In Evanston — a town where you learn about most all things by word-of-mouth — my discovery of this new spot came at the end of a text string. While choosing a restaurant for a night out with friends, the conversation ended like this: … there’s also the new place La Principal but no idea what their atmosphere is like. Wait, what? A quick look revealed photos of a glowing corner on Main street and a simple menu of Mexican small dishes. We took the kids and went for a family dinner that night. Days later, on an unusually warm and grey afternoon, I sat down with Eric Young, its chef and managing partner.
Inspired by the flavors and brightness of Mexican food and Mexican culture, Eric and his business partner, Derek Gaspar, saw the need for a new Mexican place in town. “We both love Mexican food,” Eric says. But also, in homage to the space it occupies — once the long-standing Lupita’s — Eric adds how people in the neighborhood have come to connect this corner with Mexican fare.
Their version brings together savory sandwiches, tacos and hearty pozoles, along with other craveable small plates. What’s unexpected and welcome are the housemade tortillas and locally-sourced breads and beers. Artisan bread from Hewn cradle the tortas, and two beers, Grounded Roja and Grounded Verde, are a collaboration with neighbor Sketchbook Brewing Company using the restaurant’s red mole and salsa verde. Local touches like these don’t stop with the menu. With an eye towards the commuter-centric neighborhood it sits in, Cafecito, their walk-up window, serves coffee and churros to those passing on their way to and from nearby trains.
Our first night in we chose the comforting red and green pozoles, while our girls picked simple beans and quesadillas. Around us were thirty-something couples, families, and friends meeting up for drinks and a relaxed dinner. I think of these things, and also picture those enjoying hot coffee and churros on their way to work. A place for many occasions, it seems, and I ask Eric if this was the intent. “It’s hard to do everything for everybody successfully,” he says. “We kind of wanted something somewhere where everybody could feel welcome.”