Señor Pan Cafe, Cuban Food Bliss

Señor Pan Cafe

The thing about engaging strangers in conversation and they finding out that you are more of a fan of seeking restaurants that deviate from group think, they offer suggestions that put you in the path of authenticity. While recently switching between English and Spanish with a friend talking about wanting to find a restaurant in Chicago’s Humbolt Park area, some Cubans who overheard the conversation quickly recommended Señor Pan Cafe at 2615 W. North Avenue. This was not the first time I had received a recommendation for this cafe from Puerto Ricans or Mexicans, so hearing it from Cubans meant it moved to first place in my “Must Go” list. And upon entering and hearing the rapid fire Spanish at most of the tables spoken by Cubans, I’d hit oro (gold).

Cafe Con Leche

Cafe Con Leche

The temperatures in Chicago had been doing the warm temperature, chilly temperature waffling and today was a day where it was mild in the sun and chilly in the shade. On the way to Señor Pan Cafe, much of my walking was in the shade, as were the bus stops. By the time I arrived, I needed a little something to defrost. Cafe con leche was my beverage of choice and a very good one. I should have known when I told the server that was what I wanted and the response I got was a smile and, “Muy bueno.”

For a starter, I ordered plantanos fritos y frijoles negros. The thinly sliced, fried plantains looked a tad bit too perfect. The texture and flavour spoke to just how perfect they were. Crispy such that they didn’t get soggy, I used them to dip the black beans that had enough seasoning without crossing the line into ridiculous. I could have had this appetizer in an entrée size.

Plantanos Fritos y Frijoles Negros

Plantanos Fritos y Frijoles Negros

I had already settled on ordering a sandwich. Many of the sandwiches on the menu were pork-centric. The one sandwich that I knew I could fall back on was the ropa vieja, since it had a recipe of shredded beef in a tasty tomato sauce. Dios mios. At most Cuban restaurants where I have gone, the ropa vieja sandwich had plantains in the recipe. That was not the case at Señor Pan Cafe. That was not a problem either, as the sandwich was substantial, and I had ordered the small version of the sandwich. I had finished all of it and all of the plantanos fritos y frijoles negros. There was no room for dessert.

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja

Señor Pan Cafe is small, so consider going with a small party if you’re interested. With me being conversational in Spanish, I had a little more conversation with the server and a few others in the restaurant than I probably would have if I had not switched into Spanish. For example, although I did not order a dessert, when I had inquired about a certain dessert on the menu, everyone behind the counter was telling me to get the flan instead when I returned. They also told me to come for breakfast, which goes well beyond, “Thanks for coming and we hope to see you again soon.” I was one satisfied customer. And since I did exchange email addresses with the Cubans who recommended it, I sent them a note to thank them. The quick response I received: When are you going again?

Senor Pan Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Riques Cocina Mexicana

Riques Cocina Mexicana

While passing through Chicago’s Uptown neighbourhood, there was a moment of wanting some Vietnamese food from one of the many restaurants along the Argyle-Broadway stretch. With it being hot and humid outside, I decided against a pho and knowing how much I love spicy food, I opted against any peppery dishes. During my indecision, I had wandered over towards Sheridan Road and walked up on a Mexican restaurant named Riques Cocina Mexicana at 5004 N. Sheridan Road. I settled on returning to the area for Vietnamese food another day. For this day, Mexican would suffice.

Horchata

Horchata

To somewhat take the edge off of the balmy feeling from outside, I had a horchata. It was clear from the first sip that this was not horchata from a bottle. I kid you not when I say that I could have ordered a jug of it for taking home.

Chilaquiles Roja con Pollo

Chilaquiles Roja con Pollo

To keep from stuffing myself, I passed on ordering an appetizer and ordered a main dish of chiliquiles rojo con pollo instead. Shredded chicken, scrambled eggs, and toasted frijoles in a red sauce topped with queso fresco were all I needed to satisfy my craving. Having had chiliquiles at numerous Mexican restaurants in Chicago since I moved to the city in 1995, I can honestly say that this was the best that I have had. And the side of frijoles and sweet plantanos made for an excellent lunch option.

Plantanos y Frijoles

Plantanos y Frijoles

As filling as the chiliquiles were, the dish was not so heavy that I did not have any room for a postre. I ordered a “la dona” noir, which was hot chocolate, cacao barry, and espresso. Just to be different, I asked for it to be prepared spicy with ancho and chipotle chilis. Needless to say, I got something spicy when that was what I was initially trying to avoid doing. The drink was outstanding. But what made me dance in my seat was the flan de elote. I am now addicted to flan with corn in it. The texture is not smooth the way regular flan is and it is not as sweet either, but it is still a fiesta on the tongue.

"La Dona" Noir

“La Dona” Noir

Flan de Elote

Flan de Elote

Riques Cocina Mexicana is a cozy restaurant with plenty of seating. Having gone during the middle of the day, there were several parties of individuals. With food and service being as great as what I experienced, I am sure there is a crowd during the evening seating. Although the plating looks more appealing than what you get at traditional Mexican restaurants, the flavour is absolutely true to Mexican cooking. When I eat enough to the point of stumbling out the door like a drunkard and needing to have a nap, it is definitely good. Believe me when I say that I stumbled to the el station, dozed on the el, napped on the bus, and slept well when I arrived home. I had an uninterrupted dream about Riques Cocina Mexicana.

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