For weeks, my pal Lisa waxed poetic about a small Mexican restaurant that co-mingles the hearty influence of Lebanese cooking with the rustic bliss of homegrown Mexican cuisine.
Finally we made it over to a bleak section of North Ave. and Taqueria Puebla, 3619 W. North Ave. the only restaurant of its kind in Chicago.
The Puebla region just south of Mexico City has the influence of Lebanon blistering all of its dusty hills and many thanks to owner Tony Anteliz for bringing its fierce flavor to the rough streets of Chicago.
It’s quite possibly the best Mexican food I’ve had in Chicago. It tastes how Mexico feels in my dreams: rich, spirited and soul altering.
When we walked in, we were bombarded with an eyeball-ripping array of soccer posters and staged snapshots. Antonio, Tony’s outgoing father, used to be a journalist in Mexico and every notable person he’s ever interviewed has been documented and their photos are plastered all across the walls.
Once we plunked down, Antonio attacked us with the round menu, inquiring as to how spicy we like our food and wondering did we see all the press he has been getting.
Once we gave up the goods, we started with the chalupas, a particularly tasty version of a mini tostada. Well, sort of. It’s more like a lightly fried disk of corn tortilla smothered with perky green salsa, chopped onions and queso Oaxaca, a mozzarella-like cheese the Anteliz’ ship in from Mexico.
Next rolled out a couple of tacos arebas, an insanely mouthwatering roasted pork taco wrapped in a thick flour tortilla. Here’s where the Lebanese influence kicks in.
The arebas were more akin to grilled pita bread sans the bread, and with the added density of a rough, homemade tortilla. The chunks of charred pork were peppered with smoky caramelized onions and the whole shebang was served up like a little rolled burrito with a wedge of tart lime nestled into its belly (think Mexican lamb Sharma ).
At this point, Lisa and I were in tacos-studded-with-oregano heaven. We couldn’t believe this could get much better?that is, until the comitia rolled out. This doozy of a sandwich freaking’ made my week!
Antonio had recommended that we go with the Milanese version (breaded and butterflies pork) and he definitely didn’t steer us wrong. Stacked onto a toasted sesame seed roll, the flattened pork was the size of a lumbering truck driver’s hand.
The bread was slathered with a thin layer of creamy avocado, a giant fistful of stringy queso and a dose of deep burgundy roasted chipotle peppers, a bi-weekly supply from Puebla, as well.
Good lord, this sandwich, this meal, this experience ignited my deep seeded hunger for the good life in Mexico. Lisa and I began plotting a restaurant we’re open on the beach in our favorite south of the border village. Until then, we’ll keep coming back to this latest find of ours.
THE FINAL RAVE: Though it came out a little late in my meal, when I slurped down some of their hardhat, I thought I’d died and gone to cookie heaven. It went down like a liquefied cinnamon sugar cookie.
KEEP IT GOING:
READ IT: MexGroger (www.mexgrocer.com)
Get your Mexico fix with this thorough website filled with all things Mexican. Tamale kits, mortar and pestles and Mexican hot chocolate abound.
DRINK IT: Salud Tequila Lounge, 1471 N. Milwaukee Ave.
If you’re gonna have Mexican, you gotta have tequila. Enough said.
EAT IT: Salpicon, 1252 N. Wells Ave.
Mole was invented in Puebla and this cozy joint claims to have the best in Chicago.
GET CRAZY WITH IT: Centro Linguistico Puebla (www.celipatlixco.com)
Why not learn Spanish in the lovely state of Puebla. This affordable school?$299 a week including food and homestay, will get you started.