Category: US

Pilsen y su Calle 18: Una Puerta Dimensional a México en Chicago

Si estás en Chicago y te da un ataque de nostalgia, o si estás de visita y quieres descubrir un lugar diferente dentro de la ciudad, a sólo 5 kilómetros al sureste del “Loop” se encuentra  el barrio de Pilsen. Fundado por colonizadores de Europa del este a fines del siglo XIX, Pilsen fue nombrado en honor a la cuarta ciudad más grande de Checoslovaquia. No fue sino a principios de 1960 que la comunidad hispana empezó a hacer de Pilsen su casa. Ya para los 70, Pilsen era, como les hoy, una colonia muy diversa y predominanemente hispana.

Virtualmente un museo al aire libre, quien visita Pilsen podrá descubrir una serie de murales que sirven como vehículo para el discurso social. Exilio, lucha e identidad son los mensajes predominantes de esta expresión de arte urbano. Si prefieres un museo intramuros, no te pierdas el Museo de Arte Mexicano.  La entrada es gratuita.

La calle 18 es una puerta dimensional a una serie de negocios que van desde restaurantes, panaderías, dulcerías, hasta peluquerías. ¿Quieres pan como ese que probaste en las ferias de Acambaro? Aquí lo encuentras. Estos personajes llegaron como recetas en los morrales de artesanos michoacanos y aquí se hicieron pan.

Y si en tu paseo te da hambre, acuérdate de visitar Carnitas Uruapan, donde encontrarás desed chicharrón, hasta quesadillas de sesos y ensalada de nopales. Pasa a saludar al Güero Carbajal y díle que te recomendó tu amiga Brenda Storch de La Vitamina T.

 

Méx-O-Logy – Hardcore Horchata Recipe

Photo courtesy of Red Stag

Photo courtesy of Red Stag

Horchata, a delicious Mexican rice drink is one of my favorite beverages. Masa Azul’s executive chef Jonathan Zaragoza, surprises us with a cocktail inspired in this drink. This is definitely horchata for adults.

What a way to take summer into fall!

Hardcore Horchata

  • 8 cups of water, divided
  • 1 cup long grain white rice, rinsed
  • 1 stick of Mexican cinnamon
  • ½ cup of sugar, or to taste
  • ½ cup Jim Beam Hardcore Cider

Working in batches, combine the rice, cinnamon and 4 cups of water in a blender, pulsing to grind the rice and cinnamon. Transfer the rice/cinnamon mixture to a bowl and add remaining 4 cups of water. Soak overnight. Puree the rice mixture, again and strain through a fine meshed strainer or cheesecloth. Mix in sugar and Jim Beam Hardcore Cider and chill. Serve over ice with a cinnamon stick as garnish.

Appointed Executive Chef at Logan Square’s Masa Azul since 2012, the Chicago native taps into his Jalisco roots to bring to life Mexican-inspired dishes with a creative twist. This recipe is the second of a series. 

La Vitamina T was invited to an event sponsored by Red Stag by Jim Beam® Hardcore Cider and received free samples of food, pairings and product. The decision to write this review, as well as all opinions, are our own. 

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 find this treat also 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 typically only one pig is prepared, and they 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

www.carnitasuruapanchi.com

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carnitas Uruapan on Urbanspoon

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

My Search for the Holy Grail – The Best Taco al Pastor in Chicago

A few weeks ago, I set out to find the best taco al pastor (‘shepherd-style’ taco) in Chicago. This down-to-earth, charismatic delicacy is a dietary staple of  defeños*, and despite the fact that in Mexico City taco stands abound, any local will tell you that not all tacos al pastor are made equal.  Finding the perfect taquería is almost a rite of passage, one that speaks to the way we connect with our city and beyond- a Mexican’s relationship with their pastor is emotional… personal, mystical.

The Genesis

Finding good tacos (let alone authentic ones) north-of-the-border is not so easy. Our taco al pastor story in April made me aware of the fact that I am not alone in this realization. I asked La Vitamina T readers and friends to submit their favorite al pastor destinations in Chicago. A few Facebook posts and tweets later, I had a list of 18 different establishments  endorsed by locals, among them, several Mexican transplants. Similar to how my friend Dave from New Jersey can recognize a good Philly cheesesteak, I figured recommendations from Mexicans added instant credibility to the suggestions.

