Mas alla del Sol stakes a claim on Edgewater's Ethiopian strip | Bleader

Mas alla del Sol stakes a claim on Edgewater's Ethiopian strip

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The new interior at 5848 N. Broadway
  • Ted Cox
  • The longhouse-like new interior
"What used to be here, do you know?" we asked a courtly waiter at Edgewater's new Mexican restaurant, Mas Alla del Sol. "I don't, but it was"—and here he shuddered, "filled with trash, a dump."

And so it goes: one man's heap of junk really is another man's treasure. The space in question, at 5848 N. Broadway, was in fact formerly known as Paradise, an automobile garage turned Middle Eastern restaurant that doubled as a showcase for then-owner Samad Ahmadi, a self-taught artist. As the Reader's Peter Margasak described it back in 2006:

The long dining room is crowded with [Ahmadi's] distinctive outsider art—expressionistic paintings on glass, plastic, and mirrors, murals, five handmade fountains, multimedia works that defy definition—and psychedelic strings of colored lights line the walls. At one end a balcony overlooks the space, a former auto garage; at the other a handmade stage is poised over an old Mercedes convertible.

The facade was distinctive as well, kind of a poor man's fieldstone.

paradise.jpg
  • L.G. via Yelp
  • Paradise lost

A few years later the place—minimally altered—became Green Village, a restaurant unique in offering Middle Eastern and Ethiopian cuisines (even more notable, both were well executed).

Green Villages owner Emebet Afework (behind her you can see some of Ahmadis work)
  • Lloyd DeGrane
  • Green Village's owner Emebet Afework (behind her you can see some of Ahmadi's work)

Alas, that shuttered too, and for a long time the storefront was for rent. Now it's in the hands of Adam and Mirella Moreno, who've had a great deal of success with the Lincoln Square BYO Los Nopales, recipient of a Michelin Bib Gourmand award.

I went to Los Nopales back when most of the entrees were under ten bucks, and wasn't particularly impressed—the most memorable thing about the experience was seeing Illinois attorney general (and maybe someday gov) Lisa Madigan and her family having lunch there. I wonder whether the location might be a key to at least part of its popularity: that stretch of Western has an abundance of neighborhood Thai restaurants, with notables Spoon Thai and Opart Thai House just to the north, and Sticky Rice a short jog south, in North Center.

If that's the case, prospects are good for Mas Alla del Sol, whose location plops it along Edgewater's Ethiopian strip, with Ras Dashen right next door, Abyssinia Restaurant two doors farther south, and Ethiopian Diamond just down the street. Mexican—forks, even—might just be a nice change of pace.

It's no wonder we didn't recognize the place: Mas Alla del Sol has been completely rehauled, with a smooth new maroon exterior and an interior like a Native American longhouse. The Morenos have kept much of the menu in common with Los Nopales, adding booze and some house specialties like costillas, baby back ribs in an ancho chile sauce.

Costillas with grilled pineapple, jicama, and nopales
  • Ted Cox
  • Costillas with grilled pineapple, jicama, and nopales; quaintly served tortillas (and a 5 Lizards witbier) in the background

We were disappointed with the texture, which was fall-off-the-bone mushy, but that's a matter of taste, of course—some people like their ribs denture friendly.

On the other hand, the pollo en mole, according to the menu made from a family recipe, was delicious, meaty chicken served on the bone over a tamal nejo that helped soak up the sauce. Unfortunately, the accompanying tortillas (pictured above), though quaintly served, were not handmade. I've been spoiled by the handcrafted ones at places like Big Star and Sol de Mexico.

Pollo en mole with quaintly served but not great tortillas
  • Ted Cox
  • Nothing-to-sneeze-at pollo en mole

I also enjoyed the large ensalada verdolagas, purslane served with julienne radishes and tomatoes, dabs of goat cheese, and, for crunch, tortilla strips, sliced vermicelli thin. And I think it's charming that fancy new cocktails like the Mayahuel, chamomile-infused tequila with Lillet Blanc and Fruitlab organic orange liqueur, come in kitschy margarita glasses with a bright-blue cactus stem.

I do wish the restaurant's name, which means "beyond the sun," were a tribute to the lost Paradise. Instead it comes from a song by the Mexican singer Joan Sebastien.

Mas Alla del Sol, 5848 N. Broadway, 773-654-1900, masalladelsol.com

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