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Cocina Boricua

As a very loud and proud Puerto Rican, it always disappoints me, but doesn’t surprise me when my friends state they’ve never had Puerto Rican food before. True, Puerto Rican restaurants are few and far between in Chicago, but I always try to introduce my peeps to the cuisine, whether through my own cooking, or taking them to a good Rican restaurant. So with that goal in mind, I broadened yet another one of my friend’s horizons and took them to Cocina Boricua, my favorite Puerto Rican restaurant in Logan Square.

True, it’s kind of hard to get to (it’s on Fullerton and Western), but it’s BYOB, and it very conveniently has a liquor store right next door. The food is extremely cheap as well, but amazing. For appetizers, I always order their tostones topped with a layer of guacamole, and then again topped with a slice of salsichon. The cool flavors of the guacamole offer as compared with the spicy hotness of the salsichon offers a surprisingly wonderful effect, and I haven’t met a person who hasn’t liked them.

Moving on in our ridiculously unhealthy but delicious meal, we ordered one steak jibarito with plantains in place of sandwich bread, as well as an order of bistec encebollado (steak slow-cooked cooked with onions) with Puerto Rican rice on the side. I’m not kidding when I say stuff tastes the exact same way my Grandma made every Sunday when I went over to her house when I was little. Speaking of Abuelitas, what I can only assume is the matriarch of the family-owned place came to our table and made sure everything was to our liking. I pointed out it was my friend’s first time eating Rican food, and when said friend said how good it was she quickly quipped with her oh-so-familiar accent “So you’ll come back next week, no?” Pretty great.

Since most of my readers (hello token minority in all friend groups and I love it) I’m sure haven’t had Puerto Rican food I am making this restaurant a MUST go to. I couldn’t represent the island better myself, and you can have Italian or Sushi BYOBs at every corner. Do something different, go to Cocina Boricua, and I promise it will not disappoint. And all my gringo friends have unanimously agreed.

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Paramount Room

Nothing beats the effects of a night out during summertime Chi than a good brunch and a great bloody. Though I am rarely one of those people that get bloodies (to me, it’s like eating a meal), I had to admit, my friend’s at the Paramount Room looked amazing. I mean, look at that picture. I am honestly of the belief, that the more crap you put in a bloody mary, the better it tastes. My friend Lauren and I were both starving after a big night out, and I was strangely craving a burger instead of my usual hankering for eggs. I suggested we go to Paramount Room, as it was close, and I knew they had a great Kobe Burger.

Bloody at Paramount Room

At noon on a Saturday, this place is pretty empty. The downstairs was closed at that time, which was a shame, as the downstairs is not only spacious, but offers flat screen TVs, and I was therefore unable to watch the World Cup (Viva Espana!) According to my boss, another self-proclaimed foodie, the downstairs also offers a killer space for any corporate function. I couldn’t help but notice the Wiis attached to the flat screens as well. Fun indeed.

So of course, I ordered their Kobe Burger with cheddar cheese and lettuce and onion, and of course fries on the side. (Major error… I assumed that fries would automatically be on the side of the burger. Not so.) I consequently had to order the fries after my burger arrived. The fries were a necessary wait, as they come heavily spiced, and with a great side sauce.

The Kobe Burger is large. No other way to describe it. I almost got lock-jaw biting into it. But its tasty, and that’s all that matters. If you want to try something that’s kind one of Chicago’s hidden hole-in-the-wall gems, I’d go to Paramount Room. It’s chill, the staff is friendly, and the food is solid.

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Ignotz’s Ristorante

I live in what you call the North side of Chicago. As do all of my friends. This varies from West Loop, to Lincoln Park, but I do not have a single friend, let alone acquaintance (that I know of) that does not live South of Wrigleyville. Therefore, we usually, when venturing to dinner, or to the bars, we steer clear of the centralized hoods of downtown and Wicker Park (I personally hate Wrigleyville unless I am there for a Cubs game). Broadening our horizons, my friends and I ventured to Pilsen where Little Italy is located, and went to what my boss calls “one of the best Italian in the city,” Ignotz’s Ristorante. If you’re unaware of Chicago geography, I’ll go ahead and tell you that Pilsen and Wrigleyville are on exact opposite sides of the city. However, the 2400 block of South Oakley is lined with other little Italian spots that I have just added to my ever-increasing restaurant list. It’s a cute little street, where Ignotz’s is happily situated amongst residences.

