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Sep 13, 2007 02:25 PM

Mexican coming from California... what would you recommend?

I am in town next week, and would like to partake in Chicago's regional Mexican specialities that we don't seem to get in California (cuisine from Guerrero, real Michoacanian etc.,).

I was born in Mexico City, to parents from Jalisco... so I am not particularly interested in other of the two... unless it happens to be the best Mexican possible in the city. However, there are two dishes that would change my mind Tortitas de Huazontle, or Caldo Michi as I haven't had either in a long time.

FWIW... I have been to Topolobampo... and appreciate all that Bayless has done for Mexican cuisine in the U.S. but I am not that eager to rush back as execution was just okay.... so please don't suggest either.

Also.... I remember reading something about a great Panaderia in Chicago that might have been voted one of the best bakeries in the city... if its worth it.. I might like to sneak it in.

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  1. One more thing... I would really appreciate a recommendation for another ethnic must try in Chicago (is it Italian, Polish, Swedish etc.,?)

    3 Replies
    1. re: Eat_Nopal

      If you like Indian food, head to 2500 W. Devon Avenue which is right in the heart of Chicago's Indo-Pakistani neighborhood. You'll find Indian restaurants all over the place. For Italian food, try Taylor Street. And, one other suggestion for Mexican. If you're in town on Saturday, head to the New Maxwell street market (which is actually at Canal St. and 500 W. Roosevelt Rd), where you'll find all sorts of Mexican street food.

      1. re: jbentley4

        Maxwell Street Market is definitely a fantastic suggestion, but visitors should note that it takes place on Sunday, not Saturday.

    2. I'm not an expert on Mexican eateries in Chicago, but the current Gourmet magazine (a special Latino food issue) has an entire article about Mexican food and eateries in Chicago, with an emphasis on the regional variety that is available in the city. The article also lists a number of restaurants and shops where all this great food can be had, so I'd recommend forking out the $3.50 for the magazine (which features tons of other great articles about Latin and Mexican cuisine in addition to the Chicago article). Otherwise you might try just heading down to the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhood or strolling up and down North Clark St. just south of Howard, where the street is lined with all types of Mexican and Latin American restaurants and markets.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jbentley4

        Somebody told be about the Gourmet article... I didn't realize it was Chicago specific... I have been looking for it but neither Whold Foods or my neighborhood gourmet grocery store carry it... I will look for a copy at Midway.

        Did you find any particulary place in the article, particularly enticing & exotic sounding?

      2. As I respond to your request, I'm getting very hungry thinking about the places I would recommend.

        First, I would highly recommend Sol de Mexico -- my favorite Mexican restaurant in Chicago. I believe the owner and co-chef is from Michoacan. The food is excellent and they always offer at least a handful of wonderful moles every evening. Beyond that, I would suggest checking out this little guide to particular restaurants in Chicago with regional specialties: You also might want to check out the Maxwell Street Market on Sunday . . . you're sure to find many a treat there.

        In addition to Sol de Mexico, some other places where I believe you will find food from Michoacan or Guerrero include: Fonda del Mar, La Casa de Samuel and Los Nopales (the chef/owner is from Guerrero). All are very good -- Fonda specializes in seafood.

        I don't know if I can be much help with the Panaderia search -- are you thinking of BomBon? It's a fantastic bakery whose chefs started out working at Frontera/Topolobampo. It's definitely one of the best bakeries in Chicago. The one you want to go to is the one on 18th St.

        As far as other ethnic must tries, I guess it depends on which ethnicity -- Polish is certainly a good bet and there are a number of strong options. We have a few outstanding Thai restaurants too. There's Tre Kronor for Swedish. If you had to choose, which type of ethnic food are you most interested in?

        Restaurant Sol de Mexico
        3018 N Cicero Ave, Chicago, IL 60641

        La Casa De Samuel
        2834 W Cermak Rd, Chicago, IL 60623

        Los Nopales Mexican Restaurant
        4544 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

        1508 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608

        12 Replies
        1. re: BRB

          I am open to any ethnic cuisine... in L.A. we had plenty of Thai and some Indian (although nothing compared to New Jersey).... but almost no Polish or Swedish. In a pinch which would you choose... are there others to consider?