This is how my search began.

Below is the final list of nominees. I visited every  establishment on this list without letting the owners or staff know my intention, as I  thought this might  influence the quality of the service:

  1. Atotonilco (I tried the tacos in both locations, Joliet and Chicago)
  2. Big Star
  3. De Cero
  4. El Pastor
  5. El Tío Luis
  6. El Solazo
  7. Indio
  8. La Ciudad
  9. Lagartija
  10. Los Comales
  11. Los Gallos
  12. L´Patrón
  13. Mercadito (tacos al pastor are only a seasonal item, so we did not get to try them)
  14. Rubi’s Market on Maxwell
  15. Taco joint
  16. Taquería Juanito
  17. Tierra Caliente
  18. Zacatacos  (Berwyn location)

Several Pepto Bismol doses and 3 extra pounds later, my wandering through the streets of Chicago and its suburbs came to an end. Dozens of tacos have been sampled and scorecards have been tallied!

 Each taco has been carefully evaluated based on criteria that we believe brings to life un taco al pastor “hecho como Dios manda.” (according to God’s orders)**

 I am now ready to “go tell it on the mountain”!

* Defeño is a Citizen of Mexico City (D.F.)

** Mexicans say something is made como Dios manda (according to God’s orders) when something is accurately accomplished.

The Exodus

If you, like me, have lived in Mexico for the great majority of your life, you will be perplexed to hear what has been smuggled into menus, and sold and passed up across the country for the real deal: some of the most popular and readily available counterfeit versions are stuffed with ground beef and covered with cheese or something resembling cheese; others are called tacos al pastor, and are served with sliced lettuce and tomatoes. Heresy!  In certain places, you might be given a choice of hardshell or softshell taco. During my search I found that even some of the taquerías in predominantly Mexican neighborhoods have lost their way- in their attempt to  to cater to a non Mexican palate, they have begun serving some of these apocryphal versions.

This leads me to provide the following word of caution: If you are visiting Mexico and you are looking for a hardshell taco, you will give yourself away as a tourist. We simply don’t have them. We have tostadas, which have a crunchy surface similar to a totopo, which is considered a completely different plate.

In the northern part of the country, flour tortillas were made popular by the Jewish settlers in the area. Still, you will find that most tacos in Mexico are made with corn tortillas.

Leviticus 

Treating oneself to tacos al pastor is an experience that entails a known ritual. Taquerías usually go from the very informal ´hole-in-the-wall’ joint, to fancier establishments featuring a more elaborate set up. The dynamics are the same across the board, and patrons know what to expect:  quick service, dinner and a show. Taqueros (half cooks, half ninjas) conjure up juicy tacos with meat and pineapple they shave off from a giant spinning skewer, to then catch the pieces in a tortilla with quick, precise movements. They do this gracefully, while keeping tallies, processing new orders, and sometimes, giving change and even interacting with the crowd.

Tacos al pastor must meet the following criteria:

1. Must be roasted vertically in a spit called trompo (top), which is clearly visible.

2. Should be made with pork meat, seasoned with a variety of chilis and achiote, which gives them their color.

3. These tacos are served in small tortillas (about 4 1/2 inches in diameter).

4. Tacos al pastor must include a chunk of grilled pineapple, chopped cilantro, raw onion and limes.

5. Salsas are very important in taquerías, and often times they become and element of differentiation.

6. Lime should be abundant and readily available.

Methodology

Each taco was evaluated using a scale of 1- 5 points for a total of 30 points in six different categories:

  • Meat quality
  • Meat flavor
  • Tortilla size and quality
  • Portion size
  • Accuracy/freshness of ingredients
  • Quality of salsa

Points were assigned using the following scale to score each taco:

1= Disappointing

2= Meh…

3= Ok

4= Really good, but not extraordinary or the real deal

5= Perfect. ¡Órale! Am I in Mexico?

