200109DULCEVIDA

Jennifer Spangler, a member of The Gazette’s restaurant review team The Four Dishes, enjoyed this chicken burrito bowl during a recent visit to Dulce Vida in Beloit. The dish included chicken, shredded lettuce, black beans, Mexican rice, onions, pico de gallo, cheese and an added order of guacamole.

BELOIT

After just a quick drive down Prairie Avenue to Dulce Vida, we found ourselves in a sunny Mexican helados shop complete with bright walls and traditional signs.

But that’s only half the story. I was excited to discover all my favorite Mexican food there: handmade ice cream and ice pops, authentic Mexican cuisine, jugos naturales and bakery goods. Better yet, it is all made in-house, and it is delicious.

There is a large, casual dining area that could be used for parties, and on the weeknight we visited, the place was busy handling take-out orders. Decorated in colorful neon pinks and oranges, Dulce Vida has an energizing vibe. Several freezer cases housing a plethora of ice cream treats greet you at the front door.

And the bakery ... don’t get me started. From concha pastries, cakes and cookies to other more unusual sweet delicacies, Dulce Vida is a one-stop shop when you’re craving the real deal.

Forcing myself to walk past the multiple and varied ice cream choices, I lit up when I saw the jugos naturales (fresh juice). The Vampire ($4.50) sounded intriguing, so I ordered one. Carrots, beets and oranges were juiced into an earthy, pretty drink that made me feel healthy just from smelling the beets. I loved it.

The next order of business was selecting entrees. Customers order at the counter, and once an order is placed, there is a vast amount of topping choices to customize the dish. You can choose your style, bowl, chips and tortillas first, and then pick your choices of meat and toppings.

I had a giant quesadilla dinner ($8.99) that came with beans and rice. I added steak and topped it all with pico de gallo. It was gooey and cheesy, and the steak was not only flavorful but also served in small enough chunks to let the cheese melt in. The pico gave it all a slight kick. It was perfect.

Jennifer decided on the chicken burrito bowl ($6.49), which is basically like a burrito without the tortilla. Her toppings consisted of juicy, tender chicken, shredded lettuce, black beans, Mexican rice, onions, pico de gallo and cheese. A guacamole lover, it didn’t bother her a bit to dish out an extra dollar to add it. The melding of the fresh flavors proved to be top-notch.

Nikki went with nachos con carne ($6.59) and picked the beef barbacoa for her meat choice. There were two cheese options—mozzarella or nacho—so she opted for the nacho cheese and then loaded up the dish with veggies. She, too, added a serving of guacamole.

Helene chose three tacos ($6.49) and decided to try a different meat on each: al pastor (shredded pork), chorizo and beef barbacoa. She found the al pastor a little chewy and the beef barbacoa tender and juicy. The chorizo, which she found quite flavorful, was her favorite. There was a substantial dollop of meat on each corn tortilla, and her choice of toppings were onions, lettuce, cheese and cilantro with a lime on the side.

As I finished my dinner, I made sure to save room for ice cream. I headed over to the counter and sampled a few flavors. I loved the tamarind and the calabaza, but it took multiple tastings before I settled finally on butter pecan.

There were big chunks of pecans in my dish, and the ice cream was that perfect consistency—almost too soft with no crystals, smooth and creamy as if it were home-churned. In addition to milk-based ice creams, Dulce Vida offers water-based ice creams and ice pops in flavors such as coconut, melon, pineapple with hot sauce and kiwi. There really is something for everyone.

We almost got away without tasting the champurrado, a very thick, rich hot chocolate. We bought a hard roll to dip into it and reminisced about having something similar for breakfasts in France and Spain.

Jennifer placed a to-go order of six tamales for lunch the next day. Made fresh each and every morning, the tamales—corn dough wrapped in corn husks and stuffed with your meat of choice and cheese—had just the right amount of heat to be satisfying in every way.

I went home with my leftovers, plus my own order of pork tamales and a dessert called budin, a flan with raisins and coconut. It was an interesting treat.

If you are looking for authentic Mexican food at its finest, Dulce Vida—a restaurant, bakery and ice cream shop all rolled into one—serves up an immense variety of classic favorites.

The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.

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