          1. re: Eat_Nopal

            There are many, many ethnic cuisines to choose from in Chicago. I bet there are at least 30-40 different ethnicities to choose from, and maybe even a lot more than that - everything from Polish and Swedish, to just about every other European country (including lots of Greek places in Greek Town); Asian cuisines including Filipino, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Pakistani, Afghan, and the various regions of China; South American and Latin American cuisines including Peruvian, Cuban, etc; Ethiopian and other African cuisines; just about any type of food you can think of, we've got it. If there is a particular cuisine you're interested in, you can probably find it here, either in past posts here on Chowhound, or in the Tribune's listings on Metromix at (if you use CalendarLive from the Times in L.A., it's the same thing, no surprise since they are sister publications). The Metromix listings are searchable by type of cuisine, and there are 80 different types listed; granted, not all are ethnicities or nationalities, but about half of them are, so scanning those may give you some ideas regarding types of food.

            I like some of the "fusion" type restaurants because they combine several types of ethnic foods in new and interesting ways, places such as:

            Cuatro (Latin fusion) -
            Vermilion (Indian-Latin) - no website AFAIK
            Le Colonial (French-Vietnamese) -
            Red Light (Asian fusion) -

            However, if I had to name one type of food in Chicago as "don't miss while you're here", it's Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. Oh, and it takes 30-45 minutes to bake, so if you don't want to wait, you can call ahead with your order. You'll find lots of opinions about it in these topics:

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Very interesting menu... it would fit right in in Mexico City... reminds of some of the newer restaurants.

              2. re: nsxtasy

                Thai may be worth a try, as I have found that the Thai food in Chicago is completely different (and much better) than SoCal.

              3. re: Eat_Nopal

                Hey EN, I believe the Thai in Chicago may be better than what's found in the Bay Area, but since you get down to LA on a regular basis I can see why that wouldn't be high on your list. (If you do want Thai, let us know and we can provide links to Erik M's translations of the Thai menus at TAC Quick, Spoon, Sticky Rice.)

                Polish would definitely be a good Chicago choice. A place I haven't yet been to, but want to try out, is Smak-Tak:

                Swedish... hmm. I think Tre Kronor is great for breakfast, but it probably doesn't make sense to go all the way up there if you are staying in the Loop. I'm not sure I would recommend a Swedish dinner as one of your few meals during your visit. (I'm Swedish myself and as you know I'd rather eat Mexican food!


                What are your time constraints? Will you need to eat lunch near downtown, or can you explore all over the city?

                1. re: Amata

                  I forgot I wanted to add places links (well, the search engine seems to have crashed before I could put in all of the places, oh well)

                  TAC Quick
                  3930 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60613

                  Spoon Thai
                  4608 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

                  Sticky Rice
                  4018 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

                  Smak Tak Restaurant
                  5961 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60646

                  1. re: Amata

                    BTW, one nice thing about Spoon Thai, aside from amazing Thai food, is that its a two minute walk from the El Brown Line Western Ave. station. If you are staying downtown you can easily hop on the brown line and get there. Also, many of the smaller ethnic places (such as Spoon) do not have a liquor license, so if you want to drink, you might need to pick something up ahead of time.

                    I'm not sure about many of the other places mentioned. Some could be tough to get to, others a quick walk from an El stop, but its something to keep in mind as you decide where to go, Or if you don't mind paying for a $15-20 cab ride each way you could hit just about any of them.

                  2. re: Amata

                    I fly into Midway at 2 PM... and don't need to meet my colleague until 10ish or so.... will probably stay in the downtown area.... the next day I am in a meeting until 1PM and don't have a flight till 5 PM.

                    BTW... thank you very much and everybody else for the suggestions!

                  3. re: Eat_Nopal

                    There are a couple of very good German spots on the north side of the city, both of which are pretty small -- Laschet's Inn and Resi's Bierstube -- but both serve excellent food.

                    I mentioned Tre Kronor for Swedish. I like their breakfast, but I have not been there for dinner.

                    Although I have not dined at either Podhalanka or Smak-Tak (both Polish), others have had very positive things to say.

