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Jul 11, 2002 11:59 PM

One Little Thing (El Milagro)

  • m

So business took me to the south side, Back of the Yards or somewhere, and I decided to print out the 26th St. Guide that somebody (G Wiv?) did. (I'd remember but I gave it away. Have to print another one.)

Got down there and there was a parking place right in front of El Milagro so I figured, it's fate that I start right there and work my way down over time.

It's cafeteria style, I got tacos which allowed their fresh tortillas to serve as repositories for assorted stews and moles. The stews and moles were good, although I honestly had trouble telling which was chicken and which was pork (which makes me doubt that white meat has ever been used there, as you might guess at these prices).

But what was really good was that the tortillas seemed to be Krispy Kreme-conveyor belt fresh. (It's a tortilla factory as well as a restaurant.) And so my point is... how one little thing, the utter freshness of a tortilla, makes such a difference that I'm kind of thinking of running back down there tomorrow and trying a few more things.

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  1. Whoops, guess it would be nice of me to post the address and also actually provide that link to the 26th st. thing, by Rene G (got one letter right).

    El Milagro Restaurant
    3050 W. 26th St.

    Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

    3 Replies
    1. re: Mike G
      Vital Information

      A few years ago, El Milagro took over, body snatcher like, another tacqueria on Belmont, near Ashland. It was very convienient to the school our kids were attending and Ms. VI and I ate there often.

      You talk about the little things. To me, there were two "little things" that really made El Milagro. First, there was this very special cabbage salad (Mexican cole slaw?) that went on top of some of the tacos. It was vital to get the slaw, not the lettuce/tomato. Second, of the three salsas offered, one was especially good. A chuncky, not overly watery pico de gallo that bore a good resemblance to good ol' Chicago Italian beef giardinara--with of course, different flavors.

      The thread linked has an exchange between myself and Rene regarding El Milagro and whether the Belmont location IS El Milagro. Note, I believe in recent months, they have finally removed the old sign.

      Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

      1. re: Vital Information

        Gee, now I'm really annoyed that I wasted my trip to Little Village on a place that I've eaten at 20 times right by my house!

        1. re: Mike G

          So in the interests of science I went to the El Milagro by my house, on Belmont east of Ashland. Clearly I have not been here since it became El Milagro (are you sure that was a few years ago? I seem to remember it closed up last winter), or at least fully went to the El Milagro buffet line plan as opposed to the usual burrito joint layout. But that was very much the same as on 26th. If they're not related there's a lawsuit a-brewing.

          I had a burrito this time, pretty good although for a greasy burrito I find Las Pacificas a little further east on Belmont better (which is probably why I haven't been to this spot in eons, it's fallen to third place behind Tortas USA and Las Pacificas). I did, however, get a complementary thing of very salty tortillas and three salsas, and of course, Rob, you are exactly right-- the pico was easily the best thing in the place, very fresh and flavorful.

    2. I must say that I have lousy luck with this street. I come by perhaps once or twice a year for whatever reason (and have been doing so for about 10 years) and always pick a random taqueria to explore. To date, I have not found a single one that offers anything close to the very best that the northside and/or Pilsen have to offer. The horchata always seems to be so much more diluted/commercial, the salsas more insipid, the meats less flavorful. This is the case for instance with the rather popular and apparently quite successful Atotonilco.

      I went to a movie (Jonas Mekas' 1971 film on his trip back to Lithuania) at the Balzekas Museum last Friday and at 27th and Pulaski saw the huge crowd following the radio program/show set up on the supermarket parking lot. Decided to stop at the large and bustling taqueria attached to the supermercado. Once again, I was very disappointed. It was not that it was "not good", it's just that (as is the case with all the other meals I've had on this street) it was simply not excellent.

      Certain benchmarks for excellence (this is not a definitive list; just the first names that pop to my mind at this moment) might include the superb smokey haunting (red) salsa at Taqueria Hidalgo on 18th or the sloppy, aromatic, expressive, luscious meats (across the whole range: tripas, sesos, lengua etc.) at that old standby Caminos de Michoacan under the Sheridan el, or the characterful hand-patted corn tortillas at a number of places in Rogers Park. I have yet to find a single benchmark item on 26th.

