By Nona Tepper
After more than 20 years working in the restaurant industry, husband and wife Nadia and Roque Mondragon have opened Cactus Grill, with the aim of serving authentic Mexican food that appeals to the masses.
"We do tacos, rice, just like the food my grandma grew up cooking. Like chicken soup when I was sick, it was like the medicine for everything," Nadia said, adding: "We try to make our food as authentic as possible and we try to keep our flavors as close as whatever we grew up eating, with fresh ingredients and a positive attitude too, wishing for the best and wishing for the people to like our food."
Nadia said she spent 10 years managing a restaurant, along with working as a banquet coordinator for a few years before committing to raising her two sons full time. All the while, she said, Roque worked in restaurant kitchens.
Once the Cicero residents' children aged beyond toddlerhood, the two started looking for their own restaurant space. About a year ago, they began driving across the Chicago area with a focus on suburbs near Oak Park, where their sons Ricardo, 11, and Leonardo, 7, go to school at Ascension. When they passed 315 S. Harlem Ave., they knew it was the right place — at the intersection of three communities. They signed a contract in July, and immediately tore up the old carpeting in the space, painted the walls and counter, added bright decorations and much more. By late August, they served up their first plate of sizzling fajitas.
"A lot of the Mexican restaurants now, they try to do more like Tex-Mex food," she said. "We want to keep it as Mexican and authentic as possible and not too Americanized, so you can know the taste of how we live in Mexico. … It's important to keep our roots."