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Hounds!!! Does anyone remember "La Choza?"

  • r

this was a mexican restaurant on paulina, not far from the howard el stop. it was run by a man named sylvester from oaxaca and had been around from the lates sixties at least (my parents were going there before i was born...) they had great kamoosh, steak oaxaca, orange soda in bottles, jolly ranchers on the way out, and a table top pac man in the side room. i grew up on that food since my parents would take my sister and i there monthly. we all miss it horribly...the closest thing that comes to it imo is nuevo leon, but it's not la choza. does anyone remember this slightly seedy but wonderful place??

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  1. Si, how about Mini-max!

    4 Replies
    1. re: el panzone

      could you please add some details? i am not familiar with mini-max...hablas espanol?

      1. re: rhiannon

        Mini-max was a grocery store on Webster back when the area had yet to be yuppified. There was a little rest. in back and it was great. A definite chowhound find.
        And yes, I sure do remember La Choza. It was my first Mexican food and we often used to go there almost every weekend. The price was right for still being in high school and it was BYOB, which was also just right for an early alcoholic start.
        I fondly recall the kamoosh, the pollo en mole and the flautas. Thanks for the memories.
        But does anyone recall La Siesta on Halsted. Man, they had the best salsa ever. I hear he owns a cuban? rest now? Any word fellow pups?

        1. re: bryan

          I remember La Choza every time I look down on it's old site from the el. It was the first Mexican food I ever ate anywhere. First salsa, first, flauta, first sight of refried beans or a beer with a lime in it. I was an undergrad at Northwestern and trips to Howard St. seemed vaguely dangerous - trips to La Choza also dangerous, but less vaguely so. There were several times that we'd arrive and find the place closed w/ health violation notices up. (And this was neither an era, nor a neighborhood where the health inspectors were particularly vigilant.) We'd always come back, but also joke about the suspicious absence of any stray dogs in the neighborhood.

      2. re: el panzone
        v
        Vital Information

        Boy, I remember mini-max, with the grocery store in front. I remember when webster really seemed like a tough street! The whole experience felt so adventurous, and the food was pretty good too. I especially remember the goey, messy, queso fundido.

        VI

      3. Where is Nuveo Leon and what's similiar?

        1. I remember La Choza. Nice backyard and decent food but when they closed there were those dumb dog meat rumors that probably weren't true.
          Rather than recommend Nuevo Leon which has been riding too long on the "real Mexican food" recommendation among gringos, I would suggest any La Condesa or Los Comales location in the city and for good homemade flour tortillas Polo on 18th street. My favorite place for Mex on 18th, though, is Carnitas Urupan (not far from Wood Street) where you can get great fresh tacos, fresh carnitas (for there and to take home) as well as a nice nopalito salad and cold jarritos. Get there early on weekends.

          1. Yes. It didn't really stand up to another lost treasure from the mid-70's (probably before, but that's when I landed here) in the 500 block of N. State called La Posada del Rey, that had a nice dark little restaurant in front serving mole and other sauces not much seen, with a pool table and bar in the side room.

            1. Good God, yes! Had my first-ever chile relleno there, and found out about many other things oaxaqeno (forgive the spelling if necessary!). It only FEELS as if it was a century ago! Have you tried Lupita's in Evanston, on Main just west of the CNW tracks? That's where I go when I cannot live one more hour without some really fine Mexican.

              1. La Choza was great-especially kamoosh. La Siesta made nachos similar to kamoosh, now La Siesta is gone,too. Best nachos like Kamoosh are at Las Pinatas on Wells near North Ave. in Old Town. Will somebody please make a great kamoosh-like nacho and great enchiladas with mole sauce??? Mexican food in Chicago is turning into canned crap.

                1. ohmygod. La Choza. Was anythng better? I went there every Friday--took my life in my hands getting there but it was worth it. My husband proposed to me there, and we've been married 29 years. We could never figure out how the waiters kept the orders straight--you'd have 3 different waiters bringing your food. My attitude towards kamoosh--after years and years of searching--get some good hearty, thick chips and try it at home.

                  1. Th Mini-max reference triggered some fond old memories. The restaurant portion was called "Tacos 'n' Things". Horrible name for a fantastic Mexican place. My wife and I went there many, many times during our dating years in the early '80's. And it didn't hurt that one of her best friends lived around the corner. We'd stop at the beer cooler on the way to the back of the store and pick out beverages and then get a table. Their queso fundido was fantastic.

                    1. Funny that this post would resurface after what -- 8 years. But, yes, La Choza was the best. And in the middle of "The Jonquil Jungle," a very unsafe, unsavory neighborhood. Many fond memories of great meals there. And I remember Sylvester as well.

                      I also remember a really good Italian place across the street. Outstanding salads. Anyone remember the name of that restaurant?

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: chicgail

                        That was Villa Girgenti you're thinking of. Their excellent thin crust pizza was served on rectangular baking sheets. Good beef sandwiches too.

                        1. re: uncartie

                          Yes! You don't happen to remember the name of the friendly middle-aged (I was pretty young so she seemed pretty old) waitress who seemed to know everyone and remember what they liked, do you?

                      2. And now-two years later. Went there every Wed for almost 8 years. Does anyone have contact info for Sylvester or any other employee? I still dream about the salsa and would pay good money for the recipe!!!!

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: chasB

                          So funny you should bring that up. Mr. CG and I were driving up Clark St. and noticed a new Mexican joint with the same name. Naturally we started reminiscing. Ah, Sylvester. Ah, the kamoosh.

                          1. re: chicgail

                            I waitressed at La Choza in the spring of 1970. Took the Evanston bus down from NU and back again on weekends, not really thinking of the neighborhood. The kitchen was about the size of my closet, but I must say that their food handling seemed safe - everything was cooked to order and went quickly. Ah, steak con rajas...

                            1. re: vezerne

                              Do you remember how they made the Kamoosh? I remember thinking it was great but can't remember what exactly it consisted of. Beans, avocado etc. It's just been too long.

                              Also, just saw a recipe for steak con rajas on Epicuriousif you are interested.

                              1. re: twodales

                                Chips, beans, shredded yellow cheese, then heated to melt. Then, guacamole and sour cream. This was in the days before nachos were a household word!

                                1. re: vezerne

                                  Thanks vezerne for the refresher.

                                  1. re: twodales

                                    In 1970 the cook was still making her own tortilla chips, too. Salsa was made in a blender with canned tomatoes, I believe, some onions and some not too hot type of pepper in escabeche.

                                    1. re: vezerne

                                      That's probably why it was so good and here we are 40 years later remembering it with so much affection.

                        2. Like a lot of you, La Choza is where I learned about Mexican food. I was just a kid, but my parents would make the excursion from Wilmette at least once a month. I remember the jokes about dogs when the health notices went up, the quicker pace to our walk from wherever we could find parking with my mom clutching her purse a little bit tighter than usual and, of course, the mole. To a kid, that was the strangest, coolest tasting sauce in the world!