Tag Archives: Mexican

Via Crucis

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It was a particularly interesting and beautifully brutal week of Easter. Large crowds began to line 18th street early the morning of Good Friday, selling crosses made of palms and steaming hot cups of champurrado. Around noon a procession of Roman soldiers walked Jesus to the park, where he was crucified before the thousands assembled.

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I worked Saturday and Sunday with no busser, no food runner, no support whatsoever, doing hundreds of covers, sometimes even needing to run the dish machine, never having enough of anything: we have a lot of work to do for our service! The unexpected moments, like Roly Poly sitting for tacos with Raven, or a mariachi singer just showing up and belting out requests in the middle dining room, brought pleasure along with the pain.

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La Michoacana

La Michoacana pilsen chicago 18th blue island 3rdarm arthur mullen mangonada

The intersection of 18th, Loomis and Blue Island is the perfect place for an ice cream stand, and La Michoacana fits that role like destiny.

La Michoacana pilsen chicago 18th blue island 3rdarm arthur mullen mangonada

The place is brightly lit and clean, but we all know the real reason to go is La Michoacana’s amazing mangonadas (sweet, refreshing, spicy, limey, salty, damn) and liquados… nevermind so many flavors of delicious paletas!

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South Sided

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I looked for an apartment on craigslist every day but it was clearly a competitive moving time: every listing was taken within an hour of being posted. Raven and I drove around Pilsen eating carnitas, my free hand on the wheel while she phoned the numbers off of, “For Rent,” signs. We had no luck with that tactic and yet her coaching was ultimately crucial to the success of my move. Raven suggested I take a page from the old school Chicago playbook.

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When I finally saw an apartment listing that seemed just right, I jumped on it and offered a little money to see the apartment before anyone else. It was in Bridgeport, next to Pilsen, one of the South Side’s oldest neighborhoods where Mayor Daley’s family hailed from. The 4th (top) floor above a dojo on Archer Avenue, one of the original non-grid diagonals from back in the days of the Indians. I brought along a wad of cash and threw down my deposit that same day.

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Rabanitos Style

5 rabanitos alfonso sotelo 3rdarm jamie sotelo pilsen mexican family owned restaurant 3rdarm arthur mullen

The photoshoot I had helped with at Chef Alfonso’s restaurant, when I met the bruja, had been for the Chicago Tribune’s forthcoming review of 5 Rabanitos. I have learned not to get too excited about a restaurant’s first review: when a restaurant opens, that’s when there’s the most room for improvement. First reviews are notorious for nerfing any highlights with a few negatives. #thestruggleisreal, at the least.

5 rabanitos alfonso sotelo 3rdarm jamie sotelo pilsen mexican family owned restaurant 3rdarm arthur mullen

The Chicago Tribune, however, must have LOVED Chef Alfonso’s food at 5 Rabanitos because they published one of the most effusive restaurant reviews ever. The business started to pick up in a big way. Having shed most of my darkness, and with feelings taken root and starting to grow in my heart, I turned towards the shining: I decided to stay in Chicago with Raven Beauty, and lend a hand to my friend Chef Alfonso.

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Dos Urban Cantina

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Chef Jennifer Jones is one of my top all-time most loved former chefs: for her desserts, to be sure, don’t even get me started, and somehow even more for her positive attitude and calm, focused energy. We are talking about some of the best desserts on planet Earth… I am just underlining how amazing Chef Jennifer’s shining is, that her good energy tops her sweets in my book.

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When Chef Wil and I visited her restaurant, Dos Urban Cantina, for the first time (which she opened with her husband the legendary Chef Brian Enyart) we came bearing gifts: tomatoes fresh off the 40 foot vine, and Korean beer of course. The chefs were out on a date, their only night off together, and the kitchen and servers still went above and beyond for Chef Wil and I, even though they didn’t know us from different brands of Korean beer.

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The guacamole was just amazing, and their sikil pak (Yucatecan pumpkinseed spread) was fruity, nutty and satisfying… the star of the appetizers for me, which I can still taste if I close my eyes, was the chicharrones and French onion dip, a kind of dream snack for the late night stoner, crispy and rich. Other standouts included the juicy pork carnitas balanced by lime green broth of tomatillo and crispy taquitos of shrimp in spicy, acidic roasted tomato sauce.

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There was one savory item that brought me even more pleasure than the items listed above, all of which I want to eat again and am actively salivating over, just writing this. The best thing I had was their corn tamal. I have eaten A LOT of tamales in my life, and this one was so much better than anything I had eaten before it may as well have been Tamal #1. Smoky, spicy, so forward with the flavors of tomato, corn and fire, it erased the memories of all previous tamales like Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black with his pen thing.

