Bien Me Sabe, Claro Que Si

Restaurants in Chicago come and go. Some have long lives and there are others that stay in business for a short time. One restaurant I recently found out had closed its doors was a Venezuelan restaurant in Oak Park, Illinois. With them being one of my favourite restaurants in Oak Park, I was a bit down to have discovered the news. So, I was rather quick looking for other Venezuelan restaurants in Chicago. As luck would have it, one named Bien Me Sabe recently opened in East Lakeview at 1637 W. Montrose Avenue in place of what was once an Ecuadorian restaurant.

TequeñosWith this first visit, I opted for something that I had not had before at any Venezuelan restaurant. Based on a few street food items that some of my Venezuelan friends have prepared and shared, I ordered tequeños. As I remembered, they were authentic. These came with a side of ketchup and a side of mayonnaise that was doctored up almost with the taste of tartar sauce. I omitted the condiments and devoured the stuffed cheese sticks to completion.

TostonesThe second appetizer was a platter of tostones. Instead of them coming with a dipping sauce prepared of ketchup, mayonnaise, and garlic, the tostones had been topped with shredded cheese and drizzled with ketchup and mayonnaise. While this was a tasty combination, I became a bit more ravenous when I removed the ketchup and mayonnaise from atop of the tostones. The cuajada cheese alone on them made them extremely appetizing.

Arepa PabellonNow, you cannot go to a Venezuelan restaurant and not have an arepa sandwich. One I had never eaten before was a pabellon. Outstanding. It reminded me a lot of Cuban ropa vieja sandwiches. The shredded beef seasoned well in a light tomato sauce, the plump plantains, and the cuajada cheese between homemade arepa left a lasting impression on me that I can only overshadow by returning and ordering a different arepa sandwich.

Bien Me Sabe is a spacious restaurant that still has a quaint feel to it. That’s mostly because the service lends an “at home” atmosphere. I admit that I miss the Venezuelan restaurant that was in Oak Park, but I’m glad that Bien Me Sabe opened its doors for business. I certainly hope that they have a long shelf life because authentic Venezuelan food is hard to find in Chicago.

Veneuelan Arepas Cafe & Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cohiba Cuban Cuisine, Azuca, Azuca

Cohiba Cuban Cuisine

While wanting to get closer to Montrose Beach along Lake Michigan on Chicago’s North Side for a friend’s gathering, my appetite would not allow me to linger around with a growling belly before the come-together. I was in the Lakeview area in advance and not trying hard to tolerate my hunger pains. As luck, fate, or serendipity would have it, I was standing in front of Cohiba Cuban Cuisine at 2835 N. Broadway Street. Talk about great timing. Talk about being decisive enough to just go in. Talk about channeling my inner Celia Cruz: ¡Azucar!

Cafe Con Leche

Cafe Con Leche

Realizing that I had plenty of time before the mid afternoon, I scanned the menu for something to satisfy my craving. There was a moment of indecisiveness before I said that I would start with a tostones rellenos de camarones, followed by a sopa de pollo. Curious as to what my server would recommend for a main dish, I accepted her suggestion for ropa viejo. And during my wait, I had a cup of cafe con leche. There is definitely an assurance that getting a cafe con leche at any Cuban restaurant or cafe may be the best option you exercise for the day, the cafe con leche at Cohiba being the one option of the day that I think made my day bright.

Tostones Rellenos de Camarones

Tostones Rellenos de Camarones

Sopa de Pollo

Sopa de Pollo

Seeing that the tostones rellenos de camarones was on the appetizer list, I thought that it was going to be small. It was rather substantial and an automatic favourite by the first bite. This was a green plantain stuffed with shrimp prepared in a tasty tomato sauce. Not peppery, but spicy nonetheless, I devoured as much as possible, while saving room for the sopa de pollo. This was the first moment that I mumbled ¡Azucar! under my breath. Filled with tender chicken, peppers, and miniature noodles, and with a chewy roll that was also ideal for sopping, I was quite pleased at having ordered this menu item.

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja

Requiring some time before indulging the main dish, the server waited accordingly before bringing me a traditional Cuban dish that I usually order as a sandwich. The flavour of the shredded beef in a tomato base was mild, but it still was inviting enough that I refused to leave any. This was served with savoury black beans, sweet plantains, and rice. Thankful that the large party sitting not far from me was fully engaged in animated conversation, I was glad they did not hear me singing “Guantanamera” by Celia Cruz and mouthing ¡Azucar! Needless to say, these old clothes I liked a lot.

Flan de Vanilla

Flan de Vanilla

Now I was proper fed, but I was not yet finished. Per my server’s second recommendation, I had traditional flan de vanilla. Accompanied by another cafe con leche, I don’t know how I managed to walk upright after I was done. This was not some flan from the frozen section at a local market. I appreciated the caramel not being excessively sugary. And the flan had the texture of creamy quesillos. Also, having eaten so much already, the flan was just right for me being able to finish all without struggling.

Cohiba Cuban Cuisine is a medium sized restaurant with an “at home” atmosphere that I love. I went during late morning/early afternoon before the crowd began coming. Lucky for me because I got to not only enjoy the meal, but to at least get recommendations and even chat about Cuban food without there being any rush. There are a few Cuban restaurants I have gone to in Chicago and several that I will have to try in good time. But this was the first time that I couldn’t suppress my inner Celia Cruz. ¡Azucar!.

Cohiba Cuban Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato