Another grey day in Chicago and I spent most of it inside watching the telly. Thank you, winter. A week had passed since I had gone out and put my feet under some table at one of many eateries in the city. Part of it was having to deal with a bloody cold. Nothing like having your lights and heat go out because someone hit a patch of black ice, smacked into a pole, and took out part of the electrical grid. A frosty apartment is a sure way of catching a cold and, in my case, a bad one. Having a little recovery, my appetite returned and I was a bit tired of cabin fever. So I said to myself, let the hunt for something to fill the belly begin.
After looking through the list of entries for the alphabet soup, I figured that I would fill in a few ethnicities that did not have a lot of alphabetic representation. The letter G was the first to blink on my radar. Because I could count on Chicago to have at least one letter, I consulted my magic ball — Google, to be honest — and saw a Guatemalan restaurant in one of the neighbourhoods not far from me. The weather outside had warmed up just a bit. I must admit that 35 degrees is fantastic compared to the temperatures bordering on zero degrees that we had been having. I layered up enough to stay warm, grabbed my cameras, camera bag, and Kindle for reading, and I was off to have comida de Guatemala.
El Tinajon at 2054 W. Roscoe Street became my destination. Located on the most active street in Roscoe Village is a gem that you could miss amid all the swanky boutiques and art chi-chi restaurants. Festive in colour and warm in spirit, it is a cute spot for a quick meal. From outside, everyone looked like they were having their fair share of communal fulfilment. When I entered, there was suddenly silence. Only when I said, solo me, did conversation resume almost with a sigh in the air. Once everyone began talking again, I understood the exaggerated pause — everyone in the seating area spoke Spanish only. Well, that is common in Latin restaurants, but I do not look the part of someone who could be Latin, let alone speak Spanish. I sat by the window so that I could get a good number of photographs with natural light.
First to the table were a complementary basket of chips and salsa. The chips were nice and crunchy. The salsa was a bit thin yet flavourful. Not that I am a fan of all of my salsa being chunky, watery salsa tends to soften even crunchy chips faster than expected. The server approached to take my order and I made my request in Spanish only, much to the surprise of a pleasant smile from the server thereafter. For an appetizer, I ordered plache de papas. This was a tamale with potatoes and vegetables. Apparently, you can also get plache de papas with meat — chicken or shredded beef. I opted for the vegetarian option and glad that it did because this appetizer was delicious. My entrée was camarones al ajo. These shrimp were cut so that they were butterflies and it was quite clear to see that El Tinajon does not use the small nibble-size shrimp for this entrée. The things were plump and large. The shrimp was in a garlic sauce so reminiscent of scampi, albeit not excessive on the garlic. The rice with corn and peas in it had the texture of Asian sticky rice. This was not a bad thing, but rice prepared in most Latin dishes is fluffy. Needless to say, I ate it to completion. I washed it all down with a glass of tamarind juice. For those of you who have never had a tamarind or the juice, it could be a bit of an acquired taste. It is hard to describe the flavour, but there is a slight fermented kick that you get from some of it. I completed the dining experience with a flan. Decorated so perfectly, it was clear that it had been yanked from the refrigerator, dolled with a caramel top, garnished with strawberry and chocolate glaze, and topped with a cherry. It was a bit cold to the bite still. When you have had smooth and even creamy flan, you almost find yourself wearing the tattoo of flan snob somewhere visible. If I should ever return, I may try a warm dessert.
El Tinajon was a nice escape for the afternoon out of the apartment. There is a bit of charm to the place, I must admit. The prices are incredibly reasonable. With the restaurant being on a street with a tremendous amount of American pedestrian foot traffic, the food may pander to the American taste mostly. The discriminating palate knows. If you want something quick and still have enough dollars to fluff your wallet and a fair amount of change to jingle in your pocket thereafter, give El Tinajon a try. Chicago boasts a good number of Guatemalan restaurants, but El Tinajon is the only one that is not a fusion with some other Latin cuisine.
And now for me to think of what letter or ethnicity to seek next.