Revelation

I have eaten the fruits of ¨the promised land” and I cannot honestly say that my search led me to tacos al pastor exactly like the ones I would find in Mexico City, but I uncovered some really good ones that will definitely hit the spot.  Overall, I was surprised to find that the meat in the eateries we visited was generally saucier than it is in Mexico. Also, portions are usually much more generous and, for some reason, when it comes to tacos al pastor, those with pineapple are very hard to find.
Many taquerías only take cash, so make sure you stop at an ATM ahead of your visit!

And the Winner is..!

 

De Cero – 28/30 Points

De Cero (The Loop)

Taco al pastor at De Cero,   814 West randolph St., Chicago

Find juicy, spicy tacos al pastor at De Cero, 814 West Randolph St., Chicago

Meat Quality: 5  Meat was absolutely fantastic.  We did not see the trompo, but we asked and confirmed it is indeed there.

Meat Flavor: 4    Flavor is really nice, but the meat has a bit of a kick to it.

Tortilla Size and Quality: 5  Tortillas were fantastic. Perfect size!

Portion Size: 5   Perfect ratio. This bundle of joy offers the perfect burst of flavors in each bite.

Accuracy/Freshness of the Ingredients 5 Really fresh ingredients, a check for cilantro, onion, pineapple (although cubed) and lime! The ratios were so good in each bite, I did not let the cubes deter me.

Salsas 4:  I got red salsa with my order which was really, really  good. 

Note: We attempted to get tacos al pastor at De Cero in three different instances. We were persistent and were able to understand why these tacos fly away. Every bite is perfect. The tacos are a bit spicy (and pricey), so make sure you order an horchata to wash them down and know that the meal will be well worth your money. Luckily, this taquería accepts credit cards, so the amount of cash you brought with you won’t  limit the amount of tacos you enjoy.  I am really intrigued by their tamales verdes. I can´t wait to go back!

First Runner Up

Big Star – 27/30 Points

Big Star (Wicker Park)

Taco al pastor at Big Star, 1531 N Damen Ave, Chicago

Tacos al pastor at Big Star, 1531 N Damen Ave, Chicago

 

Meat Quality: 4  Really good and not too fatty.  Meat was a bit chunky, which is why we did not rate it a 5.

Meat Flavor: 4    Flavor was really nice, maybe a bit sweet, but really good. Saucy, not dry as it should be.

Tortilla Size and Quality: 5 Perfect size. Tortillas were great.

Portion Size: 5 Perfect portion

Accuracy/Freshness of the Ingredients 5 Really fresh ingredients. I loved to see pineapple on them, which is not easy to find, so I did not allow the cubes to worry me.

Salsas 4 Salsa is good and they have chiles toreados (grilled jalapeños), as well as pickled peppers and carrots. But, you will have to order them separately, as they do not come with your order.

Note:

We waited for about 3 hours to get a table at this famous eatery, which was even more difficult considering the aroma around the restaurant teases you with a preview of what is to come. There is a walk-up window with considerably faster service.  The bar is quite a bit noisy, so if this is where you want to hang out, you will have to be prepared to forego conversation and focus on your food, which is well worth it.  Bring cash with you.  They only take cash! Service from the greeters might be a bit rough, but will improve once you sit down.

Second Runner Up 25/30 Points  (Tie)

Taquería San Juanito (Albany Park)

Taco al pastor at Taquería San Juanito 4714 N Kedzie Ave,  Chicago

Taco al pastor at Taquería San Juanito 4714 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago

San Juanito was the only place where the meat was not saucy. I found their meat flavorful, but the taco had no pineapple, which lowered-down their score. Green salsa was particularly memorable.

Zacatacos (Berwyn)

Taco al pastor at Zacataco in Berwyn.

Taco al pastor at Zacatacos 6224 Cermak Rd., Berwyn

Zacatacos in Berwyn features the most tender meat you can possibly imagine. The tacos are a bit bulky and a come in a bigger tortilla, but are still really good. Salsas are amazing.

Of Note:

Bien Trucha (Geneva)

I really liked the concept of Bien Trucha, a modern-looking Mexican restaurant that reminded me of the vibe of restaurants in Mexico City. Food, not kitsch is the focus here, and the execution of the tacos spoke to quality. Also, Bien Trucha was the only establishment that got the pineapple right, as they had just a chunk of it  vs. the cubes I found in other restaurants.  I don’t remember getting any salsa with my tacos and had to ask for lime, but if you have had enough of taco talk, try their guacamole of the day or their Pulparindo cocktail! The photo below is not the best because I did not have very good lighting inside the restaurant.

