insert date of publication).

Thomas Fleming is the author, most recently, of Montenegro: the Divided Land.

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