      Again, perhaps I have not looked long enough. I was at Maxwell Street this morning and noticed for the first time that the 2 stalls (both El Colonial) offering those unforgettable empanadas (flor de calabaza, huitlacoche when available, sesos, chicarron etc) actually have a permanent location on 2400 S. Pulaski. If they serve empanadas as perfect as these at that restaurant, then I certainly have my first benchmark item for La Villita.


      Side note: pupusas
      On the southern end of the market, you will find a lady (east side of street) making excellent pupusas. Plump, ever so slightly chewy, but pillow-like/comforting at the same time. I just wish her curtido (the "slaw" meant to be spooned on top) had a little bit more bite to it. Her tamales (banana leaf wrapped/filled with pork or cornhusk-wrapped/eaten with cream) are also superb; however, the one served to me this morning was completely sponged up with water (despite the foil covering): too much water in the steamer. Her helpers are rather disorganized and the place could be slightly chaotic.

      I was spoiled by the dozens and dozens of Salvadorean/Nicaraguan/Honduran restaurants in SF/Berkeley (specially in the Mission/Valencia) when I lived there, and miss these very much since I moved to Chicago. Izalco (Clark and Lawrence) is not bad; the buffet is worth going to (specially for the price) but I would not say that it represents the very best. Otherwise, there are perhaps only one or two other places in the city where pupusas can be found (there used to be another one a block or so north of Ba Le on Broadway, but it's gone)...

      Now I am on a quest to find nacatamales (Nicaraguan) in the city: nacatamales just the way my friend used to make them: filled with raisins, olives, strips of green pepper, huge chunks of meat etc...If anyone knows where...


      28 Replies
        1. re: RST
          Vital Information

          I too always wonder about the stationery El Coloniel since it is nearly always our first Maxwell stop per market. I like my empanada meaty, with the suberb picadillo, but for a veggie option, we like the huarche with the cactus. How can you complain about either of their salsas?

          Has anyone been to the actual resturant and tell us how it compares.


          1. re: Vital Information

            Incidentally, of the two El Colonial stalls at Maxwell, I've always preferred the one to the north (about oh 100 meters from the other one). I don't know what it is-the size of the pan holding the bubbling oil?, the heat source?, the technique of the senora?-but the empanadas here acquire the most perfect texture and flavor: chewy/crunchy while the ones made at the other stall, though still excellent, always seem to me to be chewy shading off into a nuance of cardboardy.


            Another note on Izalco. My above comments might seem overly negative. It IS a good and inexpensive choice for a meal and a fine introduction to Salvadorean cuisine. There are close to 20+ different items on the buffet table (pupusas, guisados, atole, tamales, sweets, plantain etc) and they are all quite good though nothing really excels. It's on Lawrence (south side of street) about half a block west of Clark.

            1. re: RST

              A few more thoughts:
              Service is excellent and friendly at Izalco and the restaurant has a bright clean modern uncomplicated feel to it. Very pleasant.


          2. re: RST

            I had something similar to this at a Peruvian Restaurant and it was just called a Tamal. Obviously not exactly what you are looking for but just trying to help. It was a basically a huge tamale studded with all the things you mention along with nice chuncks of chicken. The restaurant as I'm sure mentioned before in this board, is Rinconcito Sudamericano. Nice place.

            1. re: tony

              Thanks Tony,
              Have to check this place out. It's up on Clark towards Howard isn't it?

              Of the hundreds and hundreds of national/regional versions of tamales, the Nicaraguan nacatamale is probably the most distinctive and unmistakable. It is certainly one of the largest, easily covering the surface of the fingers and palm of an outstretched hand. I cannot say this with authority but it is my impression that 1.) a nacatamal is always wrapped in banana leaf 2.) it does NOT include yucca which might be found as a filling in the tamales of neighboring countries, i.e. Columbian/Caribbean/Central American cuisines. 3.) it always includes potatoes, either in small cubes or in mashed form, mixed in with the corn masa, 4.) it always includes fascinating colonial refinements/touches such as raisins, pitted olives, bits of tomatoes, sometimes strips of green chile and sometimes brined caper buds (alcaparras) as well. Again, I might be mistaken about one or another of the above features but that list above serves to paint a kind of general picture.

