Si estás en Chicago y te da un ataque de nostalgia, o si estás de visita y quieres descubrir un lugar diferente dentro de la ciudad, a sólo 5 kilómetros al sureste del “Loop” se encuentra el barrio de Pilsen. Fundado por colonizadores de Europa del este a fines del siglo XIX, Pilsen fue nombrado en honor a la cuarta ciudad más grande de Checoslovaquia. No fue sino a principios de 1960 que la comunidad hispana empezó a hacer de Pilsen su casa. Ya para los 70, Pilsen era, como les hoy, una colonia muy diversa y predominanemente hispana.
Virtualmente un museo al aire libre, quien visita Pilsen podrá descubrir una serie de murales que sirven como vehículo para el discurso social. Exilio, lucha e identidad son los mensajes predominantes de esta expresión de arte urbano. Si prefieres un museo intramuros, no te pierdas el Museo de Arte Mexicano. La entrada es gratuita.
La calle 18 es una puerta dimensional a una serie de negocios que van desde restaurantes, panaderías, dulcerías, hasta peluquerías. ¿Quieres pan como ese que probaste en las ferias de Acambaro? Aquí lo encuentras. Estos personajes llegaron como recetas en los morrales de artesanos michoacanos y aquí se hicieron pan.
Y si en tu paseo te da hambre, acuérdate de visitar Carnitas Uruapan, donde encontrarás desed chicharrón, hasta quesadillas de sesos y ensalada de nopales. Pasa a saludar al Güero Carbajal y díle que te recomendó tu amiga Brenda Storch de La Vitamina T.
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Pride and Joy: Inocencio and Marcos Carbajal personally host patrons at their famous Pilsen restaurant Carnitas Uruapan.
Inocencio Carbajal becomes emotional as he shares a very personal story. In the late 70s, as a recent transplant from Uruapan, Michoacán, he had to make the decision to let go of his most precious possession- a medal of the Virgin of Guadalupe. “I asked Her to bless my choice,” says Inocencio, his eyes tearing up. “We bought our first piece of equipment with that money.”
Fast-forward four decades later, and Inocencio’s hardship has paid off. As we arrived at the Pilsen eatery, a long line of patrons had already assembled. Marcos Carbajal, Inocencio’s son, kindly invited us to tour the kitchen while we found a spot to talk.
The state of Michoacán in southwestern Mexico, is famous for its carnitas, one of Mexico’s favorite folk dishes. Usually cooked in large copper containers brought in from a specific neighboring town, it is not uncommon to also find this treat being prepared in large stainless steel pots. “In many villages, eating carnitas is a Sunday morning ritual,” said Marcos, who periodically visits family in Uruapan, his father’s birthplace. “People know to arrive early, as usually only one pig is prepared, and they usually gather to eat after church. Many of our customers still follow this custom, but we cook a fresh batch every two hours.”
Although he kept in his heart the desire to go back to Michoacán at some point, Inocencio’s family and his growing business kept him in Pilsen. “All of a sudden, Marcos was ready to go to college, and I was happy that he had the opportunity,” said Inocencio. For Marcos, the word “pigskin” is not merely a seasonal one. With a degree in Economics from the University of Michigan, and thinking of helping his dad, Marcos left his corporate job to work in the restaurant full time, while also pursuing a Master’s Degree in Entrepreneurship from Northwestern University.
Although Inocencio has not returned to Uruapan, he has brought Uruapan to Chicago with him. The path he chose was not easy but, he says smiling, “I would do it all over again”.
His eatery’s menu is perfectly simple, with many well-achieved crowd pleasers. From mouthwatering pork carnitas, to menudo, chicharrón en salsa de tomate ( chicharrón in tomato sauce, of which I took a big container home), cacti salad and even quesadillas de sesos (brain-stuffed quesadillas), this place is the real deal. In fact, the cueritos I tried here are the best I have ever had in both, texture and flavor.
Carnitas Uruapan did not disappoint. My stomach was full and happy, and after talking to Inocencio and Marcos, my heart was too.
If you visit New Rebozo, chances are that aside from a remarkable meal, you will be delighted by owner Chef Paco’s warm and exuberant personality. After more than 20 years of success at his Oak Park location, where Chef Paco (A.K.A. Francisco López) is already a fixture, this Mexico City native decided to bring his creativity and passion for authentic Mexican food to Chicago’s Gold Coast.
