Caf? con Leche, 2714 N. Milwaukee Ave., was hectic. The tiny restaurant featuring cheap cuisine from South of the Border (Mexico with a splash of Cuba) was throbbing with activity.
Although it seemed to be the hub of all movement in central Logan Square, it somehow maintained an airy, open feel.
While I was standing in line to place my order, I inadvertently stepped in front of an older gentleman to ask the counter server about molletes (think mini Mexican pizza).
Once I realized that I had broken rank and he hadn’t ordered yet I apologized profusely. From that moment on Hector and I were buds.
I ordered the molletes and a bowl of sausage noodle soup and sat down at a table with smiling Hector and got involved in catching up with seemed like an old friend.
Hector told me how he’d left Cuba as a boy and came to Chicago for the next 45 years. Then one day he decided he wanted to live down south. He packed up and moved to “beautiful Daytona Beach” where he opened Goodfella’s Pizzeria, a restaurant specializing in Chicago-style pizza and Cuban sandwiches.
We ate as we talked. I covered my sausage and noodle soup with a handful of cilantro, chopped onion and squirts of fresh lime.
I swigged my horchata, a sweet rice milk drink, between bites of my warm molletes, big hunks of toasted French bread covered in frijoles, pico de gallo, a homemade salsa, and melted cheese.
I offered Hector a sample several times and seeing how much I enjoyed them, he took a small bite, to which he nodded his approval.
In turn, Hector offered me a piece of his crunchy jamon y queso sandwich, basically a ham and cheese sandwich but with the nice additions of a big slather of sour cream and sliced avocado.
When we finished our respective meals and came to say goodbye, Hector gave me his business card and invited me to come see him in Daytona (as if I’m in Daytona often) at Goodfella’s. He promised to hook me up with real Chicago-style pizza and a Cuban sandwich that’s so good it’ll make me cry and I agreed to do that.
THE FINAL RAVE: Places serving food like Caf? con Leche are a dime a dozen, but when I find a place this sociable that encourages such freedom with strangers, I know I’ll be back for more.
KEEP IT GOING:
DO IT: Caf? La Guardia, 2111 W. Armitage Ave.
For a more upscale Cuban-inspired atmosphere, grab a caf? con leche at this Bucktown mainstay. Or just go Cuban all the way and test one of their flavored mojitos.
EAT IT: Flash Taco, 1570 N. Damon Ave.
When Caf? con Leche shuts its doors at 8 p.m., head over to this popular late night taco stand in Wicker Park. The same guy owns both places.
DRINK IT: La Unica Food Mart, 1515 W. Devon Ave.
This tucked away restaurant in the back of a grocery store doles out one of the best caf? con leches around. Try the sugary coffee with a Cuban tamale or a wedge of dense flan.
GET CRAZY WITH IT: Goodfella’s Pizzeria
If you’re ever in Daytona Beach, make sure to stop into Hector’s ode to Chicago. He assures hulking slabs of pizza and pressed Cuban sandwiches abound.