                    1. re: BRB

                      I noticed I did not add a link to Fonda del Mar, so here it is. Please note that many of the spots I've listed are BYO so make sure to check ahead if you're looking to have drinks.

                      Fonda Del Mar
                      3749 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

                  4. re: BRB

                    BR's recommendations are good ones. I thought I'd add some spots with specific regional specialties, too. These are little, extremely casual places with limited offerings, all out in the neighborhoods, not downtown.

                    For cemitas and tacos arabes: Cemitas Puebla. (There's a pozoleria, Pozoleria San Juan, basically around the corner from the cemitas place, too.)

                    For carnitas, there are a number of carnitas specialists on/near 18th Street. One I'll mention is Carnitas Uruapan.

                    An excellent birrieria is also on 18th Street: Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan.

                    For carne en su jugo, huaraches and quesadillas estilo DF, Taqueria Tayahua.

                    Sadly, my favorite place for enchiladas potosinas and tlacoyos has closed (El Nuevo Kappy's).

                    The gorditas at Gorditas Aguascalientes in La Villita are really excellent. Also in La Villita is a branch of the Santa Maria Lacteos chain, if you need to take any cheese or tamales de elote back home.

                    There are a bunch of torta ahogada and pambazo places around but I don't have specific recommendations -- maybe someone else can add one.

                    Okay, I am REALLY hungry now! :-)

                    Cemitas Puebla
                    3619 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

                    Pozoleria Sanjuan
                    1523 N Pulaski Rd, Chicago, IL 60651

                    Carnitas Uruapan Restaurant
                    1725 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608

                    Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan
                    1322 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608

                    Taqueria Tayahua
                    2411 S Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60608

                    Carniceria Aguascalientes
                    3132 W 26th St, Chicago, IL 60623

                    Lacteos Santa Maria
                    3424 W 26th St, Chicago, IL 60623

                  5. My Chicago (non-local![!!!]) reccomendations (Based on family visits and a summer spent there) :

                    I once *tried* to go to Tre Kroner for breakfast - It was the last and only time I can recall walking out due to to really poor service. It was like you had to beg the disinterested servers to answer a simple question about the menu.

                    We should have went straight to Ann Sathers - our "usual" - which we ended up afterwards. I really like the Clark St location over the other original location. Of course get the swedish pancakes and potato sausage. The owner is fantastic. I never leave chicago without going there once.

                    I also really like Wikstroms which is a Swedish deli up the street- we used to pick up the various salad offerings and cold cuts and picnic with them - worth checking out.

                    Regarding Polish - I hope some locals can help me out with the exact locale - but around the Red Apple (Old school Polish restaurant) is a plethora of Polish grocery stores and restaurants. I spent - no joke - a whole day -checking them all out.

                    Another place I never leave Chicago without going to, is my uncle and cousins favorite South Chicago Italian haunt - Gennaro's. Get the baked Clams, stuffed peppers and Chicken diablo (or Gnocchi). You may still have to be "Buzzed" in through the door.

                    German - Meyers and Berghoff's closed :(

                    On a tangent - I really like Sunshine Cafe - a homestyle Japanese restaurant also on North Clark. Get the Gomae and Sukiyaki!

                    Oh yeah and the Jibaro was invented in Chicago I believe - may wanna scarf one of these...any help chicago chers?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: kare_raisu

                      Hi k-r,

                      I like the jibarito at Papa's Cache Sabroso, though I have a hard time ordering anything there but the "pollo chon" (chicken roasted in the style of lechon).

                      Papa's Cache Sabroso
                      2517 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60622

                    2. Quick .02 -
                      Yucatanean / Yucatecan cuisine-
                      Xni-Pec in Cicero:
                      5135 W 25th ST
                      Cicero, IL
                      (708) 652-8680

                      I also recommend the Devon Avenue scene as a 'must try' for ethnic.
                      Don't we have the 2nd largest Indo-Pak area outside of the Asian continent only to Montreal, or something? Definitely a place to check out IMO.
                      Possible Indian recs for Intro to Indian / Pakistani:
                      Khan's BBQ,
                      Hema's (sorry, but I DO like Hema's)

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: gordeaux

                        Several sources have claimed that Chicago's Devon St is 2nd in size only to Toronto's Gerrard St. in North America.