The crazy coconut of Alvarez has been in Rockford since 1987. Since then, Mexican food has been popularized and Americanized to a standard cliché of gargantuan burritos with sauce, tacos in crispy shells, smooth refried beans, and watery guacamole. Alvarez, however, remains stubborn in offering authentic and quality dishes beyond standardized clichés.
When I see a dozen seafood entrees, mole on at least three dishes, lengua tacos, and sopa de frijol negro, I know I have come to the right place.
Mole is a complicated sauce that is labor intensive. While there are many varieties of mole, to me, a mole either makes or breaks a Mexican restaurant. Proper mole requires roasting and grinding and can take two or three days to prepare. According to owner Frank Alvarez, his mother-in-law makes the mole with seventeen ingredients. The resulting sauce is a reddish brown color which has a hint of spiciness, sweetness, nuttiness—complexities harmoniously blended into a rich, smooth paste.
Many Mexican restaurants in the Rockford area serve up mole from canned jars. One bite of the uniqueness of the Alvarez mole will send you to Mexican food heaven and remind you of the movie Like Water for Chocolate.
If you have never had mole, try the chicken enchiladas with mole. Next to the enchiladas, you will notice that the lump of guacamole sitting atop the bed of lettuce is what I call the “purist’s” guacamole. It’s coarsely mashed, chunky avocado without any additives to adulterate the natural goodness of the avocado.
Tacos are authentic. Generous portions of toppings nestle in corn tortillas. The homemade salsa verde ranks one of the best I have ever had. It is not so hot that you can’t enjoy it. Mild jalapenos are blended smoothly with tomatillos. There is usually a weekly special priced at only $5.95.
On a Wednesday lunch time in January, almost every table is taken at this small, cozy family restaurant. I decide to order something I seldom see on Mexican menus in this area: sopa de mariscos (a deep dish seafood soup with shrimp, fish, octopus, mussels, and a piece of quality crab leg). Basically, this sounds like the Mexican bouillabaisse.
Seafood is a real test at any restaurant. Slightly overcooked, and your seafood dish is ruined. The friendly owner Frank warns me that this dish will take at least twenty minutes to make. I see this as a good sign. Good things take time to make.
I am glad of my choice. The tomato-based broth is full-bodied with a strong scent of bay leaf. The seafood pieces are generous in portion and not at all over-cooked. The crab meat is still silky and succulent.
Judging from how busy the place is on a chilly Wednesday lunch time, I am certain I am not the only person who recognizes a gem when she tastes it.
Los cocos locos of Alvarez
205 E. Riverside, Loves Park, 61111