Okay, when anyone asks any Riverwalk-loving Naperville resident where they should go for tapas, the natural answer is most likely Meson Sabika without hesitation. To their credit, Meson Sabika is a pro-community institution in Naperville and a place where I have gone for dinner, fundraisers and special events a number of times over.
However, I tend to believe that Naperville’s dining scene is robust enough to support a variety of tapas restaurant offerings in the same way we have so many sushi bars. Even more, what is a Napervillian to do when they want some inventive tapas without heading over to the formal environs of the stately mansion?
The answer to these questions were discovered during a recent lunch outing with my wife during one of our snowier days a couple of weeks ago when we went out on a whim and decided to try Macarena Tapas Naperville, which is elusively tucked away in a small strip mall at 618 South Route 59. Okay, yes, it is in a strip mall but like so many other wonderful little restaurants in Naperville, once you are inside you quickly forget you are in a strip mall.
It appears the owners of Macarena Tapas Naperville were heading for a more intimate and slightly trendier atomosphere in contrast to Meson Sabika. The space is artfully decorated in a semi-minimalist fashion with rich dark colors. A long sleek bar lines the right of the restaurant which ends at the kitchen window.
Keep in mind, this was a big snow day and we happened to be the only ones in the restaurant, but heck, we received all the attention in terms of wait service. We asked our waiter how business was going and he indicated that while they were still developing their lunch crowd, nights have been pretty crazy.
Though our service was very friendly and attentive, I cannot stress enough to restaurant managers, owners, etc. all across Naperville that a little special attention goes a very far way in creating loyal customers. When we arrived, there were a couple of individuals who appeared to either be in the owner or manager category and despite this big chance to make their two newest patrons right at home, they ignored us and shortly thereafter left the restaurant to run an errand. Every new customer who comes through that door is an opportunity and a little interest and special attention can make a tremendous difference as to whether or not the doors are open in six months.
Anyway, on to the food. Macarena Tapas Naperville offered a highly affordable lunch menu consisting of either tapas dishes or daily specials, which include soup and dessert for around $10. You could also order from the regular tapas menu which featured familiar mainstays alongside some creative additions.
I selected a ribeye steak special which came with a shrimp soup and special tomato roasted potatoes. We also had a salad, a bleu cheese mushroom dish and goat cheese marinara with french bread toast. The soup was hybrid between a broth and cream based soup. Despite a hint of fishy flavor, it was overall a very nice soup. My dish, the ribeye steak and tomato roasted potatoes, was absolutely delightful. Being tapas, the steak was a petite cowboy cut which was slight reminiscent of an asian black pepper beef dish. The flavor was wonderful with plenty of the good stufff which makes ribeye steaks so flavorful. The potatoes were also a nice accompaniment. Overall, I found the special very enjoyable and full of great unexpected flavor.
As for dessert, they featured a chocolate chip cheesecake which had been made in-house. It was absolutely decadent and nice rich ending to a wonderful experience. My wife and I both agreed that the food and atmosphere was great and we plan to head back for dinner to try more of their tapas offerings in the near future.
With that said, I think Macarena Tapas Naperville has a shot at becoming a wonderful hidden gem for locals to enjoy. The food and space is on mark and if they can focus a little more heavily on winning over their local patrons and making them feel like part of the family, they could have a long future among Naperville food elite.
Macarena Tapas Naperville is located at 618 South Route 59 with an entrance just off of North Aurora Blvd. They have a website www.macarenatapas.com which is presently under construction.