Tijuana Flats, born in Winter Park, Florida has just arrived at Oakbrook Terrace, its first location in Illinois. This is a casual-style eatery serving the freshest highest quality Tex-Mex cuisine. Many of us never find our passion in life. Brian Wheeler, a 1995 graduate of the University of Central Florida, found his, not in his college curriculum as expected, but in the love of sharing good times with college compadres at restaurants and bars. Never having worked in a restaurant he still had a vision as to what makes a successful dining experience. With an initial loan of $20,000 from his father and by selling his car he opened the first Tijuana Flats near his alma mater. His vision and hard work paid off and he was able to open two more locations. In 1999 Wheeler caught the eye of then retired crackerjack restaurant executive, Camp Fitch, who after a visit to Tijuana Flats decided to invest in becoming a chairman and owner. The chain has exploded into over 135 locations in five states: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and now Illinois. I heard through the grapevine there are more Illinois locations planned in the future.
Tijuana Flats is committed to providing their guests quality fresh Tex-Mex food in a friendly, fun, funky atmosphere. Their outstanding service and paramount core values put them miles ahead of their competition. Their six core values start with Respect. That is perhaps one of the main reasons they are able to retain employees and train them onto becoming TF store managers. Quality, Opportunity, Integrity, Fun, and Community round out their values and drive their culture. I love a place that feeds my face while stoking my social conscience. They have always given back to the community and in January 2007 created the Just in Queso (JIQ) Foundation which has given over $3.0 million to help those in need. You can learn about how TF gives donations and their time back to the people and programs in their communities that benefit children and our military.
We were warmly welcomed to dine at Tijuana Flats on Wednesday, June 22, at 6:00 p.m. The vibe was energetic with a diverse crowd. There were singles, couples, families, and friends enjoying their appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Their menu includes burritos, tacos, chimichangas, enchiladas, bowls, flautas, quesadillas, chicken wings, nachos, tostadas, and desserts. Tex-Mex for all.
My friend and I ordered our items at the counter and they asked for a name. They deliver the food to you. There is no need to sit down and then jump back up. Our appetizer, the guacamole, arrived first. It was delicious. We were amazed by the light, crispy, warm chips. They are addictive. So often when I order guacamole and chips I am disappointed that many establishments skimp on the chips. I do not like to beg for more. Everything we chose was a more than generous portion. The steak tacos were delectable. You can choose soft or hard shell tortillas. We also chose the tasty quesadillas. It was too much food for two friends, but we did enjoy everything and were able to bring home yummy leftovers. They have beers, hard seltzers, sodas, strawberry-lemonade available, and margaritas on tap. We sampled the margaritas and gave them two thumbs up.
The servers and staff were outstanding in promptness, pleasant personalities, and hospitality. Mital wore a tee with the words “Dining on Good Food Fuels Our Fire.” She patiently answered all our questions about Tijuana Flats. Brittany, a newly promoted trainer, made sure we were taken good care of. She started as a server and her prowess was quickly noted and rewarded. If you are not a fan of spicy food you will love the fact that you get to choose your own level of sweet or spicy, mild or death by fire from the hot sauce bar. I chose the mildest variety a sweet chili Asian type. Olga and I bought full-size bottles to take home. There are 15 different full bottles of Tijuana Flats’ hot sauces to choose from with hysterical names like Smack My A*** & Call Me Sally or Don’t Be A Chicken Sh** all available for sale.
This is a fun place with interesting unique decor. We enjoyed the design of the dining room with its wall-size mural of Chicago inundated by neon green comic Florida iguanas. Chicago Fine Artist and Outstanding Muralist Nate Baranowski did the wall paintings. His mural jumps out at you with color and spice. If you prefer to dine, Alfresco Tijuana Flats has an outdoor patio. Tijuana Flats is located at 17W615 Butterfield Road in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois 60181 Phone (630) 317-0871. TF has developed a loyal customer base of which we now intend to become faithful members.
Photos: Courtesy of Heron Agency