It's all in the specials at Michoacanito | Bleader

It's all in the specials at Michoacanito

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guisado, Michoacanito

Years ago I wrote about a street vendor in Irving Park plying an unusual snack—the torta de tamal, a dense pork tamale sandwiched in a bolillo that could occupy enough stomach space to fortify a day laborer in the Home Depot parking lot from dawn to dusk. Shortly thereafter the couple that was selling these carb powerloads vacated their corner and installed themselves in a tiny storefront a half block north on Kedzie that used to house a perpetually empty Filipino buffet. At the time I was thinking this is exactly why street vendors should be allowed to do their work unharassed: hard but gainful work leads to a fully licensed enterprise that supports the tax base and occupies vacant real estate.

At first the pair were just selling tamales, champurrado, and fruit, but eventually they joined forces with another couple, got the kitchen in full working order, and gradually added dishes to a menu that's become impressively broad for such a small operation: breakfast, mariscos, jugos, licuados, aguas frescas, quesadillas, burritos, gorditas, huaraches, tortas, tacos, and a full page of platillos, including chiles rellenos, enchiladas, steaks, fajitas, and more.

These days I rarely pass by Michoacanito without seeing at least one of its five tables occupied by someone hunched over a big, steaming bowl of something. The soups are popular, mostly caldo de pollo, its yellow depths concealing big chunks of chicken, chayote, potatoes, carrots, and ears of corn, or caldo de res, a sea of beef stock surrounding a towering island of tender beef. I've tried these soups and a few others, and frankly I don't get it. The solids are fine, but the soup itself is always pretty weak and bland. I've tried the gamier lamb soup too and found it be about the same, even with an added spike in chile.

What I've come to realize is that the best bets aren't usually on the menu at all but scribbled on a whiteboard on the wall.

Guisado verde, Michoacanito

They change these two or three specials every week, but one I never fail to order is the guisado, a formidable pork and potato stew, which is stored in a large bucket of stock in the refrigerator waiting for you to specify "rojo" or "verde." That refers to the two house-made table salsas that precede the meal with a basket of chips, and which pull double duty dressing the guisado. The meat is fatty and fall-apart tender either way, but the rojo, which is thick and blazing with chiles de arbol, will scour your sinuses.

When I ordered the verde I don't think they were prepared to reheat the meat during their three-table lunch rush, so they just submerged it in the deep fryer, carnitas style, which gave it a nice crunch, and then drizzled it with the thin, tart green salsa and a good measure of cactus strips. Both styles are a superb deal at $6.50.

tortillas hecho a mano, Michoacanito

I think we're living in a golden age of house-made tortillas. At Michoacanito, you have to ask for them, and there's a $3.50 upcharge, but they're thick, doughy, and warm, almost breadlike. A single quesadilla made on one of them was enough to vanquish a 15-year-old quesadilla conquistador of my acquaintance.

Pozole, Michoacanito

Another indication of the superiority of the specials: the broth in a recent fathomless bowl of posole ($7.99) had tons of character: spicy, perfumed by oregano, and thick with hominy and the same pork from the guisado (unfried). The broth itself was a mite thinner than posole is supposed to be, but it made for a great soup. You can order that one verde, rojo, or blanco.

The tortas de tamal aren't on the menu—but you can still get them. The old tamale and champurrado coolers from back in the day are posted right in front of the window and send the signal that these folks haven't forgottten where they came from.

Michoacanito

Michoacanito, 4315 N. Kedzie, 773-267-2820

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