Monnie Burke’s for the Pilsen

Monnie Burke's

For my last review, it was of a restaurant where two friends and I met to celebrate a very late birthday and my early birthday. Since then, I had become very serious about losing belly fat. Let me just say that it is possible, but you have to be dedicated to the point of addiction. I have been cooking at home more and spending a lot of time in the gym, so my outings to different restaurants came to a stop. However, I made time to meet my two friends for one of their birthdays. Birthdays seem to be the reason for the occasional dining excursion. We met at Monnie Burke’s in Pilsen at 1163 W. 18th Street.

Old Fashioned
Old Fashioned
Oscar Valentin
Oscar Valentin

Along with our first round of cocktails, and I must commend the bartender for mixing some great drinks without being heavy handed or dabbling in Shirley Temple world, we started with a soft pretzel that was served with a smoked gouda and black truffle fondue. I recommend this highly for a starter. While the gouda does not have an expected smoky flavor, the fondue works well with the lightly salted pretzel. I think the black truffle addition helps to bring out more on the palate.

Soft Pretzel with Smoked Gouda and Black Truffle Fondue
Soft Pretzel with Smoked Gouda and Black Truffle Fondue

Our first small course was the egg yolk pappardelle. This was angry, or arrabbiata as Italians would say. The ground scallops in the dish were outstanding and I have been looking up recipes that call for ground scallops because I need more. There was enough bite in the dish to pick up the spiciness, yet not enough to that we required sips of water after each swallow. This dish was a nod to Italy.

Egg Yolk Pappardelle
Egg Yolk Pappardelle

One supper vegetable that has become more popular than red velvet cupcakes of several years ago are Brussels sprouts. Accented with a white anchovy vinaigrette, Calabrian chili peppers, pine nuts, and parmesan, I can almost guarantee you that you’re obstinate child who hates vegetables would love this dish. It was nice that the additions to the Brussels sprouts did not overtake the flavor of the actual vegetables. This is a nice wink to the toe of Italy, to Calabria.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts
Crispy Brussels Sprouts

Another super vegetable is cauliflower. Here it is fire roasted with urfa biber peppers, medjool dates, olives, almonds, and sheep’s milk cheese. With the use of the urfa biber peppers, medjool dates, and olives, there was an injection of Turkey and Morocco into the dish. Goes to show you that you can have ingredients from different yet close regions play very well in recipes and it made the cauliflower stand out as opposed to being reminiscent of milder broccoli.

Roasted Cauliflower
Roasted Cauliflower

Those who are fans of seafood would appreciate the Spanish octopus. Prepared such that you could cut through the tentacles with a butter knife and tender enough that there was no rubbery texture. Coming with shishito peppers, papas bravas, and a black garlic mole, there was very little left on the plate. This dish gets the Clean Plate Society Award.

Spanish Octopus
Spanish Octopus

Having taken red meat out of my diet mostly, I broke my discipline for the sake of trying the cheeseburger. Not just a cheeseburger, as listed on the menu, but rather a double cheeseburger, this was worth every bite. This burger is topped with American cheddar, grilled red onions, and served with garlic fries and lemon aioli. As I was never a fan of having my burgers anything close to rare, it was nice that it arrived at the table a slight notch less than well cooked, juicy as juicy can be, and I never had to state how I wanted the burger cooked. This is the mark of a cook who knows his or her trade well.

Double Cheeseburger
Double Cheeseburger

For dessert, we had a brownie that was baked by the devil, topped with a fist size scoop of ice vanilla bean ice cream, and drizzled with a warm chocolate sauce. The caramel popcorn addition was a unique garnish. It did not take away from the brownie ala mode, though. Those who love moist — spelled “moyse” — brownies will have a problem staying on the wagon after having a taste of this dessert. It is extremely rich, so I would recommend sharing it with your dinner guest or guests.

Brownie Ala Mode with Caramel Popcorn
Brownie Ala Mode with Caramel Popcorn

Monnie Burke’s is clearly a winner when it comes to service and good food. Given the amount of food that we ordered, everything was a hit, not one disappointing moment to be had. With summer now giving us days that we can enjoy in al fresco mode, the patio at Monnie Burke’s fills out quickly. The inside was empty, but that was understandable with everyone wanting outside seating without fear of a torrential downpour or extreme humidity. It’s not of the staple variety that has graced Pilsen’s landscape for decades. However, it is a welcomed addition.


Monnie Burke's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cantón Regio, Pilxico Tasty

Cantón Regio

Recently, I ran the Carrera de los Muertos 15K — the Race of the Dead — which was a 3 mile stretch through Chicago’s Pilsen neighbourhood. While on the race, we passed a restaurant named Nuevo Leon and I had mentioned it to a friend who was also running in the race. She informed me that after Nuevo Leon had experienced a fire, the owners opened Cantón Regio across the street. After hearing many people speak of how good the food was at Nuevo Leon, there was no reason why I couldn’t make my way back to 1510 W 18th Street to get a sample.