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And guess what? All the savory goodness (a tough act to follow) was just setting the table for what was literally the best single piece of chocolate cake I have ever eaten in my life. I missed Chef Jennifer’s desserts so much I had to hold back from getting emotional at the table. From the beautiful decor (including so many milagros), flawless friendly service, to the food, oh man, the food… There was the sharp crack of the wooden bat as the ball was driven hard from home base, flying strongly upward, its trajectory carrying it high above the outfielders, beyond all lights of the ballpark, disappearing and gone into the endless night sky. Chefs Jennifer and Brian have crushed a homerun!

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5 Rabanitos

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5 Rabanitos is a family restaurant with food that is so good it’s worthy of your special occasion. I remember Chef Alfonso Sotelo’s fried chicken every Sunday night at West Town Tavern, and I will never forget his slow-cooked goat caldo at Xoco.

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At his own restaurant in the heart of Pilsen, Chef Alfonso’s food has only gotten more delicious. The signature dish, Grilled Chicken Rabanitos Style, gets a big char flavor from the grill balanced perfectly by a honey garlic marinade. I was physically unable to put my fork down.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless 5 rabanitos pilsen alfonso sotelo west town tavern mexican food grilled chicken

For dessert, I had the perfect pair of a piece banana cream pie and cup of steaming hot cafe de olla, made from Chef’s grandmothers recipe. I want to try so many things on the menu but those dishes were so amazing, it’s going to be tough ordering anything else!

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Return of the Pambazo

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Tom Skilling Forecast: Blustery and moderately colder as weather system exits Midwest.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless pambazo

Door: Despite the winter business level we saw good energy for both lunch and dinner, with the peaks bunched around the highest volume / largest web orders… we had one for $200 at both lunch and dinner. Excellent hosting by Nayeli and Felipe.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless wendy santana

Service: Ismael made batches of Xoco and cider margaritas for the week ahead. Alejandra did a couple special cleaning projects for the team, including deep cleaning the agua fresca reachin refrigerator. Baker gets the MVP of the AM for helping with the photoshoot we had with Infatuation food blog during lunch. In the PM, Raven was very welcoming to guests from to-go, and took an order for a table of 6 at 31, who all appreciated her service on their way out. We had Guadalupe training on cash, and I quizzed her about the menu for a good while, she had great answers for my questions and also was willing to listen to my whole talk about the difference between the baja chicken and milanesa chicken tortas, and how best to describe those differences to a guest. Guadalupe is the MVP of the PM!

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Mood Scale: Nayeli and Alejandra delivered an order for 60 (!!!) classic hot chocolates and accompanying churros in a cab last week. We had asked the guest to provide feedback about the experience and today received this note: “Thank you Arthur. The food and servers were great. We totally appreciate your ladies taking the time to transfer the hot chocolate into our thermals. Again the food was awesome. Thanks for your quick turnaround on such short notice.”

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El De Moño Rojo

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It was one of those days. Despite the new alarm clock, I overslept and missed one of the last weekly meetings of the year. In his walkthrough, Chef Rick saw a server struggling to open a bottle of wine. She couldn’t get the aluminum wrapper off the top of the bottle, and Chef tried to help her with his tasting spoon.

 xoco chicago albondiga avocado tomato sauce mexican food tastyspleen quake2 rocketarena ra2 reeferChef Glenn had said he wants to exit the chef position, humble himself and become a line cook again. He said he had learned mass production, and now wanted to learn fine tuning. I just thousand yard stared in disbelief.xoco chicago albondiga avocado tomato sauce mexican food tastyspleen quake2 rocketarena ra2 reefer 

It was the kind of day where darkness and uncertainty, circular chaos, seemed to take on a life of its own. I listened to Nelly’s “Country Grammar” weaving my bike through rush hour traffic.

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Hustler’s Diet

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“For the ones thas really, really, really starving… I’d rather for y’all to go for the oatmeal. Cuz thas gon’ hold you down!”

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“You could just… 3 bowls uh that a day is gonna hold you down. Ya nay mean? Bust it down @ 12. Boom. 4 o’clock. 8 o’clock anotha bowl or somethin like that. You kno what I mean? You good.”

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“You might still got a lil change left to do what you wanna do… in the wee hours. You know what I mean? A lil 2 dollas or somethin’.”

-Ghostface Killah on the hustler’s diet, The World According to Pretty Toney from MTV2

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Manjar Blanco

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Miriam Peraza welcomed our group with open arms for breakfast on the last day of our trip to the Yucatan. First thing at the table was a smoothie of chaya, to give us the good energy. Panuchos and motulenos arrived shortly thereafter. I have never had huevos motulenos as good as this, and Miriam went the extra mile to give us the background of the dish.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Miriam went above and beyond making us a brasso de reina (“arm of the queen,”) a giant tamal traditional cooked buried under coal and earth. It was unreal. Chef Rick met with the local press and announced that the next season of Mexico: One Plate at a Time will be focused entirely on the cuisine of the Yucatan, and will begin filming in 2016.

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I had to read about it on the internet later on: at that moment all I cared about was Chef Miriam’s delicious breakfast!

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