This is the first installment in a new feature called "Best-Kept Secret" that will profile businesses, resources and sites that are hidden gems in the Fox Valley. If you have a suggestion for a place we should feature, please write to editor(at)gowestyoungmom.com.
I first heard of the Poblano Pepper Grill back in May, when I wrote a list tied to Cinco de Mayo entitled "Five Great ... Places for Tacos in the Western Suburbs." Two readers wrote in to comment that my list was missing a great spot for authentic Mexican food called Poblano Pepper Grill on the east side of St. Charles. Both mentioned that in addition to the food being amazing, the owners were wonderful, too.
Well, I know I have smart readers and we love Mexican food, and so my daughter and I went to check it out this summer for lunch. I was very impresed with my Asada tacos that day and the friendly attitude of the staff. So last month, I returned with my husband, daughter and in-laws so we could try out more dishes.
My verdict? I'm still dreaming of the Sopa Azteca, a tortilla soup served with cheese and chile pasilla strips and topped with sour cream. Poblano Pepper Grill has definitely become one of our favorite restaurants in the area. Both times I got to visit with the owners -- even met their new grandchild! -- and the story of the family behind it is nearly as good as the food.
Poblano Pepper Grill, which opened in February, is owned by Ruben and Lizette Alonso, who live in the Aurora area. They met more than 30 years ago in school in Mexico City and got married a year later. They say that even though they came from different backgrounds, both had grown up in homes where their moms prepared delicious home-cooked meals using traditional Mexican recipes.
When the couple started their own family, Lizette added her own personal touches and ingredients to those recipes. Ruben worked as a dental technician for 25 years, the last 15 in the United States, while they were raising their children. But whenever they entertained at their home, their families and friends would suggest the couple open a restaurant.
Now that their children are grown and pursuing their own professional careers, Lizette and Ruben decided to shake their lives up and open that restaurant. Lizette is the head chef, and Ruben wears a variety of hats. Their kids are involved, too, in addition to holding their own outside jobs. Their daughter helps with the business end; her husband helped with the remodeling, construction and maintenance; their son and his wife handle the public relations and advertising.
Ruben Alonso told me that one of the guiding principles behind the restaurant is that he wants patrons to feel as if they are enjoying a home-cooked meal in the Alonso home. To that end, everything is prepared on site. The crispy chips and refried beans are made at the restaurant. So is the delicious, smooth salsa, which is served warm.
People are certainly noticing the passion and devotion the Alonsos are putting into the food. It gets 4 1/2 out of 5 stars from 22 reviewers on Yelp, with some of the warmest raves coming from diners who say the food at Poblano Pepper Grill instantly reminds them of their childhoods in Mexico City. That's called authentic!
As you might guess, Poblano Pepper Grill doesn't have the kinds of foods you'd find at Taco Bell on its menu: There are no gorditas, or nachos or even burritos.
Instead, you'll find tacos that you can purchase a la carte for $2.25 each (The "Al Pastor" with pork, onions, cilantro and pineapple was my favorite); the Mexican-style sandwich known as a "Torta" for $7.99; appetizers like queso fundido and freshly made guacamole; salads that you can add chicken or steak to; and a number of dinner entrees ranging from $9.99 to $13.99 served with rice, black beans and tortillas. Those dinners include tamales, enchiladas and Cochinita Pibil, a "slow-cooked Mayan pork."
The Kids Menu includes three options for $3.99: A quesadilla and side of Mexican rice; two mini tacos and a side of rice; or chicken fingers and fries. Kids get a paper hat or coloring sheet to color, too. (Just a note: We got guacamole for our avocado-loving daughter last time, but it was too spicy for her. Just make sure to let your waiter know any preferences on spices or ingredients.)
And for the adults, Patch readers voted that Poblano Pepper Grill has the best margarita in the Tri-Cities. (Gotta get back there to try one!)
The food is delicious and made from scratch. The family who owns it is warm and friendly and devoted to the business. So why is Poblano Pepper Grill a best-kept secret and not packed?
It certainly doesn't have the "hip" factor that a place like Bien Trucha has going for it. This is a family-friendly spot with easy-to-wipe tablecloths and just a small little bar in the corner. Also, I think it's very difficult to get any family-owned restaurant off the ground, especially in our poor economy. But I think the biggest problem is that it lacks visibility.
Poblano Pepper Grill is located on busy Route 64, but in a shopping complex set back from the street and an area that has suffered with the closings of large chains like Borders Book Store and the deterioration of the Charlestowne Mall.
The address is 3677 E. Main Street in St. Charles, in a shopping complex near the southeast intersection of Main Street and Kirk Road. In the exact same strip in which the restaurant is located you'll find a Giordano's Pizza. Also nearby in the same general area is a Stein Mart and Office Depot. So if you're trying to reach Poblano Pepper Grill, whether you're heading east or west on Main Street, you'll want to turn south into the shopping complex just to the east of the intersection with Kirk Road. (Look for the Giordano's signs and let them be a beacon leading you to Poblano Pepper Grill!)
Poblano Pepper Grill is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is closed on Sunday. The phone number is 630-587-0304. If you go, make sure to tell them Go West Young Mom sent you. And make sure you get Ruben Alonso to tell you a bit about his family's passion for the restaurant and the stories behind the recipes.