I was out in the North/Pulaski area again around lunchtime today, hoping to get to try the mole verde (pipian) at Asi es Guerrero. I was sidetracked in this enterprise several blocks before my bus got to Pulaski when I caught sight of a "grand opening" sign announcing the new Taqueria Puebla-Mexico.
This turned out to be a wonderful new discovery. It is a simple taqueria which offers unique street food forms that are typical to the central Mexican state of Puebla. The most exciting of these forms is the cemita, a sandwich that is the street-food item that is most closely associated with the city of Puebla (this is their "Italian beef") and which can be found everywhere in the great markets and shopping districts of its central areas.
Taqueria Puebla-Mexico bakes its cemita rolls in house. When I got there at about 11, they had just come out of the oven and I was able to enjoy this round, sesame seed-sprinkled wheat-flour roll piping-hot. This roll is about 5 or 5 1/2" in diameter, is slightly crusty, not overly chewy (there are chewier versions as well as versions with a little "chaff" added for texture) and has a typical little "knot" or "coin" decorating the top. There are four versions on offer, each one of them $4.50: milanesa, jamon, queso and carne enchilada. I was told that eventually, when they are more settled, they will also have a cemita de pata (pig's feet, deboned) to offer. I requested a cemita de milanesa and got a great sandwich topped with avocado, shredded cheese (of the Chihuahua type), chiles en raja (strips of green chile) and several leaves of the papalo.
I have posted previously on papalo (linked below) and find the pungent anise-ey fragrance of this lovely herb unforgettable in this sandwich. Papalo IS the distinguishing feature of the cemita poblana: you cannot have a true cemita without this garnish. There are a couple of Pueblan taquerias in the greater New York area (there is a small Pueblan community there) but the cemitas available are not garnished with papalo, but with the common cilantro. And this makes a whole world of difference!
I enjoyed this sandwich with an order of chileatole (available only on weekends), which is served in a small styrofoam coffee-cup. This is the version of chileatole made with whole grains of corn (and even with whole sections of the ears) and comes across as a kind of delicious spicy corn-green chile soup. Lime segments are offered on the side to cut/balance the fieriness/heat of the chile. Wonderful and very comforting: I can imagine a combination of this "soup" and a cemita as one of my favorite lunches. If North-Pulaski were just not so far away!
When the "top 10 sandwiches" lists (a la ReneG) of all the various posters on this board are finally compared, I would not be surprised if the cemita ended up showing up a few times here and there.
Another Pueblan specialty offered here is the "taco arabe" ($2.50) a legacy of the Lebanese (and I think also Syrian?) community in this state. The wheat-flour tortilla for this taco is handmade of course, since it has to "mimic" the thickness of pita bread. The taco is very simply filled with succulent bits of pork and a smoky chipotle sauce and rolled up (not folded over) like an extra fat cigar, the way they roll up the falafel sandwiches at Al-Khyam on Kedzie. Delightful!
The other tacos on offer here are served on corn-tortilla. At the moment, they are still working out the kinks on their masa and are using store-bought tortillas, but they will soon be offering handmade as well. The other tacos (generally $1.50 each) are: al pastor, carne asada, orientales (I don't know what this is), sesos and cecina.
They have tortas as well, and quesadillas (tinga, chicharron or all-queso, $2.50). On weekends, they have the chileatole as well as mixiotes, one of the most famous of Mexican regional dishes. This is a kind of barbacoa de chivo, but the meat is long-simmered in a pot lined with maguey leaves. The leaves of this cactus/century plant add its unmistakeable aroma to the final dish. The mixiotes was not ready yet at 11 today so I intend to go back tomorrow to try it.
About 2 months ago, VI asked where in Chicago one could find norteno cooking. This question surprised me completely, bec norteno cooking IS the basis of what we call Mexican-American food and can be found everywhere. Nuevo Leon is norteno, several other places around feature norteno or a kind of degraded norteno. In the North-Pulaski neighborhood, there are two norteno restaurants: one Zacatecan and one called Santiago Papasquiaro which is a town in Durango. The Zacatecan menu seems to be generic taqueria fare but I didn't have the time to ask about unlisted specials and who knows, maybe they have something regional hidden away. Santiago Papasquiaro's menu is much more extensive and worth examining carefully.
Birria Huentitan is tapatia, and features that great pride of tapatia (i.e. Guadalajaran) cuisine. The carniceria/supermercado whose name I could not remember earlier is called Jimenez and the taqueria inside features guisados (stews) in a steam table. The tamale specialist I mentioned earlier is called Chilo's La Casa del Tamal and offers nothing more than tamales (7 types) and champurrado/atole.
There is also a little Colombian cafe called Manantial de Vida coffee shop, with a small selection of Colombian sweets (sweet arepas etc, not made in-house), typical Colombian drinks (licuados of maracuja etc, kumis which is a yogurt drink) and a few tables to enjoy your "100% Colombian" coffee. I bought a very heavy tamale which I will eat tonight or tomorrow: I was told that this is a tamale typical of the area of Tolima, although there are no huge regional variations among the tamales of Colombia. Colombian tamales, according to the owner, are typified with a banana-leaf wrapping, a mixture of diff meats (beef, chicken, pork) and she refused to describe the rest of the stuffing as she wanted me to leave me a surprise. They also have the corn-husk-wrapped "envueltos". They have something similar to the Ecuadorian humita and will recognize but do not use this word. Finally, she told me that the majority of the Colombians in Chicago are from Medellin and Cali and are mostly clustered around Lincoln (in the area of Pueblo Viejo and Las Tablas).
There is also a large, funky second-hand/thrift store in this neighborhood.
Manantial de Vida Coffee Shop
4107 W. North
Tel: (773) 276-7751
4019 W. North
Tel: (773) 276-0768
Chilo's La Casa del Tamal
4213 W. North
Tel: (773) 269-2052
3625 W. North
Tel: (773) 772-8435
This is at Monticello, south side of North Ave, a bit apart from the main North-Pulaski strip. Monticello is about 4 blocks or so east of Pulaski.