              Peru of course has its dozens and dozens of tamale forms: the Cuzqueno version, the version from Arequipa, from Iquitos...Often, in immigrant restaurants, an approximate variant that conforms more to the dominant notion and taste/or to a more popular expression of the dish might end up being offered while the original version is made for enjoyment only in the context of home and family gatherings. I find that often, in Central or South-American restaurants, the Mexican tamale (or the most dominant version of this in the area) might serve as a template for a restaurant offering, as it is perceived to be more recognizable and therefore more "saleable". I am not suggesting that this is the case with the tamales from the restaurant you recommended, I am just trying to note some of the pitfalls that one faces in a search for authentic regional dishes in our fair city.

              Tony, are there any other Peruvian restaurants around? I used to teach English (as a volunteer) at the Fullerton library (this was about 1991/2) and a lovely old Peruvian lady used to bring and feed me the most delicious things: I remember a spectacular mazamorra for instance. Those were the days: I had in my informal group, Poles, Albanians (as white as Nordics but they play Arabic pop music when I visit their homes), etc I didn't know anyone in the city then but got invited by one of my Mexican students to his family's Christmas Eve dinner. It was one of the best meals of my life!


              1. re: RST

                The address is:
                Rinconcito Sudamericano
                1954 W. Armitage Ave.
                Tel: (773) 489-3126


                Link: http://www.rocket99.com/zoom/2181.html

                1. re: RST

                  Thanks for the info on nacatamale format. I had a really good one recently (sorry, in the San Francisco area) and the owner of the place who sold this $3 whopper to me said that one of these and a cup of coffee in the morning was all I'd need to eat all day. (g)

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Pls pls name the place/s in case I visit soon. I left SF/Berkeley for good in the early 90s but used to hang out on 16th or 24th almost every day (the cafe on 24th bet Mission and Valencia was my place) and miss this area profoundly. Incidentally, I used to think that the so-called "Mission-style" burrito (Pancho Villa's for instance) was the sublimest such form in the universe but I guess my world-view has been tweaked since I moved to Chicago ;)


                    1. re: RST

                      I'll try to post about it tonight on the SF board. In the meantime, here's a link to a recent Chowdown in your old nabe.

                      Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Thanks for the link. Brings back some nice memories.

                        Now to say something controversial that might bring on me the wrath of many. This is certainly not meant as a flame ;)or intended to start a catfight with the SF board ;)

                        For all the fame of the Mexican community in San Francisco and for all the almost mythical character of the Mission/Valencia neighborhood, and for all the brilliance of some of the best Mexican restaurants in that city, I maintain that one can partake much more deeply and much more extensively in Mexican cuisine here in Chicago than in SF and for this matter than anywhere in the country (excepting the border strip stretching from LA to Texas). There is a much much greater range of styles (SF is predominantly Michoacano) and a much greater range of forms-for instance, you will not find that huarache de nopales that Vitalinfo mentioned or the Maxwell Street empanada/quesadilla de flor de calabaza/huitlacoche readily on the market/taqueria level in SF. Our Mexican markets are also much richer in products that one does not find in SF: for instance, I saw beautiful bunches of huanzoncle (scramble with some eggs...) at Maxwell yesterday. All this may not be too apparent because of the sheer size of Chicago-which gives it less of a sense of unity/concentration: one simply has to wade through the hundreds and hundreds of places in the hundreds and hundreds of avenues to find those gems. But it's all there, and at its best, it puts anything SF can offer to shame.

                        (And then of course we are not even considering high-end places: Bayless', Geno Bahena's places, Salpicon etc)

                        Now, of course I am not referring here at all to that travesty called the "Lincoln Park burrito/taco" (top with some lettuce...)


                        1. re: RST
                          Vital Information

                          When I started reading your post, I thought you were going to say the opposite. I mean is not it Chicago that has the famous Mexican scene?

                          I think what makes eating Mexican in Chicago so fun are two inter-related facts. First, there is such a tremendous, steady flow of Mexicans into Chicago. Second, as RST allued, we get them from all over.