Complimentary Soup

Complimentary Soup

My friend who ran in the Race of the Dead, a mutual friend, and I met one late afternoon through dinner for some Mexican food well worth repeat visits. There is a bit of the woodsy look on the inside, spacious, and with enough tables to entertain several parties. And it’s not loud, so you can have conversation and enjoy all the good eating. Acknowledging their cash-only policy and option for bringing our own beverage, we arrive with empty tummies that we filled.

Brochetas de Pollo y Camarones

Brochetas de Pollo y Camarones

There was complimentary broth with chicken and vegetables that was quite nice, no doubt a good option for fighting the common cold during our chilly months. We ordered brochetas pollo y camarones. These skewers of chicken and shrimp with bell peppers and onions were outstanding. Accompanied with tortillas, wrapping the tender chicken, shrimp, and vegetables in the tortillas resulted in pure culinary bliss.

For the next menu item, we ordered a kilo of arrachera. I am the first to say that I like skirt steak, but after not being able to shut up about how good it was at Cantón Regio, I may be the first to be head over heels for how good it tasted here. The meat was cooked well, but had the texture and succulence of medium well preparation. The cebollitas cambray, spring onions, and roasted red peppers that came with it left a lasting impression on my palate. With the rest of the tortillas and cups of pinto beans in a savoury gravy, we worked this large platter to completion.

Arrachera

Arrachera

Along with our fourth bottle of wine, we finished with a flan. Whether prepared on the premises or at a bakery, flans are always a delight. And the same was the case here. The texture was slightly creamier than gelatinous, and that is absolutely perfect. Topped with a cherry and drizzled with caramel, we wrapped up a long meal and then had to deal with fighting sleep.

Flan

Flan

Cantón Regio is clearly a neighbourhood favourite and a magnet for those outside of the Pilsen area. You can probably guess that the food is simply some of the best authentic Mexican food in the city, but the service also makes it have great appeal. There is no rush, so diners clearly take their time to indulge everything in front of them. Again, there is a cash-only policy, but the prices are extremely reasonable for the portions you get. There is also a BYOB policy, so grab some cervasas or a bottle of wine and make a date. It’s a given that I will return in a few weeks for some more arrachera.

Canton Regio Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

La Vaca Margarita Bar Para Cumplaños Para Mi Amiga Buena

La Vaca Margarita Bar

When my former flatmate announced that she was going to have a birthday gathering at a restaurant in her old neighbourhood of Pilsen, I knew there would be authenticity to the food. She had mentioned La Vaca Margarita Bar at 1160 W. 18th Street. Those who have been in Chicago for several years know how Pilsen has undergone a bit of a change over the past seven or so years, albeit not rapid but definitely noticeable. And La Vaca Margarita Bar has retained much of the Mexican culture that has been slowly fading.

Chips

Chips

Very much a large setting, the restaurant is rather spacious. The second half of the restaurant has a huge bar with what looks like a remarkable selection of liquid love for any concoction imaginable. With a few of us having arrived early, we started with regular margaritas, rumchatas, and hibiscus margaritas. Wow! What-what! Rara-rara! Hats off to the bartender who made the drinks in a way that would make you guzzle them down like Kool-Aid, but will raise your feet a few inches off the ground.

Margarita, Rumchata, Hibiscus Margarita

Margarita, Rumchata, Hibiscus Margarita

One word is applicable for describing the food: outstanding. The quesadillas came with succulent chicken that had been accented with a tasty gravy, and were served with a salad under sour cream and fresh guacamole. The flautas were also prepared with fresh ingredients and with the tortillas nicely crunchy. The chicken taco with crispy onions had a very light, savoury gravy in the recipe that yielded a flavour in a way that the tacos required no salsa with them. The arroz with frijoles and chicken under mole is a dish that I recommend highly. Any dish with a good mole sauce should never be passed and the same applies to this one. As to the beer-battered fish taco, this was yet another dream on the palate. The coup de grace of everything was the platter of chicken and steak fajitas served with arroz and a medley of broccoli and carrots. The dish was the length of my elbow to my wrist and I have the arms of a basketball player. But it was the grand taste that was a winner.

Flight of Mexican Delicacies

Quesadillas with Chicken. Flautas. Chicken Taco. Arroz, Frijoles, and Chicken in Mole Sauce. Fish Taco. Steak and Chicken Fajitas.

As I had mentioned, Pilsen is undergoing a creeping change in the neighbourhood. The Mexican aspects of the culinary representation in Pilsen is not changing, although the influx into the neighbourhood is not Mexican. For those who like to go to restaurants with large parties of friends or family members, this is one location in Chicago that I think is a fit. The food should be shared family style. Even if it is a small party of two or three, I think this is still an excellent restaurant to add to your outing list. With top service and lip-smacking food from the cocina, my former flatmate brought in age 40 with a satisfied look on her face and a filled belly. So did the rest of us.

La Vaca Margarita Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato