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New Crave Cafe looks to bring a homegrown, healthy touch to Mexican food in Lake Zurich

When Maria Vega was growing up in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, her mom and six aunts cooked everything from scratch, she recalled recently.

By the age of 7, Vega, who now lives in Wheeling, became a member of the family cooking team, cutting and preparing vegetables, meats and other ingredients.

“I’m a very passionate cook,” she said. “I have always cooked for family. I got some great recipes I picked up along the way. My mom was a big influence. As an Hispanic, when you cook, you cook everything from scratch. That’s what it boils down to.”

Vega now will look to apply her homegrown passion for cooking to her new business in Lake Zurich — New Crave Cafe, which opened recently at 751 W. Route 22.

Vega said she spent about two years looking for the right location and almost settled in Morton Grove before deciding on Lake Zurich.

As the master chef, she said her tiny staff of two will prioritize home-cooked tastes and healthy ingredients — something she realized was lacking at restaurants and carryout places while she worked as the chief financial officer at CMI Packaging Inc. in Wheeling.

As a result, New Crave Cafe will not use MSG, fructose or partially hydrogenated oils in the broad array of Mexican food on the menu, she said.

“I want it to all taste home-cooked,” Vega said. “People say, ‘This rice is not like normal rice you get in a Mexican restaurant.’ When we cook, we chop everything fresh and prepare it like you would for someone you love.”

After a slow start, business has started to pick up, she said, leading many customers to express their approval online in Yelp reviews.

“I’m really happy with the comments,” Vega said, adding, “People like the food so far. I’m really happy about that. It’s given me the inspiration to keep going, even on slow days.”

New Crave is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays, and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays. It seats up to 36, Vega said.

Anna Uriostegos, server and cashier at New Crave, said Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays are the business’ busiest days so far.

“The most popular are Los Tres Amigos Tacos, fajitas and El Beef Burrito,” Uriostegos said of the menu.

Vega said a house specialty also is her homemade soup, which she serves free to each customer before they order.

They also hope to add alcohol service in the coming weeks after village board members recently approved a liquor license for New Crave. But the business still needs to receive a state license, she added.

“I’m thinking beer and margaritas. I would make the mix,” Vega said. “We’d also do micheladas, mimosas, regular drinks and beer. People love beer with their tacos.”

Vega said she chose the name New Crave because she plans to eventually offer food from other ethnic groups, including Peruvian and American dishes. The restaurant’s website also emphasizes “Latin fusion.”

“The greatest thing that inspires me is I want people to have another option for healthy food,” she said. “It’s not just Mexican that I can cook well. There are a lot of cuisines that I can do.”

Phil Rockrohr is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

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