Cuban is kid-friendly! Congri Cuban Restaurant in Grayslake serves up dishes that makes you wish you had your own Cuban grandmother. Entering Congri is much like walking into a warm hug where friendly smiles and delectable aromas envelope you. It’s quickly become a family favorite for those occasions when I just can’t find time to get a meal on the table or when we want to meet up with friends.
We tend to come during the week, as a treat after pre-school or for a lunch date with friends who also have little ones. Some smaller sit-down restaurants will go wide-eyed when you walk in the door with four kids ages 6 and under, but not so at Congri. Chiqui, one of the co-owners, always greets us with a warm smile and a pat on the head for the kids. The atmosphere is always welcoming, even though by know she’s figured out there’s going to be plenty of spills and crumbs by the time we walk out the door. There’s nothing worse than walking into a restaurant and feeling like you are an inconvenience to the staff. At Congri, they are always happy to see you and it’s nice to feel your business is appreciated, even when you have squirming rugrats in tow.
If you’re looking for tofu and micro-greens look elsewhere, the fare at Congri Cuban Restaurant is pure Caribbean comfort food. At the outset, Cuban cuisine may seem an exotic choice for younger palates, but it’s really very accessible to kids as well as uninitiated adults. Congri does offer a kid’s plate of chicken nuggets and fries, but I never order that for my kids. Instead I chose a couple side dishes for them; which together, are just as inexpensive and filling. Our favorite kid combination is an empanadilla with fried yuca (total of both items comes to $4.99.)
Empanadillas are small hand-held meat pies that your kids will love! At only $1.50 each you can afford one for them and two for you! Seasoned meat is folded into dough and then deep-fried. Mmmm…. fried…. For grown-ups looking for a snack, an empanadilla with a hot cup of their Cafe con Leche Cubano (Cuban Coffee with Milk) may just replace your afternoon trip to Starbucks for a latte and stale scone. Sip your coffee slowly and relax while the kids keep themselves busy coloring their activity placemats. You’re on Caribbean time now!
If you have kids who love french fries (is there a kid who doesn’t?) they will love fried yuca. Yuca, otherwise known as cassava, is a starchy tuberous root, with a very similar taste to potatoes. While it’s higher in carbs it is actually higher in Vitamin C than potatoes, but you don’t have to tell your kids that. A mojo dipping sauce is served on the side. If you love garlic, you’ll forget there was ever such a thing as ketchup.
Image from Congri Cuban Restaurant on Facebook
Folks of all ages can enjoy the popular Cuban Sandwich. It’s the Cuban take on a ham and cheese sandwich, but elevated to also include roasted pork, pickles, and mustard. The sandwich is then pressed like a panini to give it a lovely crisp crust.
Entrees come with either white rice, or their signature Congri, which is Cuban Rice with Black Beans along with your choice of one other side dish. My favorite entree is the Ropa Vieja which means “old clothes” in Spanish, a shredded beef dish so named because it resembles “old clothes.” It’s prepared in a tangy tomato sauce that reminds me of my dad’s own homemade stews he prepared for me growing up. Now I’m Filipino, not Cuban, but the Spanish influence in both cuisines is evident, familiar, and delicious! It’s a hearty dish (as most entrees are at Congri) but the portion sizes are reasonable, so you can walk away from the table without unbuckling your pants.
Naturally my children love the desserts, and I love to pat myself on the back for having preschoolers who can say they like flan. While they may not be getting any tofu or micro-greens at Congri, I love the fact that I am able to expand their culinary landscape beyond the typical fast food so prevalent in the suburbs. After having some of the Pastel de Guayaba, a guava pastry, they begged me to buy guavas at the store. If an occasional treat at Congri can open them up to trying a new fruit, then I am all for it!
The final thing I like about Congri Cuban Restaurant is that it’s a locally-owned business. Co-Owners Isabelita Delgado and Chiqui Ortigosa live in nearby Hainesville. The great thing about dining in a locally-owned restaurant is that the owners are more than restaurateurs, they are your neighbors. They are invested in the community and want to know you. I love walking into a local business where they know my name and are glad to see me. It’s that “Norm-walking-into-Cheers” feeling and I gladly plunk down my money for it. Next time the urge strikes you to hit the drive-thru because making dinner isn’t an option, I encourage you to sit down with your family at a locally-owned eatery instead and become familiar with your own local flavor.
Congri Cuban Restaurant
55 N. Barron Boulevard (Route 83), Grayslake | (847) 548-0206
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* We are proud to partner with Congri Cuban Restaurant and other local Lake County businesses in our next exciting Mom’s Night Out event. It’s shaping up to be quite a spicy evening, and we’re not just talking the food… Mark your calendars for the evening of Saturday, June 7th and stay tuned for all the spicy details!