While foodies obsess over the new new thing, most of us tend toward routine. Convenience, comfort and value tend to steer our dining choices. So while I’ve been to many of the best restaurants once, I’ve been to the better-than-average joints in my neighborhood hundreds of times.
Lately, I’ve been pretty much living on Mexican food. I spent nearly five weeks in Mexico City where I was supervising the final post-production on our movie, “Signature Move.” While I did my best to explore some of the options around that global dining capital, I was there to work and proximity drove most of my culinary choices. Just like home in Chicago, I found a go-to restaurant in my neighborhood of Coyoacán. Corazón de Maguey is a “dining mezcalería” with outstanding, reasonably priced food centered around Oaxacan cuisine and, of course, a great selection of mezcal. I ended up dining there five times over the course of a month, including my partner Jan’s final meal during her short visit. We went for lunch that day and sat outside on a beautiful seventy-five-degree February afternoon. Caught in the euphoria of “the DF,” Jan was willing to go all-in on Mexican cuisine for this last taste. We ate quesadillas filled with huitlacoche (corn “smut”), tacos de jamaica (hibiscus) and guacamole with chapulines (grasshoppers). Though I’d already consumed a fair bit of Sal de Gusano (salt blended with ground-up worms) on mezcal cocktails, snacking on grasshoppers seemed unlikely, certainly in broad daylight, without the influence of copious amounts of agave. But the tiny little critters added a nice salty crunch to the guac—as long as you did not look them in the eye.
Here in Chicago we have a peerless Mexican food scene, led most prolifically by Rick Bayless and his boundless curiosity and creativity. But venture outside of the corridors of culinary obsession to Little Village, the epicenter of Mexican Chicago, and you’ll find more humble establishments preparing delicious dishes that they learned from their parents. Associate publisher Mike Hartnett pointed us toward Los Candiles, a breakfast and lunch place just off 26th Street, where Mikey Lopez and his family turn out amazing machaca con huevo. We ended up filming an important scene in “Signature Move” at the restaurant; a highlight for the cast and crew.
Just this past week, “Signature Move” world premiered at SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. I ended up eating Tex-Mex for another week, as it’s the pervasive cuisine there, along with barbecue. Breakfast tacos are the Austin thing, and we found a food trailer in a strip-mall parking lot near the house we rented called Rosita’s Al Pastor where the breakfast tacos made with, yes, machaca and eggs, were bested only by the al pastor tacos, all made with flour tortillas homemade to order right there in the trailer.
I ate there three or four times.
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