Wine usually makes me sleepy, so I try to avoid it before a night out, which provides a conundrum for me, as I love drinking wine with dinner. Bur order a bottle of wine we did, which of course make me sleepy, but the long cab ride back downtown with dance music blaring woke me right up.

To start, we ordered the fried calamari for the table, which, to me, lacked a lot of flavor. Though it was fried, I had to smother the blandness with marinara. It was by no means horrible, and I had more than one, but I would order something else next time.

Priya and I split one of their specials (I’ve been a real sucker for specials lately), a spicy seafood pasta. The dish comprised of shrimp, clams, and scallops on angel hair pasta in a spicy red sauce. I was delighted to find out that the scallops were perfectly cooked, and the clams not too

Though we were way too full to order dessert, the waitress came around with chocolate covered cherries. Excited, I eagerly grabbed one, and dipped it generously into the whipped cream it came with. I was promptly disappointed, as the cherry was, in actuality, a maraschino cherry. I hate those things. They’re gross. A natural cherry covered in chocolate would have been a million times better. Apparently I was alone in this view, as most at the table had several.

Overall, I’d go to Ignotz’s for their entrees. I could not have asked for anything more in my seafood pasta, and the wine was superb. Whether for date night, or a group night out, Ignotz will get the job done. Though kind of in bufu, it’s worth the trip. Broaden your horizons, fellow Northsiders, and go.

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Joe’s Seafood, Primesteak, and Stone Crab Restaurant

The best Mom in the world’s birthday was last week, so I treated her to one of her favorite restaurants, Joe’s. Known for it’s fresh stone crab (which, by the way, I did not have at this meal, but I recommend to everyone), it boasts hearty and flavorful steaks as well. Walking in, one feels as though they are entering a Men’s Club, what with the dark wood paneling, low lighting, brown leather and red carpet. The diners too, range from groups of professional-looking men to couples, to family dinners. With this eclectic bunch, the “Men’s Club” is filled with chatter and classic Sinatra-style American music.

As we were celebrating a momentous occasion, I ordered a half-bottle of Pinot Noir, and as a bad Foodie, I forgot the name and didn’t write it down. Though the point is moot, I mustn’t fail to note that it was very good.

Side note: I was told by a fellow foodie friend of mine that he had read an article with the theory that due to the combustion of social media, and blogging, the taking of notes and pictures in restaurants takes away from the true dining experience. I see their point… Which is a key reason why at some dinners I “forget” or simply choose not to take notes or pictures. In general, I just don’t want to be obnoxious. It’s usually at the prod of my dining companions that induce me to take pictures. I’m glad I do once I beginning writing a post, but I don’t know, is it worth it for me to take pictures for my readers’ benefit? Something to think about…

As I rarely eat red meat (the only red meat I get is the 3am hamburger from McDonalds on the weekends), I opted for the Twin chopped Tenderloin steaks with green peppers grilled onions. Now, I usually go for the filet mignons whenever I get a steak, however the grilled onions were calling out to me, and it did not disappoint. The flavors of pepper and garlic were perfection, and if there isn’t anything better than grilled vegetables, then I don’t know what is.

My Mom, as is her tradition, ordered Rib Eye Steak well done (I know, its horrific) but unfortunately she hates the sight of a red meat. I didn’t even try her dish, as I of course loathe well-done meat.

As sides, we of course ordered the Creamed Spinach (not my choice, but my Mother’s favorite) and the Jennie’s Mashed Potatoes which come with bacon bits, and garlic. Now those, my friends, are divine.

Joe’s is a great go-to restaurant for a special occasion, or a place to take out of towners. Located in the Gold Coast, it is definitely a “scene” place to be, but I wouldn’t recommended for the standard group dinner or date affair. There are plenty other, less pricey gems in Chicago for that.

