I have been to Lincoln Park dozens of times, but never before found a restaurant I loved that was within walking distance…until now! Mesa Urbana is a true Lincoln Park hidden gem. Just over a month old but with decades of experience and culinary creations, Mesa Urbana is bringing their tried and true brand to the city from the suburbs.
All About the Atmosphere
Navy banquettes are illuminated by wraparound windows and accented by gold fixtures and warm lighting. The feel is modern and clean, with a touch of Art Deco. Gold velvet barstools flank the well-stocked bar, and fresh citrus is stacked in bowls, ready to be freshly pressed and crafted into a perfectly balanced cocktail. Tables are well-spaced, giving off a lively, energetic vibe while still allowing for social distancing and privacy.
And let’s just talk about the patio. They are prepared to handle seating for a large number of patrons this summer, which I anticipate is going to be bananas in terms of people wanting to dine out. The spacious patio is tucked away on a cul-de-sac, which means no roaring traffic, honking horns, or crazy construction to interrupt your meal. I cannot think of a more idyllic patio space than Mesa Urbana, and you will see me here regularly during the warmer months sipping on tequila with a smile.
Elevate Your Spirits
I first fell in love with Mesa Urbana when I tried their house margarita at their Northbrook location (currently closed). I have tried margaritas at most upscale Mexican restaurants in the city, and I have to say this is one of my absolute favorites. It starts out with G4 Reposado Tequila, which is in its fourth generation of tequila making in the Camarena family (hence the name G4). From there, fresh-squeezed lime juice and agave are added, and it is shaken tableside and poured into coupes. The use of coupes instead of traditional margarita glasses is intentional, giving the drink a regal, upscale feel.
In addition to their mastery of tequila-based drinks, mescal is a highlight on the mixologist’s menu. If you consider yourself mezcal-curious like me, you absolutely need to try La Piña Fresa. I am still undecided as to my love of this smoky, agave-based outlaw cousin of tequila, but this drink had me asking for seconds. The sweet/citrusy combination tempers the bold, brash nature of Mezcal perfectly. The Smoky Pepino is next on my list to try when I return- Mezcal + Cucumber, sweetened by agave seems like a refreshingly complex combination.
Small But Mighty
I am such a fan of ordering an array of small plates and sharing with the table, and Mesa Urbana makes it tough to choose just a few! Their Queso Fundido is an absolute must-have dish: shrimp is mixed with poblano peppers (not too spicy, I promise!), tomato, and covered in bubbling, browned cheese with ripe avocado and pico de gallo. Fresh, warm tortillas and homemade molcajete salsa accompany this mouthwatering masterpiece!
For a citrusy twist on ceviche, you will fall in love with their version. Shrimp is combined with passion fruit, mild habanero peppers, citrus, jicama, mango, avocado, and cilantro. I cannot imagine a more refreshing, light appetizer for the warm months.
Fish tacos were on the menu this evening- lightly battered mild fish atop a tortilla slathered with avocado puree, garnished by a mound of purple cabbage and citrusy salsa. Their homemade salsa of course accompanied this dish, and the warmth perfectly pairs with the citrus.
Although I thought I might be full from our small plate extravaganza, I knew I had to leave room for a true Lincoln Park hidden gem: Carne Asada. Many times, restaurants use a not-so-prime cut for carne asada, thinking customers might not know the difference. After tasting this, I can tell you it puts all other Carne Asada dishes in the city to shame. To start, they use USDA Prime Allen Brothers skirt steak. Allen Brothers has been a Chicago purveyor of the finest meats for over 125 years. They use the highest grade of USDA Prime, which represents the top 3% of all graded beef in America. Yes, quality meat makes a huge difference, and Mesa Urbana knows how to perfectly sear their carne asada to keep the flavor at its prime.
Other popular main dishes include Salmon al Carbon, flavored with the unique taste of tamarind, mango, papaya, and an avocado puree. Shrimp Risotto is served in coconut yellow curry, exemplifying the fusion of flavors and cultures Mesa Urban is known for. There are plenty of lighter dishes like Kale Salad and Beet Salad, or a vegetarian Tostada with mushrooms.
What to Do in the Area
If you are familiar with my date night posts, you know I always suggest something to do before or after the meal! Date nights aren’t just about dining…usually, you pair an activity along with it and Mesa Urbana is in the heart of all that Lincoln Park has to offer.
If you want to take a pre-dinner stroll, you can book a time at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Reservation times are released at 4:30pm every Sunday and Thursday for the following 3-4 days. The latest reservation time is 4-4:30pm, and you can head here for the reservation link.
If you want to spark a little competition, head to Diversey Driving Range for a round of mini-golf! Located near Diversey and Lake Shore Drive, this 18 hole mini-golf is open daily until 11 pm (last sale at 10 pm). A round is only $10 per person, which in my book is a steal for any activity in the city.
Looking for laughs? Zanies Comedy Club is a Chicago institution nestled in the middle of Old Town. On the weekends, they have multiple showtimes to accommodate pre- or post-dinner entertainment. Seating is first-come, first-served so arrive early if you don’t want to be heckled in the front row or stranded in seats in the back. They do require a two-item minimum per person (food or drink).
Cheers to discovering a true Lincoln Park Hidden Gem, and planning the perfect night out with your favorite people!
Disclosure: I received a meal at Mesa Urbana for review purposes. All opinions are honest and my own as always.