                          I know the Trib's doing a spot this week on regional Mexican. I cannot wait to see what I do not know, but off the top of my head I can think of the following styles prevelant:

                          DF or Mexican City style - mostly tacos and quesadillas. Dona Louis is lots of people's favorite for this kind of food. The ever growing Los Comales chain is another goo example.

                          Jalisco/Guadalajara - I believe their is a large local population in Chicago from here. Usually repersented by birria con consome. I am a big lover of Los 3 Gallos, with branches around town.

                          Nayarit style seafood - see ReneG's post on Islas Mariscos

                          Guerro - Well, there is a little place I like, slightly, called La Quebrada. Another key Guerro dish is pozole and Asi es Guerro specializes in this don't ask/don't tell dish.

                          Oaxacana - Rene's doing all our work, see his recent post on the subject.

                          Michohocan - The first thing I think when I think Michohocan is the ice cream people. I know I have seen resturants advertising birria de Michohocan, but I do not believe I've tried. Also, many Michocan music shops around town.

                          What else?

                          By the way, even if Mexican's better, Chicago has nothing to compare to Taddich.


                          1. re: Vital Information

                            Most people would assume the opposite. That's the cliche, the commonsense wisdom...And it is usually us the Chicagoans who cannot even see the sheer richness around us who assume that everyone else is better. That was why I felt compelled to write the above. It's good to make some affirmations from time to time...


                            1. re: Vital Information
                              Vital Information

                              Rene in another post mentions a place, Gorditas Aguacalientes. I am also familiar with a Supermercado Aguacalientes.

                              Does anyone know more about the food of the Aguacaliente state. Are the gorditas from Gorditas Aguacalientes a regional variation or just like any other gordita?


                              1. re: Vital Information

                                There is also Taquerias Aguascalientes at 2106 S. Cicero in Cicero. My brother's offices used to be close by there--the whole work crew was from a single village in Mexico and it was their favorite place to eat, as well as for family weddings, etc. I don't remember any descriptions of the food (regular or wedding) but my brother thought it was pretty darn good. The only place that ever measured up to it that we took him to was the much missed Oaxaca Restaurant on Montrose between Albany and Whipple (now home to Rocky's Tacos, home of the futebolero) which was truly a gem. Great mixiote and great Oaxacan tamales, good fish dishes, nice mole.

                            2. re: RST

                              First off, the Mission represents a diversity of Latino cultures. Mexicans are a minority in this milieu and this tends to dilute the expression of the food. I would be very interested in hearing which places you consider "brilliant" because there have been few posted on the board. The mythical character is mostly a myth. I was recently thrilled to learn of a Yucatecano place south of Market. My Mexican food cravings are satisfied in Sonoma County, Oakland's International Blvd., and down home in the Salinas Valley. Much of this is indeed Michoacan or Jalisco style, but of much better quality than the typical Mission taqueria. Fwiw, and I'm not trying to start a flame war either, I don't think Pancho Villa in SF is that good. (g)

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                Pancho Villa is/(was?) the greatest expression of gringo-style taqueria in the world. It's a valid form even if it's not "authentic" or "traditional".


                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  I'm just beginning to learn about regional Mexican food and I know nothing about Chicago. That said, I'm going to assume that by "Chicago" you mean the greater Chicago area, and to equate that to SF fairly you'd have to include Oakland. As Melanie mentioned, the Mexican food in Oakland is much closer to its Mexican roots than the style that's developed in the Mission.

                                  In Oakland, I could take you to a little hole in the wall (La Torta Loca) that serves huarache de nopales and sometimes has quesadilla de flor de calabaza/huitlacoche. Not to mention the more upscale Dona Tomas, which offers Mexican regional foods that are prepared in a more "chefly" manner. And not to mention there are more taco trucks than I've been able to count.

                                  I'm not saying that you're wrong that Chicago has a better Mexican food scene, only that comparing a whole (much larger) city to one neighborhood is perhaps not a valid comparison.

                                2. re: RST

                                  It's comforting to see the conclusion you have come to. After having grown up in Chicago and having spent several years in several different Western states, ie, California, Washington, Oregon, and Montana, good Mexican food can be found in all of these places with some diligent searching, but for variety and quality and consistency Chicago can't be beat. One thing I found is the the meat cookery in Western states tends to shy away from the use of enough fat for flavor. I'm not sure if this is due to the beginning product of Western fed cattle/pork as opposed to Midwest cattle/pork eating a different diet hence different meat flavor, or if the restaurants I ate in were used to cooking in a different, more healthy style. Just my two cents.