Having said that, Joe’s is great. Take your parents. They’ll love it. And even though I didn’t do so last week, most definitely try their crab.

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(K)new

This past weekend, some chicks and I ventured to (K)new (not sure what they’re getting at with the double entendre here) for Jamie’s birthday. I had been before; it’s a great BYOB spot that used to be called Think, and has been revamped by the same founders. The only problem with the place is its location, on the 2500 block of West Fullerton. Sure, parking isn’t a problem but if you’re planning on hailing a cab after the meal, I’d call one far before the end of your meal.

(K)new is small, but you don’t feel compact, and with warm colors the place is inviting, good for dates, as well as group dinners. Even with a table of 8 girls, we had plenty of room to breathe, which is generally not the case with most BYOBs.

Of course, being typical girls, we split everything…  Playing a game of puff puff give, we passed around firstly, the piquillo peppers that came with lump crabmeat, goat cheese, truffle oil, and a saffron and butter emulsion. Next came a pastry with tomato, buffalo, mozzarella, pancetta, prosciutto, and truffle oil, and I honestly have to say, God bless truffles. I notice (K)new uses them in a fair amount of their dishes, and while you could tell them to stop relying on truffles to make good dishes, I am not complaining. Keep the truffles coming, if you please.

My favorite dish of the night was the Cavatappi pasta, with lobster, shrimp, tomato, mascarpone cheese, and seasoned with mint, basil, garlic, and olive oil. I am sucker for mascarpone cheese, and this dish kind of put me in mind if what a reinvention of a macaroni and cheese would taste like. Definitely get this one if you go.

Finally we had the Fish of the Day, which turned out to be Halibut, and flavored very well with lots ‘o’ butter. Like truffle sauces, you can never have too much butter.

As we were on a deadline, (we had a surprise trolley picking us up for the b-day girl filled with all her favorite people), we unfortunately skipped dessert. However, I would definitely go back to Knew and give their desserts, and their other dishes I have not yet had, a try. I suggest you do the same. Heck, let’s go together.

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Macku Sushi

Mochi at Macku

Note to self: the next time I order mostly specials from the menu, take notes (is that one too many notes?). I am shamefully going to be leaving out some key ingredients to some of these dishes, so I am just putting it out there as a disclaimer…

I do not exaggerate when I say this is one of the best meals I have had in a long time. Macku just opened on New Years Eve, by the chefs that also started Mirai, and other notable sushi restaurants around the city. This is the first restaurant, if my readings are correct, that they call their own.

It’s a small, cozy little spot, even smaller than Butterfly, but much more brightly lit, and squeaky clean. Definitely a great date place, as the tables mostly come for twos, and due to space constraints, are placed very close together.

We thought we had what we wanted all figured out upon scouring the menu, but of course, upon hearing that night’s specials, our course of action changed (is that one too many courses?). Our first special of the evening was a tuna tar tar wrapped in avocado. On the side was a wand served with rosemary, jalapeno in some sort of reduction sauce… This is the start of where my shoddy memory will fault you, dear readers.

Next up was a special of spring rolls with shrimp and cream cheese. As we were talking, my friend Domino spotted a maki roll that caught her eye. Pointing, she said “Marisol, look behind you,” in wonder and as I turn, I see, resting on the sushi bar, a plate with maki… and a lot of shit on top. Now, I didn’t know what was on top, but it looked scrumptious (and honestly, my friends, I don’t remember what was on top even though our waiter very aptly told us).

In short, if you ever go there, and one of the specials is a spicy tuna roll with a lot of good-sounding stuff on top, get it. It was amazing.

Lastly, though full to the brim, I forced Domino to split some mochi with me, because no matter how full I am, I always can make room for a little round ball of heaven (insert “that’s what she said” joke here). I was excited as this was Domino’s first experience with mochi and she looooooved it. The mochi came with some fruit slices as well, which was refreshing.

All in all, it is a great restaurant. I will FOR SURE being going back, and encourage all of who read this to check it out.

