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A little gem of a shop full of Guerrerense specialties + Armitage w of Pulaski

RST | Sep 5, 200304:14 PM

I learned about La Guerrerense a couple of months ago from Senor Teodoro, the patriach of the extended family that runs the "maroon van" business and the taco tents outside St Sylvester Church. (See the two part post-linked below-on "tamales nejos and other wonders".) He had generously given me the address when I asked him where in Chicago he acquires some of the rarer ingredients he uses in his weekly offerings. La Guerrerense turned out to be a tiny grocery housed in a typical Chicago limestone-trimmed brick 3-flat, looking just like hundreds and hundreds of other such Mexican mom-and-pops scattered throughout the city. The storefront space (characteristically narrow but deep) is not extensive at all and accommodates only two central rows of shelving. But what a treasurehouse of unusual foodstuff this grocery turned out to be!

I found not one but three different kinds of pumpkin seeds, for toasting as snacks or to use in a pepian (the names of the three types are semillas concha, semillas cinche, semillas pepian). There were several diff types of beans in variegated colors and called such names as frijoles comba, frijoles chino, frijoles bola and so on.

I saw dried guaje seeds (no doubt to toast for use as garnish on picadas), cacao seeds, diff types of camarones secos, dried coconut flakes and 2 different kinds of ciruelas pasas, one of which is used for that magnificent atole de ciruela offered by the maroon van. (I still have not been able to ascertain exactly what kind of "plums" i.e. ciruelas these are but think that they might be species of Spondias-Anacardaceae family- a tropical hog plum perhaps related to the jocote.)

I saw dried guamuchil seeds (also huamuchil, huamuchitl, Pithelocellobium dulce). Eaten fresh off the tree (Mimosaceae), the thin "skin" of fuzzy white pulp surrounding the tiny black seeds presents a vague sweetness. Dried, the flesh takes on a slight honeyed character and a gently oxidative note (like dried herbs or tea).

There were all kinds of Mexican sweets-almost certainly shipped here directly from Mexico: palanquetas (a kind of nut brittle), alegrias (made from amaranth seeds), sweets made from chilacayote (on chilacayote, see Diane Kennedy's My Mexico). They also offer what is without a question the finest example of dulce de tamarindo con chile I have tasted from any of the cultures (Indian, Filipino, Mexican) that prepares this sweetmeat. This dulce de tamarindo is wrapped with an "El Guerrerense" (masculine form) label and could be found on the shelf facing you as you walk in the door (attention Zim and Seth! this is intensely acidic, has searing heat but still has a superb balance of sweet/sour/spicy).

In season, i.e. more or less November to February...uh...errr...(hush Richard hush)...mmm...I mean...OUT of season, they have frozen jumiles (it's in the deep-freeze on the left). These are the very bugs that Senor Teodoro uses for his salsa de jumiles. Jumiles (Atizies tascoensis, a Hemiptera) is sacred to the Guerrerense (Taxco celebrates a famous jumiles festival in November). It is considered a delicacy but also an important source of protein in the arid parts of the state. The juices/oils secreted by these bugs is very pungent, very sharp, intensely "stinky". It has a curious kind of thermic/pseudothermic property, "burning" the mouth and the nostrils as chile would. The taste seems like that of a very concentrated mixture of the oils/essences of bay leaves, cinnamon, mint, perhaps even sesame. Jumiles should be eaten/munched alive (put directly in the mouth or rolled first into a taco or crushed alive in a mortar to make a salsa) and I found the frozen jumiles to be a pale substitute, since these have lost all intensity.

Then there were bags and bags of premade adobo paste, mole rojo (almost certainly of the Teloloapan type) and pepain in the fridge on the lfet as you walk in.

The cooking of Guerrero is one of the great secrets of Mexican cuisine. There is very precious little that has been published about it in English or in Spanish. Yet it is one of the richest and one of the most unique of any region within the Republic: it is completely distinct from the cooking of neighboring states like Oaxaca (to the south) and Michoacan (to the north).

