Some meals haunt me for years and I’m always on the hunt for something similar to those I’ve devoured in out of the way places, like the fresh coconut-coated jumbo shrimp served at a shack of a restaurant on the azure Sea of Cortez in Baja, Mexico.
Where’d I find it? Practically in my own backyard, of all places.
El Nuevo Mexicano, 2914 N. Clark St., is a lovable little restaurant that I always walk past and make a mental note to remember to visit sometime. Last week I just knew it was the place to meet a few friends and swill some margaritas.
Arriving first, I grabbed a booth and downed a fresh mango margarita before anyone was the wiser. When my buds arrived, we ordered a few more; the potent and perky lime version was actually better than the mango.
I just had to have the Camarones con Coco ($14). How could I resist a possible connection to my Baja memories? But a very crispy batch chips and salsa came first, as well as a thick salmon pancake appetizer that tasted straight from the salty sea.
The entrees arrived and I indulged my bizarre habit of having to taste everyone’s dish before mine. I sampled some fantastic carnitas, very chunky and tender to the touch, and my favorite type of quesadilla. I love when they’re fried in corn tortillas instead of flour.
I dove into my own daunting platter of gargantuan, coconut-laden shrimp perched on a big ole pile of smoky chipolte mashed potatoes. God help me.
I was slightly timid at first, just gently licking the coconut to get a feel for the flavor, but that all went to hell as soon as I got a taste of the fried sweetness of coconut covered shrimp. Every hulking, perfectly chewy bite flew me straight back to the lawlessness of Baja and those magical moments when I explored the surroundings of Bahia Concepcion last year with my crew.
THE FINAL RAVE: Not that you’ll have room for it, but El Nuevo Mexicano has a fantastic fruit-stuffed empanada dessert, served warm and topped with ice cream.
KEEP IT GOING:
READ IT: Tracking Expats ( spaces.msn.com/bajaexpats) Follow me and my crew in this MSNBC-sponsored blog as we head from Chicago to the tip of Baja making a TV show. Margaritas and coconut fried shrimp not included.
DRINK IT: Cesar’s, 2924 N. Broadway They have insanely huge margaritas and it’s really the perfect place to blow off work and drink yourself silly. Well, really, what place serving liquor isn’t?
EAT IT: El Potosi Taqueria, 3710 N. Elston Ave. This colorful taco shack on a lonely stretch of Elston has great Mexican food. If you squint hard enough, you might just mistake the blue in the White Castle sign down the street for the Sea of Cortez. Yeah, right.
GET CRAZY WITH IT: Highway 1 From here to the tip of Baja it’s only a mere 7k round-tripper. Hop in the car and hit the road, Jack. Highway 1, which runs from the top of Baja to the bottom of the peninsula, is loaded with dozens of stalls serving up “the best Mexican ever.”