Chef Paco equates food to the dynamics of everyday life: “Life can be sweet and sour… even salty, add love to it and you will strike a balance.” His philosophy spills into every corner of his restaurant. There is definitely love in New Rebozo, named after a shawl Mexican women wear. From the cozy fireplace to the thoughtfully picked art, the dining room and patio embrace you like welcoming Mexican embassies. Do not expect to find cultural clichés here. New Rebozo is the real deal both in form and content. “My work is about making people happy,” said Paco. “That’s my ultimate goal.”
Full of flavor, depth and whimsy, it is so fitting that mole is one of Chef Paco´s specialties. Very few words say fiesta and Mexico as loud and clear as mole does, particularly in the countryside, where this traditional dish is served during important celebrations such as weddings and christenings. Chef Paco´s mole Poblano is so good, I have no doubt that my Pueblan grandma, who was often charged with making the mole for her village’s fiestas patronales*, would have approved.
If you visit New Rebozo, do not miss the cochinita pibil tacos, a delicacy straight from Yucatán. There is a piece of Mexican heaven in every perfectly flavorful bite and they are surprisingly not greasy. The watermelon mojitos are also quite memorable- one sip of those glorious cocktails had my entire table exclaiming in unison: “Oh my God!”
*In Mexico, fiestas patronales are a village’s most important celebration, and are typically dedicated to the patron saint the village is named after.
A few weeks ago, I set out to find the best taco al pastor (‘shepherd-style’ taco) in Chicago. This down-to-earth, charismatic delicacy is a dietary staple of defeños*, and despite the fact that in Mexico City taco stands abound, any local will tell you that not all tacos al pastor are made equal. Finding the perfect taquería is almost a rite of passage, one that speaks to the way we connect with our city and beyond- a Mexican’s relationship with their pastor is emotional… personal, mystical.
Finding good tacos (let alone authentic ones) north-of-the-border is not so easy. Our taco al pastor story in April made me aware of the fact that I am not alone in this realization. I asked La Vitamina T readers and friends to submit their favorite al pastor destinations in Chicago. A few Facebook posts and tweets later, I had a list of 18 different establishments endorsed by locals, among them, several Mexican transplants. Similar to how my friend Dave from New Jersey can recognize a good Philly cheesesteak, I figured recommendations from Mexicans added instant credibility to the suggestions.
This is how my search began.
Below is the final list of nominees. I visited every establishment on this list without letting the owners or staff know my intention, as I thought this might influence the quality of the service:
Atotonilco (I tried the tacos in both locations, Joliet and Chicago)
El Tío Luis
Mercadito (tacos al pastor are only a seasonal item, so we did not get to try them)
Rubi’s Market on Maxwell
Zacatacos (Berwyn location)
Several Pepto Bismol doses and 3 extra pounds later, my wandering through the streets of Chicago and its suburbs came to an end. Dozens of tacos have been sampled and scorecards have been tallied!
Each taco has been carefully evaluated based on criteria that we believe brings to life un taco al pastor “hecho como Dios manda.” (according to God’s orders)**
I am now ready to “go tell it on the mountain”!
* Defeño is a Citizen of Mexico City (D.F.)
** Mexicans say something is made como Dios manda (according to God’s orders) when something is accurately accomplished.
If you, like me, have lived in Mexico for the great majority of your life, you will be perplexed to hear what has been smuggled into menus, and sold and passed up across the country for the real deal: some of the most popular and readily available counterfeit versions are stuffed with ground beef and covered with cheese or something resembling cheese; others are called tacos al pastor, and are served with sliced lettuce and tomatoes. Heresy! In certain places, you might be given a choice of hardshell or softshell taco. During my search I found that even some of the taquerías in predominantly Mexican neighborhoods have lost their way- in their attempt to to cater to a non Mexican palate, they have begun serving some of these apocryphal versions.
This leads me to provide the following word of caution: If you are visiting Mexico and you are looking for a hardshell taco, you will give yourself away as a tourist. We simply don’t have them. We have tostadas, which have a crunchy surface similar to a totopo, which is considered a completely different plate.
In the northern part of the country, flour tortillas were made popular by the Jewish settlers in the area. Still, you will find that most tacos in Mexico are made with corn tortillas.