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Mercadito

Estilo Baja Tacos at Mercadito

Brace yourselves amigos, this post is gonna be a long one… This past Saturday night, we celebrated my dear friend Erica’s birthday at Mercadito. I had been before, and looooved it, so I was eager to go again. It is definitely a “scene” place, with a fun decor, lively music, and packed on weekends. If you every have the opportunity to go the tequila lounge downstairs as well, I’d jump on it. It can only fit about 30 people, but they play dance music, and a tequila bar juts across almost the entire space. While there one feels very VIP…

Erica had made 8:30 reservations for a group of 11 weeks in advance as we knew it was a happenin’ place and that it gets super crowded and though the group showed up on schedule,  the hostess stated that we’d have a little bit of a wait. 45 minutes later, we were still waiting. After several attempts to figure out when we would be sitting, much grumbling amongst ourselves, the what I assume was the manager came up to us and offered all eleven of us margaritas on the house. Very much appeased, we were seated only a few minutes later. Good job Mercadito for making up for your overbooking.

I hate tequila. I generally am forced up on this genre of alcohol, and when someone is successful in forcing me to consume it, it is extremely rare. At Mercadito, all their cocktails are tequila-based, and really good. For me to say this means it’s true. On Saturday, I started out with the free margarita, which was just the “margarita tradicional” with tequila, grand marnier, lime, and agave nectar. With salt and around the rim, it is scrumptious. I also had the “little market,” with tequila, pineapple, chile, and topped with cilantro. I had ordered on my previous experience there, and therefore knew it was good.

Because our party was greater than 7, we did the Canastita tasting menu, and honestly, I don’t know how any group could do any of the other tasting menus as they come with more food, and we couldn’t even finish ours. Granted, we were eight girls and two guys, but still. So much food and we felt really guilty about not eating all of it. Since my friend Domino and I were the only ones who had eaten there previously, we were put in charge of ordering for the table. We ordered the tradicional, mole poblano, and the toreado guacamoles, the roja and verde salsas, the plantains and corn on the cob sides, and the carne, chicken mole, camaron, and estilo baja tacos. All this was capped off with some flan, with a candle on the birthday girl’s of course.

The great thing about Mercadito is it’s twist on Mexican food. Though basing their dishes on traditional Mexican recipes, Mercadito’s have their own unique twist. The moble polano guacamole consisted of avocado, plantain, chile, pico de gallo, and was topped with their amazing mole sauce. I can’t name another place where you would get that. The toreado guacamole had chile, garlic, serano, and tomatillo pico whose flavors together made the guac taste like bbq sauce, but with the same consistency as guac, making for a surprisingly pleasant result.

On to the tacos… By far the best ones are the camaron (shrimp) tacos and the estilo baja (mahi mahi) tacos. The shrimp tacos come with a chipotle mayo sauce and is topped with a slice of avocado. It needs nothing else, as the sauce’s spicy richness is amazing enough in itself. Beer battered, with coleslaw and topped with chipotle aioli, the mahi mahi is a close second favorite of mine. It’s the chipotle aioli. It wouldn’t be half so good without it.

By this time, we were all pretty much groaning and rubbing our stomachs due to the fullness. But I rallied and had a bite of the carne and chicken tacos which tasted scrumptious as well. I also won’t forget to mention the plantain sides and the corn on the cob. I LOVE plantains. As a Puerto Rican, I was born and raised on this dish, and make a pretty good plantain if I do say so myself. These were excellent sides, and the corn on the cob came with butter, cumin, and other spices that were so tasty, but I don’t even want to think about the calories. Lastly, after we sang happy birthday to Erica, I managed to force down a bite of flan which I liked because it wasn’t too sweet, and the consistency was just hard enough. Jamie had an amusing comment, when she compared the flan to the cheesecake at Il Mulino. She was quite right.

As you can probably tell through my raving about this place, I would go back again and again. I strongly recommend it, especially for a group dinner. Even though it isn’t BYOB, the originality of the drinks makes up for it. It is definitely not the cheapest of places, but well worth it for the service, the decor, the atmosphere, and the great food. Vayanse, mis amigos! Pronto!

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