Top-notch cheap eats at Huaraches Dona Chio | Bleader

Top-notch cheap eats at Huaraches Dona Chio

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Today I have steeled myself to share a little neighborhood secret with the entire Internet, come what may. I don't have the temperament to keep a good thing to myself, and if you read this blog you really need to know about Huaraches Doña Chio, a wonderful but tragically easy-to-miss Mexican spot at 1547 W. Elmdale. (That's just a little northeast of Clark and Ridge, in case you're one of those people for whom Edgewater might as well be Wisconsin.)
 
I'd biked past the place for more than a year (as near as I can tell it's been licensed since October 2007) without even noticing it was there. So yeah, Yelp and LTHForum both beat me to the punch on this one, even though I live like seven blocks away. The restaurant is on the garden level of a large residential building, and from the street trees usually obscure its signage.
 
Inside Huaraches Doña Chio couldn't be more modest: maybe four or five tables, no decor to speak of, TV on the counter usually tuned to Univision. But it's one of very few Mexican restaurants in Chicago serving huaraches, gorditas, and sopes handmade from fresh masa. (My attempts to determine whether the masa is prepared on the premises foundered on the language barrier--seriously, my Spanish stinks so bad families in cars roll up the windows.)
 
This means your huarache is patted out, pressed, and grilled to order, so it's slightly crispy on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside, never tough or stale or dry. And the difference in flavor--well, do you remember the first time you had fresh green peas right out of the pod, after spending your whole life making do with frozen? It's a lot like that.
 
You can get your huarache prepared with a layer of red or green salsa under the rest of the toppings (or fillings, if you're ordering a gordita), but I recommend going without--that way more of the fried masa stays crispy, instead of absorbing water from the salsa. (And you can always add it yourself from the bottles on the tables.) The refried beans are painted thinly onto the inside of the huarache--the whole thing's basically a large flattened pocket--so they don't soggify that toothsome outer layer of masa.
 
The selection of toppings is impressive too: not just standards like tinga, rajas, picadillo, al pastor, and chorizo (with or without potatoes) but also squash blossoms, nopales (cactus), and huitlacoche ("Mexican truffles").
 
The huitlacoche I've had before has been a rather stringy slurry that tasted too much of its can, but at Doña Chio (though for all I know it's also canned) it was mixed with whole-kernel corn in pieces sometimes as large as the end of my thumb, their pearly gray skin still intact around the velvety, earthy, inky black flesh of the cooked fungus.
 
The chicken tinga, finely shredded white meat slathered in a tasty red sauce redolent of smoked chile, is pretty much picky-eater proof. And the al pastor, my favorite, is silky and fatty, the pork cubed rather than shredded and assertively sauced but not swimming.
 
Whatever topping you pick, it'll be the center of attention--as at many non-Americanized taquerias, here "with everything" just means sprinkled with cilantro, chopped onion, and a dusting of queso fresco and Chihuahua cheese. Avocado and sour cream can be had for an additional charge, but why would you bother?
 
One huarache, which will run you $5.75 with one topping, $6.25 with two, and $6.75 with three, is a full meal--I didn't bring a tape measure, but I'd guess they’re 14 inches long and more than half that wide. Don't try ordering two gorditas unless you don't have to do anything but lie down for the next three hours--even if you can finish two at other taquerias, I'm willing to bet you're unprepared for gorditas eight inches across and so generously stuffed they're more than two inches tall. They're $3.75 apiece, incredibly.
 
Posole and menudo are available on weekends. Though I certainly can't complain about the posole, which is the only soup I've tried so far--its hunks of bone-in pork lend body to a nicely rich brick-red broth--given the quality of the masa at Doña Chio I can't see the wisdom in not ordering at least a gordita to go with it. And stick to the small bowl if your plans don't involve a delicious-food-induced nap--as with pretty much everything else, the soup portions are insane.
 
Huaraches Doña Chio is open from lunchtime till 9 PM seven days a week. There's takeout but no delivery.
 
(Sorry for the absence of photos. My camera is just too large for me to take pictures of my food inconspicuously in a restaurant that's only a little bigger than my living room!)

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