If you sat down to write a business plan for a Mexican restaurant, you wouldn't start with closing at sundown on Friday and reopening late Saturday night. You probably wouldn't strikethrough expected entree choices like shrimp fajitas or pork carnitas. And surely you wouldn't open two restaurants in spots where previous Mexican businesses had failed.
Defying all logic, Isaac and Moishe Nava have done all those things--winning the stomachs and hearts of Highland Park diners in the process. Since opening La Casa de Isaac in early 2007, the brothers have shown the Midas touch, and this week, they are expanding back where it all started.
I spoke with Moishe Nava about the pair's growing empire. Nava told me that Highland Park's newest restaurant, La Casa de Isaac and Moishe, opens Wednesday morning. It is located at 2014 First St., a space that had been That Little Mexican Cafe and before that La Casa del Gordo.
By now, the Navas' story is familiar to many. The brothers, whose parents converted to Judaism, apply a mix of great Mexican flavors and hints of Jewish traditions to their menu at the first La Casa de Isaac, 431 Temple Ave., and Isaac and Moishe's Deli, 311 Waukegan Ave. in Highwood.
Menu favorites at La Casa de Isaac include killer tampiqueña (a flat iron steak), a great vegetarian burrito campestre, ceviche made with tilapia that actually tastes great, and my older daughter's favorite -- challah French toast. The restaurant has also been known to serve Mexican latkes at Hanukkah, or enchiladas made with salmon.
While La Casa is indeed closed over the Sabbath, the place packs a crowd during every other mealtime, with families and friends enjoying great-tasting Mexican dishes and drinks.
Isaac and Moishe's Deli opened in 2009, and the brothers have successfully converted the enterprise to a mix of Hispanic grocery, Mexican street food and Jewish deli. The deli is best-known for an amazing roasted chicken dinner, featuring a unique spice marinade.
Personally, I prefer the tamales and grilled meats--depending on the day, you might even find goat barbacoa (barbecue). It has taken me several visits to persuade the staff to speak Spanish with me, but from the imported Coca-Cola to the churros, the deli is a Mexican mercado first, North Shore deli counter second. That the pastrami on rye is delicious is both a surprise and expected from the Nava brothers.
According to Moishe Nava, the new First Street location opens at 7 a.m. for breakfast and has a set price menu for express lunch. During the grand opening, the restaurant will feature a $5 breakfast special. Otherwise, the menu mirrors the existing Casa de Isaac.
The Navas recognize that there are many breakfast options in Highland Park, but feel they will bring in patrons through great taste and generous portions. It remains to be seen how the brothers will fare with two similar restaurants just a short distance apart, but shifting their breakfast primarily to the new site is one indicator that the Navas recognize this challenge and are taking it head-on.
If you are craving tacos late on a Friday night, you might have to make a run for the border--yes, Taco Bell will soon be opening in Highland Park, though whether that qualifies as Mexican or not will have to wait for another column--or one of the local taquerias. Any other time, it's worth checking out the expanding Isaac and Moishe empire--be sure to tell them I sent you.