To survive in River North, restaurants tend to find their own little specialty, and it would appear Zocalo has cornered the market on tequila. Entering into the dining area through a hardwood staircase, you're first greeted with the sight of a bustling Mexican town square and the sound (should it be Friday or Saturday night) of the live band playing in the candlelight. The message is clear: It's time to party, but let's not get too rowdy about it.
Zocalo can get a little pricey, with entrees in the $14-$20 range – add a couple of cervezas and an appetizer, you could easily find yourself at $40 per person. One econo-option is to hit the bar between 5-7 p.m. for the daily "half-off appetizers" special, meaning you can snack on the spicy queso fundido norteño (Chihuahua cheese melted over homemade chorizo with soft tortillas) for $3.50. But for those with more than college student salaries, the house specialties are the way to go, as the juicy bistec a la Mexicana (grilled steak simmered in salsa) is more than worth paying $16.
And then there's the tequila, with numerous variations of the native Mexican spirit proudly covering the wall behind the bar. If adventurous alcoholic undertakings are your thing, ask for the tequila menu and bring your Spanish dictionary. Possible tequila selections: "Del Maguey Pechuga" ($38), "Herradura" ($9) and "Sauza Conmemorativo" ($10). It's best to just close your eyes and pick whichever one your finger lands on. With 110 different varieties, it screams to the tequila enthusiasts, "try them all!" Just don't try it in one night, guys.
Average cost: $21-$30
Centerstage Reviewer: Andy Seifert