The simply-named Latin Sandwich Caf? on Elston offers authentic South American fare

The small spots with simple names are the ones that always snare me, e.g., The Latin Sandwich Caf?, 4009 N. Elston Ave., an unassuming Chilean restaurant.

It’s the kind of off-the-grid place that always caused pause when I drove by, mostly due to the non-creative name. It’s really as simple as “The Latin Sandwich Cafe.” Done and done.

The visual and the casual name always stuck in my head, though, and when I heard the rumors about how fantastic the food was, I finally mustered up an afternoon to go explore the menu.

I started with a big bowl of crispy chips and salsa and absolutely one of the best empanadas (flaky dough triangles stuffed with cheese and meat) I’ve ever experienced. The flaky dough was packed with layers of gurgling cheese and so steaming hot, it almost seared off my first layer of tastebuds. But it was more than worth the damage done.

Gooey quesadillas and perfectly fried sweet plantains with crema came next and were soon accompanied by a hulking veggie sandwich.

(Normally, when I think about what makes a good sandwich, it’s all about the mayonnaise and the bread. I could literally sling sandpaper in between two slices of soft Wonder Bread, top it with a hit of mayo and be happy as a clam.)

My tastebuds have since graduated to a more respectful caliber and now I gravitate toward warm, yeasty bread dolloped with honey butter or fresh baked crusty rolls doused in olive oil and covered with grilled vegetables.

After stuffing my face with more cheese than I’d had the whole of 2006, I had the kitchen whip me up a jam-packed veggie sandwich. Not too often is it that I run across a sandwich loaded with two of my favorite things: Country-style green beans and mayonnaise.

The bread was soft, semi-sweet and literally stuffed to the gills with think chunks of queso, crispy shreds of lettuce, tomato, and boatloads of mayo. If you’ve never eaten green beans plopped inside a dough ball, you don’t know what you’re missing.

The hyper-potent coffee that followed my feast was a delightful cap to such simple fare.

Too bad I missed out of the already-famous 1,000 layer cake; I’m told it’s better than all the soft bread, addictive mayo and soft green beans in the world.

THE FINAL RAVE: Given the fact that the empanadas are to die for, I ?d consider changing the name of the restaurant to “Empanada.” But, really, why mess up a good thing.


DO IT: Chicago’s Famous Italian Beef
Though I’m not really a meat eater, there is nothing more I’d love to do than go on a roundy-round of Chitown chowing down on the best Italian Beefs in the world. Someday, kids. Someday.

EAT IT: Cold Comfort Caf?, 2211 W. North Ave.
Diving into one of the extreme deli-style sandwiches here is pure joy. Make sure to give the cheesecake a go, as well; it’s tart and sour creamy, as all good cheesecake should be.

DRINK IT: Northside Bar and Grill, 1635 N. Damen Ave.
Sling back an icy-cold beer at this Bucktown favorite. The grilled cheese, french fries and ranch dressing side is enough to shake the last of the winter blues away.

GET CRAZY WITH IT: Milk and Honey Caf?, 1920 W. Division St.
Every single sandwich on the menu at this adorable caf? is absolutely delicious. That’s all you need to know. I’m also a sucker for their granola, and their tuna, and their pasta salad. Ah, what the hell, just order the menu. C’est la vie.