                                3. re: Melanie Wong

                                  Thanks for the great report.

                                  (I'm new to the board and don't know how to work in a link but her report is dated 7/16 and is in the SFBay Area board)


                                  1. re: RST

                                    the link richard referred to is attached.

                                    attaching a link is pretty easy, you just find the post you wanna link to, copy the url, put it in the url box below, and then give it a title such as "SF nacatamal"

                                    Since I'm doing the technical stuff here, one other small note for you - the chowhound team I think prefers if we don't change thread titles too much (do our disccussing in subject lines) I know when I access the site through hotposts I find it a little confusing.

                                    Look forward to seeing your phillipino dish catalog when you do get a chance to post it (it definitely will deserve a thread of its own)

                                    Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                        2. re: RST

                          Here are some assorted comments, more or less related to this thread.

                          I haven’t been to 26th Street too much recently but what I especially like about La Villita is the density of the Mexican businesses, the crowds of people on hot Saturday afternoons. I find it usually more lively than Pilsen, much busier than anywhere on the north side, and different from Maxwell Market (and I don’t have to get up early on Sunday!). Don’t misunderstand, I enjoy these other areas at least as much also. I don’t think the food on 26th is better across the board but there are several spots I’ve had good luck with. I always enjoy gorditas at Gorditas Aguascalientes, tamales at La Guadalupana (takeout only), and tacos and fresh squeezed juices at Atotonilco.

                          I don’t know a whole lot about Salvadoran places but yesterday passed by one that was new to me. Didn’t get the name but I think the address was 4118 S Archer. I was surprised to see that two years ago Monica Eng reviewed Restaurante El Salvador at 4125 S Archer. The one I saw was clearly on the other side of the street. Either it moved or there’s a little Salvadoran neighborhood in Brighton Park. Might be worth a visit if you’re looking for pupusas.

                          There’s that Salvadoran/Guatemalan place, Café Las Delicias on Western just north of Lawrence, but it’s just okay. Then there’s Rinconcito Chapin on Rockwell just south of Lawrence. It’s on my list but I haven’t been yet. Has anyone?

                          Getting to Peruvian, another restaurant I’ve been wanting to try is Flamingo at 3300 W Montrose but I know almost nothing about it. Anyone? Quite a while ago there several decent Peruvian restaurants in Chicago but they’re gone. I think Taste of Peru is still on Clark but someone posted a not-so-good review of that here a while ago.

                          1. re: Rene G

                            Rene and RST,

                            I think there may be far more pupusa and central american choices than I am at least aware of. I think because the areas of immigrant settlement from those countries is so large and widespread and the coverage of those types of restaurants is a little thin its like random luck or needle in a haystack coming across some of the possibilities. I think SF with its smaller haystack makes for easier spotting.

                            That being said I've mentioned before that i really like the tamales at cafe las delicias (though I am not that versed in central american tamales). I also saw from the car window recently a honduran taqueria on N. Clark (anyone have info on that?)

                            Image: http://www.picturingchicago.com/pagec...

                            1. re: zim

                              That's exactly what I said below on the Chicago Mexican food culture. It is extraordinarily rich but all buried away and neglected because it is all so spread-out.

                              Think about this: there must easily be AT THE VERY LEAST 500 (!) supermercados (excluding mom-and-pops) of at least mid-size within the city limits (excluding our enormous suburbs area). There's a good 15-25 within 5/6 blocks going n/s/e/w from the Kedzie/Lawrence corner ALONE!!! How can anyone even begin to estimate the number of taquerias that we have? There must be a good thousand plus stand-alone taquerias (excluding those inside supermercados), even being very very strict with the count and not including restaurants that happen to serve tacos!

