I got a sense of the kind of effect Frente al Sol could have on a customer when I walked in for the first time and a woman by the counter turned to me, completely unprompted, and said, “The food here is amazing.” A few minutes later, again spontaneously, she told me to have a great day as she left before I could get her name. Wondering if the food here had that impact on everyone, I ordered, on the co-owner’s recommendation, a tilapia taco ($3.15) and four chicken enchiladas in an avocado-poblano sauce ($12.59). Frente al Sol bills itself as a Mexican fusion restaurant, so even though the menu had a lot of familiar Mexican restaurant fare, I wanted to try the dishes that came with a twist.
The tilapia was soft and fluffy and came with a tangy red cabbage slaw and a creamy chipotle sauce, all of which together was very good. The flavor of the enchiladas was something between home and heaven. The salsas provided for chips were also good, with the red, the spiciest, being my favorite.
Isidro Aguirra, the co-owner I spoke to, had been working in restaurants for fourteen years before deciding to open up Frente al Sol with his girlfriend Esperanza. Coming up with the name took a while because so many other names for Mexican restaurants were already taken. Esperanza spent some time looking at restaurant names in Mexico, and after a while she and Isidro compiled three ideas, all with “sol” in the name. Frente al Sol (“in front of the sun”) was the only one not taken by other Chicago restaurants.
The restaurant opened in 2017, but within the last two months they’ve noticed an uptick in customers. Isidro has been slowly expanding their menu, adding new twists on traditional Mexican dishes. The next item he wants to add is a homestyle take on the traditional Mexican dish of birria from the state of Jalisco, which can either be a soupy or more dry dish made with veal or goat meat. “You may have had birria, but not like my girlfriend makes it at home,” he said. Both he and Esperanza cook, and he explained that for him it meant overcoming cultural stereotypes to do so. “My father would always say a man goes into the kitchen only to eat,” he said, noting that entrenched gender roles around preparing food are strong. “I went back to Mexico and woke up early to cook breakfast. When my father woke up, he asked, ‘Who made this?’ When I told him it was me, he cried. He was happy.” Since then, Isidro’s brothers have also started cooking and have visited his restaurant. Isidro looks forward to diversifying the menu even more and attracting more customers in the coming years. (Adam Przybyl)
Frente al Sol, 4622 S. Kedzie Ave. $6–$15. Open daily 7am–9pm. (773) 231-6263. frentealsol.com