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.