                              I think that this sheer wealth is simply not recognized by the national media because it is not even recognized by our own. Our city has a long and ugly history of enforcing massive standardization through official patronage of huge businesses (department stores/chains) and the marginalization of immigrant markets (think for instance of the history of the shifting and reshifting of the S. Water market starting from the 19th c and and whole shameful story of Maxwell St.) The richness has always managed to emerge DESPITE OF this suppression. Whatever leadership we have seen has always come, tentatively, from the private sector. The efforts of groups/institutions like the Mexican museum and the success of someone like Rick Bayless have helped to provide a focus that has always been missing. Rene: is Monica Eng the writer in the Tribune? She's really great but I wish she would branch out from detached reporting and mature into a more activist role of advocacy of the sort provided for instance by Lee Bey when he was architecture critic at the Sun Times. Great journalists are always, first and foremost, great advocates. Am I dreaming this or does anyone remember that there was word a couple of years ago from the Mayor's office about the possibility of a world-food market being constructed on the Block 37 site? Why are they now talking to Dodi's dad about putting in a ritzy Harrod's branch in that location? I think that Mexican cuisine in Chicago has quite a ways to go before it finds a true, strong and unified voice-of the kind that can be flaunted to the world. One just wishes for more leadership...


                              1. re: RST

                                I think another factor that also should probably be included is the city's discouraging of street food vendors that are allowed in mamy other cities and are often in a way ambassadors of certain cuisines (I think of the taco trucks in california, the lunch trucks in philly)

                                1. re: zim

                                  On the anti-elote front (my very own alderman has written into the ordinance that no selling within 200 (feet? yards?) of a church simply to chase the corn vendors away from Horner Park)

                                  In Denver, the fruit vendors have several things we don't have here. An amazing variety of fruit, including watermelon, canteloupe, pineapple, cucumber, mango, jicama, all doused with picosito and plenty of lime juice. And their carts have little sinks. Solves that hygiene red herring, but they'll come up with something else.

                            2. re: Rene G

                              There's Rinconcito Sudamericano on Armitage just east of Damen for good Peruvian. Especially like the anticuchos, the green salsa (hot) the stuffed potato, and the conejo en salsa de mani.

                              Never had a bad meal there, and ate pretty regularly when we lived around the corner for almost 15 years. Generally full of Peruvians.

                              My downstairs Peruvian neighbor didn't much like the place on Montrose, but he wasn't a big restaurant eater.

                              If you want supplies for cooking Peruvian at home, Chicago Fruit Market on Montrose between Whipple and Albany has it all. Free parking across the street is a big plus.

                          2. After reading rave reviews on Chowhound and a favorable
                            review in the Tribune "Cheap Eats" section, I stopped at El Milagro on Belmont for carryout.

                            I saw the stews sitting there, including the roast pork chunks in a tomatillo sauce (green salsa, or "verde"), but I opted for an order of Super Nachos and a chorizo taco.

                            The young guys cooking in there were friendly, and one was grilling a dozen skirt steaks over an open flame. Another threw a huge quantity of chorizo
                            on the griddle and started chopping and frying.

                            My nachos came with a bit of guacamole, plenty of sour cream, plenty of chopped-up skirt steak, a bit of queso blanco, not very much, and they gave me red and green salsa. Green was bland, I make it better at home, even though I'm a Gringo, but red was very flavorful, spicy, and tasted of either habanero peppers or tabasco. A lot of food for $4.50, huge portion.

                            The chorizo taco was good, lots of meat, with a bit of cilantro, wrapped in two small soft tortillas. I'd have enjoyed some chopped tomato and grated cheese, but I couldn't complain, it was a large portion also, $2.19. They were happy to give me extra salsa when I asked for it. Two of these would be a big meal.

                            This branch of El Milagro is not selling gourmet food, and you might be forced to drive around the block to find a parking place, but prices are rock-bottom, the people working there are courteous and friendly, and when you need a Mexican food fix, it's not bad.

                            I live downtown, and had been getting my Mexican carryout at Tecalitlan near Ashland and Damen, La Condesa at Augusta and Ashland, and Arturo's at Armitage and Western. All 3 have a small parking lot, but Tecalitlan often gives me stale chips. La Condesa cooks really good food, but they seem to make you wait a while for it. Arturo's is good, but further away, for me. I tried Abril once, but it was nothing special.

                            I would welcome more recommendations from Chowhound people. It's astonishing how many Mexican cafes are doing business in Chicago.