Treating oneself to tacos al pastor is an experience that entails a known ritual. Taquerías usually go from the very informal ´hole-in-the-wall’ joint, to fancier establishments featuring a more elaborate set up. The dynamics are the same across the board, and patrons know what to expect: quick service, dinner and a show. Taqueros (half cooks, half ninjas) conjure up juicy tacos with meat and pineapple they shave off from a giant spinning skewer, to then catch the pieces in a tortilla with quick, precise movements. They do this gracefully, while keeping tallies, processing new orders, and sometimes, giving change and even interacting with the crowd.
Tacos al pastor must meet the following criteria:
1. Must be roasted vertically in a spit called trompo (top), which is clearly visible.
2. Should be made with pork meat, seasoned with a variety of chilis and achiote, which gives them their color.
3. These tacos are served in small tortillas (about 4 1/2 inches in diameter).
4. Tacos al pastor must include a chunk of grilled pineapple, chopped cilantro, raw onion and limes.
5. Salsas are very important in taquerías, and often times they become and element of differentiation.
6. Lime should be abundant and readily available.
Each taco was evaluated using a scale of 1- 5 points for a total of 30 points in six different categories:
Tortilla size and quality
Accuracy/freshness of ingredients
Quality of salsa
Points were assigned using the following scale to score each taco:
4= Really good, but not extraordinary or the real deal
5= Perfect. ¡Órale! Am I in Mexico?
I have eaten the fruits of ¨the promised land” and I cannot honestly say that my search led me to tacos al pastor exactly like the ones I would find in Mexico City, but I uncovered some really good ones that will definitely hit the spot. Overall, I was surprised to find that the meat in the eateries we visited was generally saucier than it is in Mexico. Also, portions are usually much more generous and, for some reason, when it comes to tacos al pastor, those with pineapple are very hard to find.
Many taquerías only take cash, so make sure you stop at an ATM ahead of your visit!
Meat Quality: 5 Meat was absolutely fantastic. We did not see the trompo, but we asked and confirmed it is indeed there.
Meat Flavor: 4 Flavor is really nice, but the meat has a bit of a kick to it.
Tortilla Size and Quality: 5 Tortillas were fantastic. Perfect size!
Portion Size: 5 Perfect ratio. This bundle of joy offers the perfect burst of flavors in each bite.
Accuracy/Freshness of the Ingredients 5 Really fresh ingredients, a check for cilantro, onion, pineapple (although cubed) and lime! The ratios were so good in each bite, I did not let the cubes deter me.
Salsas 4: I got red salsa with my order which was really, really good.
Note: We attempted to get tacos al pastor at De Cero in three different instances. We were persistent and were able to understand why these tacos fly away. Every bite is perfect. The tacos are a bit spicy (and pricey), so make sure you order an horchata to wash them down and know that the meal will be well worth your money. Luckily, this taquería accepts credit cards, so the amount of cash you brought with you won’t limit the amount of tacos you enjoy. I am really intrigued by their tamales verdes. I can´t wait to go back!
Meat Quality: 4 Really good and not too fatty. Meat was a bit chunky, which is why we did not rate it a 5.
Meat Flavor: 4 Flavor was really nice, maybe a bit sweet, but really good. Saucy, not dry as it should be.
Tortilla Size and Quality: 5 Perfect size. Tortillas were great.
Portion Size: 5 Perfect portion
Accuracy/Freshness of the Ingredients 5 Really fresh ingredients. I loved to see pineapple on them, which is not easy to find, so I did not allow the cubes to worry me.
Salsas 4 Salsa is good and they have chiles toreados (grilled jalapeños), as well as pickled peppers and carrots. But, you will have to order them separately, as they do not come with your order.
We waited for about 3 hours to get a table at this famous eatery, which was even more difficult considering the aroma around the restaurant teases you with a preview of what is to come. There is a walk-up window with considerably faster service. The bar is quite a bit noisy, so if this is where you want to hang out, you will have to be prepared to forego conversation and focus on your food, which is well worth it. Bring cash with you. They only take cash! Service from the greeters might be a bit rough, but will improve once you sit down.
Second Runner Up 25/30 Points (Tie)
Taquería San Juanito (Albany Park)
San Juanito was the only place where the meat was not saucy. I found their meat flavorful, but the taco had no pineapple, which lowered-down their score. Green salsa was particularly memorable.
Zacatacos in Berwyn features the most tender meat you can possibly imagine. The tacos are a bit bulky and a come in a bigger tortilla, but are still really good. Salsas are amazing.
