by Mike Sula
A guest post by Reader contributor and LTHForum founder Gary Wiviott:
Long loved by Chicago's fanatical food fringe, Cemitas Puebla (formerly Puebla Taqueria) went national after its turn on a recent installment of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Seems host Bart Simps--er, Guy Fieri quipping "money" after his visit is the equivalent of the bat signal for the tollway crowd (you can watch the segment here). But the publicity is well deserved: proprietor Tony Anteliz Jr. and his pop, Antonio, are scratch cooking granny recipes from Puebla, where the latter picks up spices, herbs, and stringy queso Oaxaca on a regular basis.
The chipotle en adobo that dresses these sandwiches is the linchpin, smoky with a slow burn, made in-house with morita peppers, a smaller fruitier chipotle, and Grandma Esperanza's pineapple vinegar. The cemita Milanesa is one of the draws: a crisp, light sesame-seed bun made to order at a local bakery, a layer of avocado, a schmear of chipotle en adobo, a crisp-fried butterflied pork chop topped with a shower of Oaxacan cheese, and, in summer months, papalo--like cilantro on steroids--which Tony's mother grows for the restaurant. Swoonworthy as this may be, go with an Atomica, a belly-bursting combo of Milanesa, carne enchilada, and ham finished with Oaxacan cheese. Or a cemita pata, made with long-simmered cow's foot mixed with vinegar and carrot then chilled and sliced in the fashion of headcheese.
Along with the cemita, tacos Arabes are a signature of Puebla: juicy strips of marinated spit-roasted pork shoulder sheared off a rotating spit, given a healthy dose of chipotle en adobo, griddled, and wrapped in a thick pitalike flour tortilla reflecting the Lebanese influence on Puebla. (Middle Eastern flatbread is Tony's first choice, but the local product has a tendency to split when rolled.) Orientales are the same succulent spit-roasted pork sans chipotle sauce wrapped Mexican-style in a pair of tortillas.
There have been some casualties on CP's menu following all the attention. With the flocking DDD-inspired crowd's demand for cemitas of every stripe, the classic Oaxacan mole poblano has been dropped from the lineup, as it took too much time and "everyone wants sandwiches anyway." Chiles en nogada are gone as well. Here the story goes that Tony made a batch for the restaurant, then tasted his grandmother's version. Hers was so much better so he dropped the dish out of embarassment.
God knows one needs an appetizer or two before downing an Atomica coupled with a taco Arabes. Chalupas fit the bill, crispy masa disks with multiple choices of meat and salsa. I like the salsa roja with cecina and salsa verde with chorizo. Chicharron quesadilla is a heady mix of fried pork skin, cheese, and peppers, served blisteringly hot.
Cemitas Puebla is on my short list of places to impress out-of-town visitors, especially those who aren't familiar with the vibrant diversity of Chicago's restaurant scene. Not only is it family run and fueled by Abuela's approved recipes, there's a warm friendly feeling in this comfy if modest restaurant the Taco Hells of the world will never approach. Now the Food Network nation knows.
Cemitas Puebla, 3619 W. North, 773-772-8435