Tacos al pastor at Bien Trucha 410 W State St, Geneva

Tacos al pastor at Bien Trucha 410 W State St, Geneva

Del Seoul (Lincoln Park)

This was not a taco al pastor and definitely not on the list, but in all fairness, some of the ones I tried were not really tacos al pastor either. This grilled  pork taco, a gift from the streets of LA (where fusion happens everyday) was so incredibly delicious, I thought it deserved to be added. The name of this Lincoln Park gem is code for those who know how to read it: Spanish speakers, will  phonetically  understand “Del Seoul” as “del sol”, or “of the sun”.  Mexican cuisine allegorically represents the sun in a meal with a tortilla.
Brilliant branding, brilliant food!
FInd this taco with tangy grilled pork, onion, cilantro, slaw and sesame seeds at Del Seoul  2568 North Clark Street Chicago

Find this taco with tangy grilled pork, onion, cilantro, slaw and sesame seeds at Del Seoul 2568 North Clark Street
Chicago

De Cero is our reigning champion, but if you think there is a 30/30 taco out there, let us know. In the mean time,  ¡a taquear!

 

Seeking El Mejor Taco al Pastor in Chicago. The Nominees Are…!

Photo courtesy of: El Califa. Mexico City, Mexico

Photo courtesy of: El Califa. Mexico City, Mexico

Our story on tacos al pastor was very well received, thank you for reading and for all of your comments!  Messages poured in asking for recommendations in Chicago. Since we don’t have a favorite taco al pastor purveyor in the city yet, we decided to go in search of the best taco al pastor! We have asked our friends to submit their favorites. We will evaluate the tacos for the next few weeks considering a variety of criteria- from meat quality to freshness of the tortillas and salsa, we will share it with you all! Our readers submitted the eateries below. Stay tuned for our verdict.

  1. Atotonilco
  2. Big Star
  3. Burrito Jalisco
  4. El Pastor
  5. El Tío Luis
  6. El Solazo
  7. Indio
  8. Lagartija
  9. Los Altos de Jalisco
  10. Los Comales
  11. Los Gallos
  12. L´Patrón
  13. Mercadito
  14. Rubi’s Market on Maxwell
  15. Taco joint
  16. Taquería Juanito
  17. Tierra Caliente
  18. Zacataco

Atole de Guayaba

Atole de guayaba en La Dulce Vida Foto: Brenda Storch

Atole de guayaba en La Dulce Vida Foto: Brenda Storch

Jorge Galván, uno de los dueños de La Dulce Vida Nevería, nos compartió esta receta para hacer atole de guayaba, uno de los favoritos de los clientes de este establecimiento. Jorge dice que además de los ingredientes, esta receta necesita paciencia, ya que hay que mover constantemente para que el atole no se corte.

Rinde aproximadamente 2 litros

Ingredientes:

  • 1 vara de canela
  • 2 cucharadas de piloncillo
  • 200 gramos de guayaba
  • 1/2 taza de azúcar refinada
  • 5 tazas de leche
  • 2  1/2 tazas de agua
  • 2  1/2  cucharadas de masa preparada (Maseca)
  • Paciencia y determinación para mover constantemente el atole hasta que espese

Procedimiento:

  1. Pon el agua a hervir. Una vez que esté hirviendo, incorpora la canela y el piloncillo.
  2. Echa las guayabas en el agua hirviendo. Ya que abran, sácalas del agua junto con la canela.
  3. Incorpora la leche y déjala hervir.
  4. Agrega la masa a la leche hirviendo
  5. Muele las guayabas y agrégalas junto el azúcar moviendo constantemente durante 30 minutos a fuego lento hasta que espese

La Dulce Vida Nevería

2015 W. Rice St.

Melrose Park, IL 60160

La Dulce Vida: En La Esquina de México y Chicago

Barra de jugos y licuados en La Dulce Vida Nevería en Melrose ParkFoto: Brenda Storch

Barra de jugos y licuados en La Dulce Vida Nevería en Melrose Park
Foto: Brenda Storch

Find a related article in English here.