I really liked the concept of Bien Trucha, a modern-looking Mexican restaurant that reminded me of the vibe of restaurants in Mexico City. Food, not kitsch is the focus here, and the execution of the tacos spoke to quality. Also, Bien Trucha was the only establishment that got the pineapple right, as they had just a chunk of it vs. the cubes I found in other restaurants. I don’t remember getting any salsa with my tacos and had to ask for lime, but if you have had enough of taco talk, try their guacamole of the day or their Pulparindo cocktail! The photo below is not the best because I did not have very good lighting inside the restaurant.
This was not a taco al pastor and definitely not on the list, but in all fairness, some of the ones I tried were not really tacos al pastor either. This grilled pork taco, a gift from the streets of LA (where fusion happens everyday) was so incredibly delicious, I thought it deserved to be added. The name of this Lincoln Park gem is code for those who know how to read it: Spanish speakers, will phonetically understand “Del Seoul” as “del sol”, or “of the sun”. Mexican cuisine allegorically represents the sun in a meal with a tortilla.
Brilliant branding, brilliant food!
De Cero is our reigning champion, but if you think there is a 30/30 taco out there, let us know. In the mean time, ¡a taquear!
Our story on tacos al pastor was very well received, thank you for reading and for all of your comments! Messages poured in asking for recommendations in Chicago. Since we don’t have a favorite taco al pastor purveyor in the city yet, we decided to go in search of the best taco al pastor! We have asked our friends to submit their favorites. We will evaluate the tacos for the next few weeks considering a variety of criteria- from meat quality to freshness of the tortillas and salsa, we will share it with you all! Our readers submitted the eateries below. Stay tuned for our verdict.
Whenever I visit Mexico, there is an additional ‘layover’ between the airport and my parents’ home in a suburb of Mexico City. Stopping for tacos al pastor or ‘shepherd-style’ tacos has become somewhat of an unspoken ritual. Luckily, no matter the time or day of the year, my sister is always prepared with a roster of recommendations that she has carefully curated in my absence. Count on her to rattle off an impressive selection that includes taquerías open on Christmas Day.
Despite the fact that taco stands abound, not all tacos are made equal. Ask any local. Finding the perfect taquería is almost a rite of passage for defeños*, one that speaks to the way we connect with our city and beyond- a Mexican’s relationship with their pastor is emotional… personal.
When Enrico came with me to Mexico for the first time, he joined me in our recently established ritual. We visited a corner taquería where my family knew Chucho*, the taquero. Enrico was a little nervous as he eyed the cilantro and the onion piling over the tender marinated pork meat and pineapple. As a tourist who visits Mexico for the first time, Enrico asked me if the food was safe to eat. Trying to leverage whatever I could think of to reassure him, I said, “You will be fine. The taquero’s name is Jesus!”
He was an instant convert.
I have yet to find a perfect spot in Chicago to have tacos al pastor. Recently, I was crushed to find that some places serve them with cubed meat. I am on a mission to find a place I can recommend!
In the meantime, if you have the good fortune to be in Mexico City, you must check out El Califa. Aside from their outstanding customer service, they are famous for the way they serve the meat and for their freshly-made tortillas.
You will see why I think that this taco is king.
* Defeño is a Citizen of Mexico City (D.F.)
**In Mexico, Chucho is short for Jesús, which is a fairly common name
Tortillas de maíz fritas cortadas en triángulos, para acompañar
Pan árabe dorado cortado en triángulos, para acompañar
Sal y pimienta, al gusto
Desfleme la cebolla en el jugo de limón durante media hora. Escurra y reserve. Machaque cuidadosamente el aguacate en un tazón o molcajete; incorpore el cilantro, la cebolla desflemada y el chile serrano. Sazone con sal y pimienta. Ofrezca el guacamole en un plato vistoso, decorado con la granada roja y el requesón, así como los totopos de maíz y pan árabe.
Encuentra un artículo sobre mi visita a este magnífico establecimiento haciendo click aquí.
Chef Martha Ortiz Chapa
Texto proporcionado por y reproducido con el permiso de Dulce Patria:
“En la obra de Martha Ortiz Chapa confluyen la sensibilidad y el talento. Martha posee una visión sensible de la vida, a partir de la cual inventa nuevos universos. Investigadora y conocedora de la realidad social (materia que estudió de manera profesional), posee un profundo amor a nuestro país y su cultura. En su quehacer cotidiano, ha sabido combinar ambas vertientes, la de la creación, la imaginación, el descubrimiento de novedades bellas, por un lado, y la de los sabores y las costumbres inscritas en las raíces mexicanas. Así, tiene en su haber varios libros de cocina, a la vez que una importante participación en festivales y congresos internacionales.
