I try to be very descriptive with everything I do, sometimes less than others. But I can attest to the quality, atmosphere and ambiance of this restaurant going back about 18 years, at their first Chicago, Illinois opening downtown on North Ave and Clybourne. I always wished they had opened up their bar area on the weekends to have open floor dancing while you waited. The atmosphere is very upbeat. I was about 16 when my friends and I first started going there. There were periods where we waited about 1-2 hours to sit down and other times where we frequented so much that we were often seated more quickly. I haven't been to the downtown location in several years, but I have seen that they have opened an outside seating area for the summer months, there is now a section that can be closed off for private parties & if you're lucky and he still works there, ask for the bartender that has been there over 18 years. He is one of the great ones!
Now that my family and I have lived in the western suburb area for the last 10 years or so, they expanded and opened another Uncle Julio's in Lombard, IL at the Fountain Square on Butterfield Rd, about 5 minutes west of Oakbrook Mall. We still frequent there, maybe once every one to two months. They have a great staff there (except for the newbees - they can always use a little help). The food is not traditional Mexican food, but more of a Tex-Mex style. They have homemade flour tortillas, better than any Mexican restaurant I've ever been to. The one downside is that they have never taken reservations, which really doesn't make sense considering how busy they have become over the years. They do do this thing called "Call ahead seating," although I am not particularly a fan because even though you call ahead, you still have to wait a fair amount of time after arrival. The food is always great, drinks are good and atmosphere is lively. But they do have a downside. My family and I eat out ALMOST every day of the week. We go to all types of places, upscale and mid to down scale. The main reason we don't eat here as much anymore is due to their pricing. When I was 16 and first started eating there, the fajitas for one used to be about $17.95-$19.95 (forgive me, it's been a LONG time and I couldn't recall exactly). Today, the fajita plate for one is about $29.99, almost double.) Their special swirl drink that is OH SO DELICIOUS used to be $4.95. It is now about $9.00. They have had the same "special" for about 18 years, called the "Cadillac Platter," which includes a lobster tail and fajitas, although I have noticed the other night, they had a list of specials, different items that we had never seen, such as the "Brisket tacos" which were quite delicious. Their ribs are good, their quesadillas are wonderful and on certain nights, they have a BBQ chicken quesadillas, which is very good, as well. But their appetizers are also about double in price. Now the reason I bring this up is because I've seen the prices change over the years, but I can't say I've seen other higher end restaurants raise prices nearly as much. I understand that we have inflation over time, but other restaurants such as the Cheesecake Factory, Wildfire, Maggiano's, etc, have not increased their pricing almost 100% over the last 18 years. I'm curious to know how other restaurants have been able to keep their costs at a reasonable rise, but Uncle Julio's could not? And I don't think that Uncle Julio's food prices are justified to be as close to other high end restaurants, such as those mentioned above. Don't get me wrong, you will love whatever you try, but I don't feel that it is worth the price you will pay. For a family of four, two adults and two children, you will spend about $70 with an appetizer without tip, or more if you order drinks. I've even been told that within the last year, not only has management raised prices, but they have also switched out the chip bowls, salsa bowls and other plates to be smaller, but filled to the top, to hope customers wouldn't notice the change, although chips and salsa are refillable at no charge at anytime. I can't speak to a ton of restaurants to this degree, but I can here because we used to go here almost every weekend! I couldn't wait until Friday to have a delicious swirl! They used to have post cards on the tables that my friends and I would send to each other as a joke to say we had gone there without one or the other. I can note design changes in both downtown and Lombard over the years, staff changes and menu changes quite well.
So with that said, I definitely think it is a place to try at least once. Although I am disappointed in their pricing over the years, we have always gone back for more, just not quite as often. I personally feel that they could still run successfully, but without raising their prices every year. Their food is excellent, drinks are great, too. They do have a decent selection for the kids menu, everything is $5.95 to $6.95, I believe. It is very family friendly. They also give kids tortilla dough to play with at the table (you may have to ask for it, but it is always available). Thanks for listening and enjoy!
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