Tag Archives: Chicago metropolitan area

Carnitas Uruapan – The Best of Michoacán in Pilsen

Inocencio and Marcos Carbajal personally host patrons at Carnitas Uruapan.
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.

¡Viva México!

Carnitas Uruapan

1725 W 18th St  Chicago, IL 60608

(312) 226-2654

Ger a free carnitas taco with your to go order and and free order of chicharrón if you check-in on Facebook.

 

Tamales de Mango del Chef Paco – New Rebozo

Tamales con queso de cabra, chipotle y salsa de mango como solo en New Rebozo.
Tamales con queso de cabra, chipotle y salsa de mango como solo en New Rebozo. Foto: Brenda Storch

El Chef Paco del conocido restaurante New Rebozo, en Chicago, generosamente nos compartió esta receta para hacer estos deliciosos tamales de queso de cabra y chipotle con salsa de mango. ¡Que los disfruten!

Masa

  • 1 kilo de masa blanca de maíz para tamal
  • 1   1/2 tazas de caldo pollo o agua
  • 1  taza de aceite de olivo
  • 1 cucharada de sal
  • 150 gr. de queso de cabra
  • 1 cucharadita de salsa de chile chipotle
  • 35 rectángulos de hoja de tamal de unos 18 x 15 cm.

Salsa

  • 2 mangos, pelados y cortados en cubitos
  • 1 chile jalapeño
  • 1/2 cebolla picada
  • 1/3 pimiento rojo finamente picado
  • 1/3 pimiento amarillo finamente picado
  • 1/2 manojo de cilantro cortado en pedazos pequeños
  • Sal y pimienta al gusto

Pon lo ingredientes en un recipiente hondo y mézclalos hasta que estén bien incorporados.

Preparación:

  • Mezcla la masa en el caldo hasta que quede incorporado todo. Prueba la sazón.
  • Con una cuchara sopera, pon en el centro de la hoja la masa, el queso de cabra y el chile chipotle.
  • Envuélvelo como un burrito de 5 x 7 centímetros. Salen como 36 tamalitos.
  • Prepara la vaporera con agua, pon los tamales y tápala.
  • Pón los tamales a cocer con flama alta.  Una vez que empiece a salir el vapor, baja la flama a fuego medio y deja cocinar durante alrededor de 50 minutos.
  • Déja reposar los tamales hasta servirlos con la salsa.

¡Oh My God!

Receta publicada con el permiso del autor. 

Chef Paco´s New Rebozo – Oh My God!

Cochinita pibil tacos await you at New Rebozo in Chicago's Gold Coast.
Cochinita pibil tacos await you at New Rebozo in Chicago’s Gold Coast.

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.

Holy mole! Chef Paco delights his guests with his complex, yet surprisingly down-to-earth mole Poblano, at New Rebozo.

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.

Watermelon mojitos: Oh my God!
Watermelon mojitos: Oh my God!

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.

New Rebozo Chicago

46 E. Superior

Chicago, IL 60611

(312) 202-9141

Open Mon-Sun 12-10 pm

New Rebozo Chicago on Urbanspoon

Have Dinner in the Caribbean and Bake your Own Souvenir

Conch Fritters at Bahama Breeze

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.

Next time we will wear our guayaberas.

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 coconut shrimp disappeared before my eyes. I was barely able to snap this picture.

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.

These amazing Painkillers, made me feel that I was on vacation.
¡Salud!

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!

Bahama Breeze on Urbanspoon

Taste Cuba through the Food of a Local

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 plateI 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.

The proof is the flan I did not have. Not even the prospect of dessert could pull me away from my entrée.

Paladar Restaurant and Rum Bar on Urbanspoon

When Life Imitates Art – A dish inspired by Roy Lichtenstein

If you are in the Chicago area or plan to visit soon, The Roy Lichtenstein exhibition at the Art Institute in Chicago is definitely worth your time. When I first heard about it, a few of the artist’s cartoon-inspired pieces immediately came to mind.

For those of us who love Lichtenstein’s ability to speak to us with a surprisingly fun clarity (brush strokes representing grand gestures), as well as his knack for making art of the quotidian, the depth and breadth of the exhibit is a real treat. With more than 160 works, this is the artist´s largest exhibition to date.

For those who are not familiar with Lichtenstein’s work, the introduction to the artist is fun and easily relatable.

The exhibition thoughtfully spills into the food  served at  Terzo Piano, one of the eateries at the Museum, and a must-stop for lunch during your visit. I was happily surprised to find a dish inspired by the artist, which I decided to order. The meal hinted at the work of Lichtenstein in a delicious plate complete with the artist’s signature yellows and reds, lines and dots.

Let the magic of Lichtenstein make a true work of art out of an ordinary weekend . If you cannot make it before the exhibition ends on September 3, you can still stop by the restaurant for lunch. If weather allows it, consider sitting at the terrace. The views of Millenium Park are extraordinary.

If you have the opportunity to check it out:

Terzo Piano is open for lunch daily  11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. and open for dinner on Thursdays 5-8 p.m. You do not need to pay admission to the museum to enter. Reservations: 312.443.8650

Tip: If you are a Bank of America® customer you can visit this museum and exhibition for free the first weekend of each month through the company’s Museums on Us Program®Just show your credit or debit Bank of America card at the ticket counter.

Terzo Piano on Urbanspoon

The Best of Two Worlds: Mariano’s Fresh Market

Have you ever wished you could get the Whole Foods experience minus the price tag? After picking up your fresh-from-the-oven pizza, have you like me, ever experienced a little pang of angst knowing that instead of a Diet Coke you will have to get a bottle of green tea to wash it down?

Sure, no one disputes the benefits of antioxidants, but if you have dreamed about a perfect balance, a hybrid offering the best of both of worlds-  specialty foods, extraordinary in-store dining and your favorite brands under one single roof, your dream is a reality. It is called Mariano’s Fresh Market.

I have shopped and dined quite a few times at two of the five Mariano’s Fresh Market stores in the Chicagoland area, the Arlington Heights and the Lakeshore East locations. Whenever I visit, I feel like pinching myself  to make sure I am awake.  See for yourself. Aside from choices, you will consistently find live music at the register and an impeccable service. The depth and breadth of assortment covers anything from groceries to deli, bakery and flowers.  If you like food, Mariano’s Fresh Market makes it difficult to believe that you have not entered an altered state of consciousness.

What’s even dreamier, prices are very reasonable.

Aside from visiting the store to do your shopping, if you have the good fortune to be a local and want to run in for a quick bite,  you will find quite an array of options – sushi, guacamole and a variety of salsas (my favorite is the pineapple salsa), as well as seasonal dishes. Today, for example, a good selection of fish choices was available for those observing lent.  There is also a great variety of drinks and dessert, freshly-squeezed juice, Italian prosecco, beignets and even gelati.

I found my bakery and deli foods and even my favorite Mexican staples at Mariano’s Fresh Market.

Mariano’s has a nice casual indoor dining area that is equally suitable for families with small children, hungry teenagers or busy time-crunched professionals. In its downtown location, the store also has a patio with umbrellas.

The quality of the food is superb. I had the best rice pilaf I’ve had in years, baked chicken, grilled vegetables and for dessert, hazelnut gelato.

And yes, I had a Diet Coke.

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