“Los clientes que nos visitan generalmente salen con más de una compra” nos dice Gregorio Hernández, uno de los dos jóvenes emprendedores detrás de La Dulce Vida en Melrose Park. Basta echarle una vista al menú para entender por qué. El concepto parte de la idea de una nevería, e incorpora en un acogedor espacio, algo para todos los gustos: desde los chicharrones y otros antojitos típicos de los carritos ambulantes (mismos que son parte de la infancia y según yo, del sistema inmunológico de todo mexicano), hasta nieves caseras, jugos naturales, licuados, atole e incluso tamales oaxaqueños (hechos por cierto con la receta de doña Clemencia). Con esta gama de opciones, es común que el que visita La Dulce Vida, venga con el propósito de procurarse un antojo y salga con otros cuantos.

Además de los sabores típicos del terruño, como  las paletas de tamarindo que tanto extraño, o el atole de galleta hecho con galletas ¨María¨, La Dulce Vida ofrece divertidas e innovadoras interpretaciones de las golosinas que hacen que mi corazón lata en español. Jorge Galván, otro de los dueños, nos explicó: ”Nos dedicamos constantemente a generar nuevas ideas”. Empresario de día y artesano de noche, las ideas de Jorge no únicamente son geniales, sino también deliciosas cuando cobran vida. Una probadita del singular helado de ¨Gansito” fue suficiente para decidir llevarme al México de mi niñez a casa en un bote de a litro.

¿No te puedes decidir si quieres un pastelito o un helado? No te preocupes, el helado de "Gansito" es la respuesta. Foto: Brenda Storch

¿Pastelito o helado?  No te preocupes, el helado de “Gansito” es la respuesta.  Foto: Brenda Storch

Tamales oaxaqueños Foto: Brenda Storch

Tamales oaxaqueños en La Dulce Vida Nevería
Foto: Brenda Storch

Fui a la Dulce Vida a comprar mis tamales para el Día de la Candelaria, pero como Gregorio lo predijo, además de salir con mi dotación, también regresé a casa con paletas, chicharrones y otras delicias, incluyendo esta receta para hacer atole de guayaba. El servicio es excelente y los dueños, que son una institución en Melrose Park,  se mantienen conectados con su clientela a través de sus cuentas de Facebook y Twitter. Durante mi estancia, me sorprendió ver que Gregorio y Jorge saludaron a muchos de sus clientes por su nombre.

La Dulce Vida es un rinconcito en la esquina entre México y Chicago, y como toda buena idea, es universal. La tienda abre de lunes a domingo desde las 6:00 de la mañana.

Gregorio Hernández, Alejandra Rueda y Jorge Galván de La Dulce Vida Nevería

Gregorio Hernández, Alejandra Rueda y Jorge Galván de La Dulce Vida Nevería Foto: Brenda Storch

La Dulce Vida Nevería

2015 W. Rice St.

Melrose Park, IL 60160

La Dulce Vida Neveria 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

¡Chicharrón con Ch de Chicago!

Find this chicharrón with hot sauce, and other Mexican treats including nieves, guanabana popsicles, and even the regional jicaletas (a snack made with jicama and chile) at La Dulce Vida Nevería in Melrose Park. Flour chicharrones (an alternative to the pork version) as well as fruit with lime, salt and different chiles, are a staple of any Mexican childhood.  Typically sold from street carts, likely with no health clearance, I am convinced this is how kids in Mexico build their immune system.

For those who, like me, are far away from home, La Dulce Vida offers a perfect antidote to homesickness with its large and carefully curated collection of Mexican goodies (from chocolate Abuelita to nieves and even esquites and tamales).  For those who, like my husband, have developed a taste for guanabana popsicles,  this place is a perfect  spot to get your Mexico fix with your evening snack.

I am so excited to have found this place. Who knew that Chicago was so close to Mexico?

La Dulce Vida is open Monday to Sunday from 6:00 am  to 10:00 pm 2015 W. Rice St. Melrose Park, IL 60160

La Dulce Vida Neveria on Urbanspoon