Sep 23, 2021

Roots delivers Latin fare – and flair – to Springfield, Ill.

When it comes to finding restaurants specializing in top-notch tapas, my hometown of Springfield, Ill., is probably not the destination that first comes to mind. 

But Roots Latin Grill, a small eatery in a west side strip mall of all places, somehow manages to excel at bringing the signature dishes and cocktails of Central and South America to my hometown … one small plate at a time. 

Like many traditional tapas-style restaurants, Roots makes the most out of a small space.  So, you better be prepared to wait or, preferably, phone ahead for a reservation.  Even the small bar in the front of the restaurant is consistently crowded.  

And the table seating along the opposite wall is quite limited.

But for what they lack in seating, they make up for in the restaurant’s spaciousness and stylishness.  You never feel crowded in Roots even with a packed house, and the walls are tastefully decorated with artwork of various Latin American scenes.

Once seated, you’re handed menus which are displayed on small individual clipboards.  As you flip each page over, you move from one section to another (e.g., small plates, large plates, desserts, cocktails).  It’s actually a helpful way to plan your meal over several courses, especially if your focus is on sharing small plates like Punky and I intended to do.   

Of course, many good meals begin with a good cocktail, and Roots’ drink menu gave us plenty of variations on classic South and Central American beverages.  Punky was delighted with her Brazilian-style caipirinha, and I was very impressed with the smoked pisco sour – the presentation of the drink under the smoked glass alone was worth the order, but the smokiness added an unexpected depth to the flavor of the alcohol and the splash of cinnamon in the glass.  My only regret was not catching the smoking process on camera. But it was at this precise point when our drinks were served that I deemed Roots Latin Grill to be blogworthy.

Our drinks were soon followed by the Spanish-style bruschetta we ordered – one right-sized piece for each of us.  The toast is topped with chorizo, onions and tomatoes then drizzled with a slightly spicy aioli.  The chewiness of the bread worked really well to keep all the pieces together with every bite.   

The rest of the food came out together, but we were totally fine with passing and sharing all the plates in front of us at this point.  The marinated steak skewers, known as pinchos, were an immediate hit with Punky and the Kiddo.  The peanut sauce drizzled over the dish – which included bite-sized roasted potatoes and yucca fries – is apparently a Bolivian tradition, and it complemented the flavor of the beef very well. 

Like the bruschetta, the mango salsa tostones conveniently came as an order of three.  I found these to be very similar to tostada except crisped plantains are used as the base instead of tortillas.  And that makes them much tastier, in my opinion.  I also didn’t know what guasacaca sauce when I ordered (OK, it’s just avocado salsa), but I became a fan in a hurry!

And every tapas restaurant seems to have its take on garlic mushrooms, so I didn’t consider our dining experience at Roots complete without trying theirs.  The portion was generous, and the broth – enriched with white wine, according to their menu – was simply delicious when soaked up with a side of bread.  I considered drinking it straight out of the bowl but I would have probably gotten some strange looks, particularly from the other side of the table.   

Our other “big plate,” aside from the pinchos, was a pair of what Roots calls their Ensenada fish tacos. They were plated simply, yet elegantly, so all the ingredients from top to bottom could be displayed.  There’s something spectacular about the combination of hot fried fish with a bounty of fresh cool toppings like avocado, sour cream, cotija cheese, pico and picked cabbage, especially when done as well as this. 

So, this concludes what I’m calling my “tapas trilogy” of blog posts.  While Roots Latin Grill may not have the star power of Jaleo at Disney Springs in Orlando or the culinary traditions of Lola’s in New Orleans, I think Roots is doing just fine with their niche in Springfield, Ill.     

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