La trayectoria de Martha Ortiz Chapa brilla con luz propia en un campo esencial de esa historia pasada y siempre presente del país, que es su gastronomía. Pero en su caso no se trata de una obra ni de una cocina convencionales. Ella habita el mundo de la cocina mexicana para disfrutar todos los placeres imaginables que ésta supone, y no sólo en el terreno inagotable de los sentidos sino también en el de su desarrollo y su significado. A la cocinera le encanta platicar historias con sus recetas y adora visitar mercados, así como admirar las colecciones de alta costura más importantes en el mundo. Pasea por museos y disfruta leer, ya muy tarde por la noche, para tener presente lo pictórico en la cocina y los sabores en la palabra, lo cual se refleja en los títulos de sus platillos-cuentos, la gran puesta en escena. De esta manera es a la vez experta en el arte gastronómico e intérprete, informada e imaginativa, de nuestros sabores y tradiciones. Pruebas de tal riqueza son el recinto del restaurante Dulce Patria —iluminado con sabor, sazón y aroma— que Martha Ortiz Chapa dirige exitosamente en la ciudad de México, además de diversos premios y reconocimientos.”
Whenever I visit home in Mexico City, I wish I could bring it back in a suitcase. Perhaps this is why Dulce Patria resonated so strongly with me. I had limited time at home and many new options available to explore. After much research and careful evaluation, I decided to celebrate my birthday at this restaurant. Two main elements influenced my decision, the fact that Dulce Patria is highly acclaimed chef Martha Ortiz Chapa’s latest creation; and the establishment´s name, which by itself is captivating. “Patria” in Spanish is what “patriotic” in English would be if it were a noun. How perfectly fitting. Dulce Patria spoke to the sweet home country I was physically returning to (I often wander it in my dreams), even if briefly.
Every detail at Dulce Patria has been carefully curated to create an extraordinary experience. Right in the heart of Mexico City’s financial district, an inside patio reminiscent of a hacienda, along with cacti-shaped sculptures, create a new world. Thoughtful touches like starfruit slices in your water, edible flowers and dishes carefully plated on whimsical handcrafts, add to an environment created to make guests feel they have stepped into a different dimension. I was moved to realize that somebody shared my sentiment: Dulce Patria is like a little piece of Mexico that has been taken for safekeeping: chef Martha Ortiz Chapa keeps Mexico in her heart.
And from her heart she speaks and cooks: Ortiz Chapa draws inspiration from Mexican artisans, poetry and art, all ingredients of the edible stories she creatively and passionately tells through her food. Her characters are popular dishes that can be either found in the streets of Mexico, or more elegantly presented at fancier tables. Says Ortiz Chapa about her protagonists, “estos platos son los héroes que nos dieron patria” (these plates are the heroes that have given us our homeland).
Mentioning that food at Dulce Patria is absolutely extraordinary feels like stating the obvious. Suffice it to say, that at some point during my meal, the gastronomic narrative of chef Ortiz Chapa began feeling less like fantastic prose and more like pure poetry.
Jorge Galván, uno de los dueños de La Dulce Vida Nevería, nos compartió esta receta para hacer atole de guayaba, uno de los favoritos de los clientes de este establecimiento. Jorge dice que además de los ingredientes, esta receta necesita paciencia, ya que hay que mover constantemente para que el atole no se corte.
“Los clientes que nos visitan generalmente salen con más de una compra” nos dice Gregorio Hernández, uno de los dos jóvenes emprendedores detrás de La Dulce Vida en Melrose Park. Basta echarle una vista al menú para entender por qué. El concepto parte de la idea de una nevería, e incorpora en un acogedor espacio, algo para todos los gustos: desde los chicharrones y otros antojitos típicos de los carritos ambulantes (mismos que son parte de la infancia y según yo, del sistema inmunológico de todo mexicano), hasta nieves caseras, jugos naturales, licuados, atole e incluso tamales oaxaqueños (hechos por cierto con la receta de doña Clemencia). Con esta gama de opciones, es común que el que visita La Dulce Vida, venga con el propósito de procurarse un antojo y salga con otros cuantos.