Guerrero has contributed several "classics" to the national repertoire. Heroic Chilapa for instance, claims to have invented pozole; and pozole verde (search Chicago board for more info) and pozole blanco are still closely identified with this great great food city. Yet so many more of culinary wonders of this state remain quite obscure; spectacular dishes such as guaxmole, clemole, tlatonile, the celebrated chalupas of Chilapa, the gallina rellena, the ayomole remain completely unknown even to most Mexicans. (For more on the extraordinary Sunday market of Chilapa and for more on Chilapa in general, see the posts I filed on the road during my trip to Mexico last January.)

We are very lucky here in Chicago that the Balsas River Valley area/the Tierra Caliente area of this state (specifically the areas close to Taxco, Iguala, Teloloapan) is one of the richest sources of Mexican immigration to our city. As I have argued elsewhere, this immigrant group is also one of the strongest founts of the vitality that is driving and reshaping our Mexican culinary "scene".


La Guerrerense is located on Armitage in the western part of town with the K street names (Kostner, Kildare, Kenneth etc). The closest corner in this case is Keeler. The food businesses on Armitage on the section west of Pulaski have never been noted anywhere (as far as I know), in any media although I think that VI has also been eyeing the strip and studying it for a while. On the surface, it seems to be a negligible strip, just another one of perhaps a hundred such "Mexican" clusters to be found throughout the city. Yet I spent a wonderful couple of hours the other day on an impromptu taco crawl down 3 or 4 blocks going west on the street. Kris & Charley's was closed, but there was a sign on the window announcing a different kind of guisados every day. There are two Taqueria Poncitlans on Armitage. I visited #1 and had a good carne asada taco (they asked me if I wanted lechuga/tomate where the typical Chicago taqueria outside Lincoln Park would ask if I wanted cebolla/cilantro.) Poncitlan is in the Lake Chapala area in Guadalajara. Then I had a juicy overstuffed very sloppy but very delicious taco de cabeza at the little hole-in-the-wall taqueria inside Carniceria Leon (city of Leon is in Guanajuato state). They use the excellent factory-flipped tortillas from Tortilleria Del Rey, which is located not far away on Grand. Restaurante Fiesta Magica is Guerrerense-owned but they offer a Puerto-Rican menu alongside their Mexican menu. (This area is still very strongly Puerto-Rican although the businesses are mostly Mexican.) The tortillas here are from nixtamal masa and formed individually to order. I had a terrific taco de cochinita en chile rojo here. Finally, I stopped into Lindo Poncitlan (apparently not related to the other Poncitlans) and had a gordita de lomo. Bec of the constitution of the crumbs in this gordita, I suspect that it is made with masa harina (dehydrated corn flour) and not fresh nixtamal masa; it is still one of the most beautiful and perfectly-made such corn cakes I have seen around town. The thin cake (probably 4 to 4 1/2 inch diameter) is sliced into two halves as I don't think that the crumb structure is sturdy enough for it to be merely slit open and stuffed as at La Quebrada. All my tacos (except for the larger one at Fiesta Magica) were about $1.30. The taco at Fiesta Magica and the gordita were about $2.

There's more EAST of Pulaski: a certain Taqueria Tlatzala (Tlatzala is in the Teloloapan area of Guerrero), various large supermercados (including one simply called Tianguis, at Central Park), a Taqueria Patinos, various carts offering helado de coco, Puerto-Rican (?) bars with colorful names like El Ultimo Brinco or Nueva Pozada, new (?) PR restaurants like La Bomba (and of course El Sabor Latino), and even a Thai restautant (Thai Place) at Kedzie. But all this is for another thread!

La Guerrerense
4149 W. Armitage
(773) 384-5380

Taqueria Poncitlan #1
4158 W. Armitage
(773) 486-1424
(open 7 days, weekdays to 10, weekends to 12)
Poncitlan #2 is down the street, to the east

Taqueria Lindo Poncitlan
4406 W. Armitage
(773) 772-2372
(7 days, wkdays to 10, wkends to 11)

Carniceria Leon #2
4301 W. Armitage
(773) 276-9935
(taqueria inside)

Restaurante Fiesta Magica
No info but it is before the 4100 W block
On the NE corner

And, not-food-related:
Armitage Hair Salon
4257 W. Armitage
(In case you want to get a "fade" haircut and look like a gangbanger; I have my goatee trimmed here regularly for $5; haircuts are also $5!)



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