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Abel’s Mexican Restaurant celebrates 20 years

Owner Abel Bonillwith signature margarithe prepared his Grayslake restaurant.| TinJohansson/for Sun-Times Media

Owner Abel Bonilla with a signature margarita he prepared at his Grayslake restaurant.| Tina Johansson/for Sun-Times Media

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Abel’s Mexican Restaurant, Pizza & Bar

125 Center St., Grayslake

Abel’s lunch specials are Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Specials for $5.95 to $6.95, including rice and beans, include 3 enchiladas, a chimichanga plate, tacos, chile relleno, tostadas, burrito plate, or four flautas.

For $8.79 and $10.99, there are lunch-sized fajitas including steak, shrimp or chicken. Salads and quesadillas are also served for lunch.

(847) 548-2003

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Determination and hard work has paid off for Abel Bonilla. This month his business, Abel’s Mexican Restaurant, Pizza & Bar in downtown Grayslake, will be 20 years old.

Bonilla is the proud owner of the building on Center Street, a former laundry, where locals come in for his homemade salsa, guacamole and margaritas. His south-of-the-border lunch specials, and deep-dish and thin-crust pizzas are popular at the place.

“The American dream is true,” he said with a smile. “I believe you can accomplish anything, if you work hard. I am proof.”

For Bonilla, the road to becoming a successful entrepreneur was not easy. He grew up in a farming community in Central Mexico. His mother died when he was 11. Soon after his father became ill, and it was up to Bonilla, the eldest of a large family to care for his younger brothers, ages 3 and 5.

When he was a teenager, his father remarried. Soon after, Bonilla moved on his own to Mexico City. He found a job working in a factory, but living life in the big city wasn’t what he had envisioned. “It was very hard. I felt like I could get nowhere there,” he said.

Then at the age of 16 he had an offer to come to America. He stayed with a sister and her husband in Arlington Heights and took a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant. Bonilla never gave up his dream of one day having his own restaurant. He worked at several eateries, eventually becoming head cook.

Bonilla, who eventually became a United States citizen, had saved enough money after three decades to realize his dream. Lake Zurich was where he initially planned to open a restaurant, but that deal fell through, and he found a spot to rent at 217 Center Street in Grayslake. He remained there for five years before moving to his current location a block away.

“I absolutely love Grayslake,” beamed Bonilla. In fact, he has invited the entire village, including officials, to come and help him celebrate the 20-year anniversary. The festive occasion will include entertainment from a mariachi band.

This month, Abel will be 61 years old. The energetic owner has slowed down ... a little bit. Now he takes off one day a week to be with his family. He is also grooming his son Abel Jr., 28, a graduate of Buffalo Grove High School, to one day run the place.

Smiling and thumbing through family photos of his wife Judy, and children Abel Jr., Elizabeth and Alexis, as well as grandchildren Jana, Kyle and Taylor Grace, he said he is just amazed at what has been offered him. “When I came here (to the United States), I never knew I would someday have this beautiful family. Luck comes in so many ways. This is truly what life is all about,” he said.

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