Mystery Diner in Naplate: Discover a new favorite Mexican dish at Mariachis

Naplate restaurant serves unique salsa, filling appetizers and tasty entrees

There’s nothing my sister loves more than a good margarita. And where better to find one than at one of the region’s Mexican restaurants?

My sister and I recently had a mutual night off, which provided an opportunity for a Siblings’ Night Out. We are frequent diners at Mexican restaurants in Marseilles, Ottawa, Streator and Peru, but this time we opted to be first-time patrons at Mariachis in Naplate.

The restaurant’s brick facade faces Ottawa Avenue, which is Naplate’s main thoroughfare. Turn onto 20th Avenue to find parking along the west side of the building.

When we rounded the front of the building, my sister immediately was charmed by the ceramic figures of cacti and snoozing charros that flank the front door. The interior is painted a soft, cheerful yellow that keeps the bar and dining room bright.

The room’s minimalism allows diners’ attention to hone in on the drinks and food. At Mariachis, the menu items are a feast for both the eyes and the stomach.

The evening’s bartender promptly seated us and took our drink orders – a pineapple margarita on the rocks ($6) for my sister and a blended strawberry margarita ($6) for me. There’s nothing artificial about the margaritas’ flavors – both drinks contained well-blended fruit flesh to provide a vibrant, fresh taste.

The server brought a basket of chips and salsa to the table while we browsed the menu. The salsa at Mariachis is a local standout – the recipe is unlike any we’ve sampled elsewhere. It features a thicker blend, which is easier to scoop onto the chip, and my sister proffered high praise for its slightly smoky flavor.

Because we were first-timers, we ordered the Botana de Mariachis Fiesta ($15.50) from the appetizer menu. This sampler platter includes a full plate of nachos, four flautas (two chicken and two beef) and a cheese quesadilla. Even though this is an appetizer, it’s a large enough platter to serve as a meal for two.

At first glance, the nachos look simple – chips covered with refried beans and white cheese – but the quality of the shredded, melted cheese made them addictive.

By the time our entrees arrived – Tampiqueña de Pollo ($15.95) for her and Pollo a la Diabla ($15.95) for me – it was clear we would need carryout containers. The portion sizes are generous, and our large appetizer had already claimed much of our appetite.

Despite that, we each made a respectable dent in our entrees because, like the nachos, the meals are irresistible. The Tampiqueña de Pollo includes seasoned chicken breast with two enchiladas on top, complete with a side of rice and beans.

The Pollo a la Diabla serves up strips of chicken smothered in a sauce containing onion, cilantro, tomato and hot sauce. The heat kicks in as an aftertaste – there’s no tongue-burning, need-to-chug-water, fiery spice. Like my sister, I needed a carryout container, and the dish reheated wonderfully the next day.

Because of the amount of food we ordered, our small table became crowded at times. However, the server was quick to clear away dishes to give us space. I recommend timing a meal before the dinner crowd arrives. The dining room can become snug as the tables fill up, and there’s a chance you’ll bump a neighboring tables’ diners if you scoot your chair back too vigorously (as I discovered, with many apologies to the good-natured man dining behind me).

Before the night concluded, my sister ordered one more pineapple margarita.

After all, there’s nothing she loves more than a good margarita. And Mariachis provides that and more.

• The Mystery Diner is an employee of Shaw Media. The diner’s identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a different restaurant and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a review.


WHAT: Mariachis

WHERE: 1911 Ottawa Ave., Naplate, near Ottawa

PHONE: 815-433-6800

INFORMATION: Facebook at