Además de los sabores típicos del terruño, como las paletas de tamarindo que tanto extraño, o el atole de galleta hecho con galletas ¨María¨, La Dulce Vida ofrece divertidas e innovadoras interpretaciones de las golosinas que hacen que mi corazón lata en español. Jorge Galván, otro de los dueños, nos explicó: “Nos dedicamos constantemente a generar nuevas ideas”. Empresario de día y artesano de noche, las ideas de Jorge no únicamente son geniales, sino también deliciosas cuando cobran vida. Una probadita del singular helado de ¨Gansito” fue suficiente para decidir llevarme al México de mi niñez a casa en un bote de a litro.
Fui a la Dulce Vida a comprar mis tamales para el Día de la Candelaria, pero como Gregorio lo predijo, además de salir con mi dotación, también regresé a casa con paletas, chicharrones y otras delicias, incluyendo esta receta para hacer atole de guayaba. El servicio es excelente y los dueños, que son una institución en Melrose Park, se mantienen conectados con su clientela a través de sus cuentas de Facebook y Twitter. Durante mi estancia, me sorprendió ver que Gregorio y Jorge saludaron a muchos de sus clientes por su nombre.
La Dulce Vida es un rinconcito en la esquina entre México y Chicago, y como toda buena idea, es universal. La tienda abre de lunes a domingo desde las 6:00 de la mañana.
It was not by coincidence or like we say in Mexico, “de puro churro” * that Churrería El Moro was on my agenda as a place I had to check out this time. I usually visit my family in Mexico City during the holiday season, which makes it almost impossible to make a stop at all the places I either want to go back to, or experience for the first time. This time around, I made sure to move this famous establishment to the top of my list.
I visited El Moro, like locals call it, on New Year’s Day, and I was particularly impressed to find quite a large group of people lined up outside. A look at the menu makes it clear- El Moro masters the alchemy of churros con chocolate, and its simple menu has delighted guests for nearly a century. Here you can find four types of chocolate differentiated primarily by thickness and degree of sweetness. These deliciously baroque concoctions have been simmering to perfection since this legendary café opened in 1935.
The line moved quickly, and after a short wait, we were warmly greeted and escorted to a table by someone so cheerful to see me on a holiday, I almost felt like family. I was delighted to have a front row seat to a performance, as churros were being charmed into delicate wheels of fried dough destined to vanish in a matter of seconds.
The city’s hustle and bustle are part of the décor and the overall experience of this urban, simple and non-pretentious locale: El Moro welcomes locals and tourists from all walks of life.
Growing up in a place like Mexico City, where you can find a cathedral built on top of an Aztec building ( originally built on a lake that is no longer there), I anticipate magic whenever I visit. I have never been disappointed, and this time around, I drank magic in a cup.
*Literally translated as “by virtue of a churro” which means, “accidentally.”
If you visit:
Don’t be deterred by long lines if you encounter them, they move quickly. The area is busy, but generally safe. Exercise precautions you would observe in any major city. Consider getting your churros to go, as this is also an option.
One of my dearest friends loves palm trees and the beach. When my work relocated me to Memphis, she and I would often escape to her favorite local “island retreat”. I moved to Santa Barbara 12 years ago, and a few years later, to Chicago. The memory of this neighborhood tropical getaway got lost in the shuffle until, by chance, it found me.
A few weeks ago, a group of local friends and I embarked on our own brief “staycation”. This time, we had been invited to try some of Bahama Breeze´s legendary island cocktails. I am rarely up for re-exploring a chain restaurant, but the idea sounded like fun, so I accepted. I am so glad I did!
As soon as we arrived, we were directed to the eatery’s deck. The weather was perfect, and the live music along with a fanned breeze, immediately whisked us away from our corporate mindsets. Our business casual attire suddenly seemed to clash with our surroundings.
As our friends gathered, the food also began to arrive. Plate by plate we were treated to Caribbean-inspired dishes that included staples such as plantains and pork.
Everything was delicious. The conch fritters and the coconut shrimp were particularly memorable, though. I was snapping pictures as fast as I could, but the food kept disappearing!
The crowd’s favorite drink was the Painkiller, a delicious mix of rum, cream of coconut, orange juice and a touch of nutmeg. The name definitely resonated with this group of overworked professionals, so I ordered a round for the entire group.
