Diego Rivera is mad as hell. A portrait of the Mexican muralist hangs on the south wall of the sunburst-orange dining room of Sol de Mexico. In the original painting, Rivera’s expression is pensive, but in the reproduction at this Mexican restaurant in Cragin, the artist has turned Rivera’s mouth into a grumbling scowl. It’s as if Rivera knows one of Chicago’s finest spots for authentic Mexican may be in jeopardy.
When it first opened, this house of mole had a buzz mainly because owner Carlos Tello is the brother-in-law of well-known chef Geno Bahena, and Sol’s chef, Clementina Flores, is Bahena’s mother. To keep the buzz going, Tello and Flores have been working hard, rotating tantalizing weekend specials like roasted pork chops slathered in smoky mole negro and crispy golden-skinned duck breast floating in a moat of bright mole verde studded with roasted pumpkin seeds. Appetizers like zingy marlin ceviche sport a tongue-teasing acidity smoothed by creamy chunks of avocado, while the pastel de piña, roasted pineapple drizzled with fresh caramel, ends your nightmares of outdated molten lava cakes.
Tello is optimistic, saying, “We’re getting busier all the time.” But he’s quick to add, “We can always use more business.” One reason for its lull may be that Sol’s Cragin location isn’t the most commuter-friendly, but trust us, it’s worth a Zipcar rental. No matter how much time and money you spend, it’ll still be cheaper and quicker than a trip to Oaxaca, and there’s no guarantee the mole there will be this good.—Michael Nagrant
3018 N Cicero Ave between Wellington Ave and Nelson St (773-282-4119). Bus: 54 Cicero, 77 Belmont (24hrs). Lunch and dinner (closed Tue). Average main course: $15.