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Restaurants & Bars 8

The biggest restaurant no one in Chicago knows exist; plus R. Oaxaca

Mike G | Jan 26, 200304:53 PM

Okay, now that I've written my headline I realize that the biggest restaurant no one knows exists must be some industrial facility's cafeteria somewhere.

But as I was heading back on Ashland from Restaurante Oaxaca, I saw a building with lavish signage announcing a restaurant that I've never heard anyone mention before: Sophie's Ashland Wagon. Several two-story paintings of the eponymous Sophie, bearing beer in St. Pauli Girl style and garb, along with promises of food and a phone number. The building was quite good-sized for this kind of thing, think roughly the size of that Hacienda whatever place on Ashland near Chicago.

From the neighborhood (north end of Back of the Yards? Pilsen? wasn't quite paying enough attention) I'm guessing it's a Polish or some other E. European place. Now it may be that the reason no one has heard of it is that it's been closed for a decade, but on the whole, Sophie looked freshly painted and it may well be a going and very popular concern.

Anyone else seen this? Or know it?

* * *

As for Restaurante Oaxaca, which I finally tried after Rene G's many urgings on line and in person: I do think the weekend is the time to go, not only because there were various specials but because there seemed to be more English-speaking staff. We ordered way too much food for 2 adults and one kid, but it was so cheap, why not?

One thing I'll say, Chowhound has sure improved my instincts for ordering in Mexican restaurants. Instead of being the expected totally clueless gringo, I seemed to impress the waiter favorably when I ordered an empanada, he said "beef, cheese or fluhduhzuhzuh" and I responded "Oh yeah, flor de la calabeza!" He smiled and said "Huitlacoche?" I decided not to gross out my son and said no. Then he set me the ultimate test when I ordered a Coke-- "Can or bottle?" "Bottle!" I said, suspecting rightly that meant real Mexican Coca-Cola. Okay, it's not buying a bag of live beetles at the stall, but I felt like I'd done all right...

Anyway, so very nice flor de la calabeza (Myles ate the part that resembled a quesadilla, and let me eat the icky orange-green stuff). That really has become one of my favorite things, and theirs was quite good, not spinachy and very light. The chicken in a mole, at first I thought it seemed one dimensional, then a few bites later I was wondering what the hell I'd been thinking, seemed spot on. The most interesting dish came about because my friend Wyatt accepted the waiter's recomendation for some sort of chili dish. That turned out to a chili stuffed with everything from corn to some sort of fruit, fried in an egg batter almost like a croque monsieur or something, and topped with a sweetish sauce and luridly purple somethings that we finally decided were probably pomegranate seeds. Not what he probably would have ordered had he known what it was going to be, but very interesting, I like to see things that suggest a whole range of items unlike what we typically get in Mexican restaurants.

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