I went back on Saturday, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that service on a busy weekend was just as remarkable as the attention we experienced on a Wednesday night.
I had the grilled tilapia with lemon and butter, which was perfect, and just because I already know what the locals do, I got a Painkiller to blend in. I had little room for dessert, but I got this Key lime pie recipe for you as a souvenir.
Grab a few friends and check out your neighborhood Bahama Breeze. Your own escape to the islands might be closer than you think!
Find this chicharrón with hot sauce, and other Mexican treats including nieves, guanabana popsicles, and even the regional jicaletas (a snack made with jicama and chile) at La Dulce Vida Nevería in Melrose Park. Flour chicharrones (an alternative to the pork version) as well as fruit with lime, salt and different chiles, are a staple of any Mexican childhood. Typically sold from street carts, likely with no health clearance, I am convinced this is how kids in Mexico build their immune system.
For those who, like me, are far away from home, La Dulce Vida offers a perfect antidote to homesickness with its large and carefully curated collection of Mexican goodies (from chocolate Abuelita to nieves and even esquites and tamales). For those who, like my husband, have developed a taste for guanabana popsicles, this place is a perfect spot to get your Mexico fix with your evening snack.
I am so excited to have found this place. Who knew that Chicago was so close to Mexico?
La Dulce Vida is open Monday to Sunday from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm 2015 W. Rice St. Melrose Park, IL 60160
There is nothing like touring a country with a local to get to experience the real thing, and in my view, the same applies to food. In Cuba, patrons of paladares (improvised restaurants in people’s houses) can enjoy an even more intimate experience feeling almost as a family guest. Did you watch Fresa y Chocolate? The movie featured La Guarida, one of Cuba’s most famous paladares. These establishments became legal and openly popular in the 90s.
My granddad lived in Batista’s Cuba, where he developed a taste for the local fare, among other things. Now retired and living in Miami, Cuban food is a must when we get together. We have made as many memories around tacos and comida de fonda, as those we have made around plates full of rice and beans.
I was incredibly excited when I heard Paladar was coming to Chicago. The name, for one, gave it instant credibility. Plus, the menu offered family recipes and regional cuisine. I decided to give it a try as soon as I could. I did not make a reservation, and stopped by on a Saturday evening. We were warmly greeted as soon as we arrived.
I wanted to depart from the staples, and instead of ropa vieja, I ordered the red fried snapper, as it reminded me of the mojarras with garlic we eat in Mexico. Our waitress was so nice that she brought additional sauces. Try the avocado sauce. It is amazing and will have you saying wepa! at the first bite! It was so good, I ended up putting it on my rice. The food was perfectly cooked, delicious and generous, and the mojitos, are simply out of this world. The menu offers a variety of flavors. I had a cucumber mojito and a guava mojito.
The restaurant is cozy, casual and curiously decorated. It has pictures on display and china plates, a nod to the Cuban tradition in which hosts give a piece of the china set they receive as a wedding gift to their special guests. What’s more, the gracious owner, José Gonzáles, makes multiple rounds to engage with his patrons. The service is so personal and warm, you may as well be in his dining room.
I am never one to skip dessert, but in this particular instance, not even the prospect of flan could pull me away from my plate. I simply couldn’t put my fork down.
Paladar is open Monday-Sunday 11am – 12am. Find it in Chicago’s Logan Square area, 2115 N. Milwaukee Ave.
In Oaxaca, food is abundant and incredibly diverse. Casual or sophisticated, aside from flavor, chocolate is a delicious common thread in many Oaxacan dishes. Otherwise referred to as “food of the gods” chocolate, from the Náhuatl xocolátl, is one of Mexico´s greatest gifts to the world.
Find this chocolate mousse with Pasillachili powder, caramelized amaranto seeds and an edible flower at Casa Oaxaca. Executive Chef and owner Alejandro Ruiz, delights guests at his downtown Oaxaca establishment with a modern take on Oaxacan cuisine that incorporates local ingredientes such as flowers and insects.
This is probably one of the priciest restaurants in the city. A visit, especially if you are planning a trip to the attractions in nearby Mitla or Hierve el Agua is well worth it, though. Casa Oaxaca also offers cooking classes. If you are in town or planning to go, don’t miss the opportunity to check it out. Constitución 104-4, Col. Centro, Oaxaca, Mexico. Call ahead: 01 (951) 516 85 31