We’re one appetizer into our meal at Blanco Cocina in Oak Brook and I’m already free-falling down a rabbit hole of pure nostalgia. Truth is, I haven’t wolfed down a plate of nachos with this much speed since the summer of 1991. Wrigley Field. Cubs versus Phillies. Box seats along the third-base line that’s so close to the action I can smell the fresh-clipped grass.
And get this: The Cubs are actually winning. My younger self is balancing a plastic tray of nachos with extra cheese on my kneecaps. I’ve just paid up the nose for that coveted extra burble of cheese over the top, guaranteeing me cheese for every chip. Pure youthful baseball bliss.
Time passes. Things change. Velveeta-colored cheese dip doesn’t do it so much for me anymore. But a plate of quality nachos still makes me go all gooey inside. There’s no need to request extra cheese at Blanco, but it’s worth paying the extra five bucks to load them up with short rib machaca: ultra-tender tufts of marinated beef—a sultry brew of tomatoes, onion, garlic, various peppers and the house’s salsa—braised for five glorious hours. It’s magnificent stuff, which Eddie Coronado, Blanco’s manager of culinary standards, also uses in the restaurant’s chimichangas and tacos.
Blanco’s nacho platter will arrive as a Jenga tower of deep-fried chips topped with guacamole, black beans, crema fresca, and pico de gallo. Your server will pour a tiny silver carafe of queso blanco, as if it were a steakhouse Bearnaise, theatrically over the top. Visually, the dish looks like Christmas in Sedona. All those jagged chips jutting out like rocky outcroppings. Beautiful primary colors, too. Red-rock crimsons. Cacti greens. Desert yellows. It’s delightfully unctuous, and rich enough to feed a table of four with leftovers to spare.
To its credit, Blanco is content to live in that tasty Tex-Mex gray zone that borrows from both sides of border. Its menu doesn’t wade into the hyper-regional Mexican delicacies that are best left to native-born chefs. It’s more focused on taco salads. Bowls of tortilla soup. Enchiladas. Burritos. Plus, a surprisingly good take on esquites, Mexican street corn creamed with mayo, lime juice, and cotija cheese.
Blanco’s colorful décor seems to be inspired by a busted piñata stuffed with Tex-Mex icons. Turquoise walls festooned with guitars and painted Texas longhorns. Chairs stitched to look like saddles. And a veritable greenhouse of potted plants dangling from the rafters.
Here’s a restaurant that just wants to please. You like creamy guacamole? You’re in luck. As someone who likes their guacamole on the mild side, I found the kitchen’s blend of roasted poblanos and Anaheim chiles delightful. You can order a single scoop topped with caramelized onion and cotija cheese or go with our pick: a guacamole-topped cheese crisp. Blanco offers five of these ultra-thin Mexican-American flatbreads, but our favorite was the short rib with charred onion. The kids will think it’s pizza but you’ll know better.
Follow it up with the house’s fajita. No lava-hot mulcajete here, but we didn’t mind as a generous slab of carne asada marinated in a tomato-soy marinade is presented like a giant carved-up steak. Although it’s not explicitly mentioned on the menu, all of Blanco’s tacos can be ordered a la carte. The kitchen’s slow-cooked pork taco with roasted corn slaw and pickled onions is a can’t-miss, as is its full-bodied carnitas taco, which is good enough pass muster with even the most discriminating of abuelas. If you still have room, order Blanco’s wonderful Mexican chocolate tiramisu. It’s a charming cultural mash-up, which swaps out the burnt espresso notes beloved in Italy for the spiced hot chocolate that the Mexican table has perfected. Instead of ladyfingers, you’ll find a cookie buried into the base of a ramekin topped with Chocolate mousse, dulce de leche, candied walnuts and a coffee syrup made with Ibarra chocolate and Kahlua. It’s so good I expect a Tex-Italian food craze to come moseying around the corner any day now.
Although Blanco offers an expansive collection of tequila and mescal flights, the cocktail list celebrates those smoky spirits just as well.
Mezcal Old Fashioned:
Why mess with the recipe for a classic Old Fashioned? Because the bar’s use of Banhez Meszcal is just floral enough—with hints of citrus and smoke—to make an already smooth American tipple even smoother.
Dodge’s Cadillac Margarita:
It’s doubtful you can go wrong with any of Blanco’s margaritas, which run the gamut from a spicy strawberry & habanero number to a sweet Aces & Eights with orange curacao and red sangria float, but this Don Julio meets Grand Marnier offering was born to be paired with Blanco’s delicious short rib machaca.
Blanco is located at 2022 Spring Road in Oak Brook. Call 630-320-2034 or visit blancotacostequila.com.