Given the ubiquity of horchata
, the cooling, milky, rice-based agua fresca that has no peer when it comes to extinguishing capsaicin-ignited fires, you'd think that you'd see more variation from the frequently chalky, oversweetened concentrates that circulate through JetSprays in taquerias all over the city. There are plenty of ways to make it—with Spanish tiger nuts or cantaloupe seeds, ground almonds or sesame—but I'd settle for one made from scratch. When I took my first pull from the tall icy glass served at Logan Square's sorta new El Habanero, I knew something was different. Thick, creamy, and only lightly sweetened, it's something altogether distinct from the muddy, gritty sugar waters slung at most other places. So I wasn't surprised when I was told they make it in-house from toasted ground rice, milk, cinnamon, sugar, and a just a bit of Mexican chocolate. It's an excellent foil for the blazing-hot table salsa.
El Habanero opened earlier this spring in the corner spot vacated by the excellent Colombian spot Gloria's Cafe
, and it maintains much of the former tenant's bright but spare hominess, with the occasional folk art accent here and there. The menu is Taqueria 101: tacos, tortas, gorditas, sopes, huaraches, and a handful of larger plates, like skirt steak, enchiladas, or posole verde
. That's excepting the less frequently seen pambazo
, a tortalike sandwich with a roll that's dipped in smoky guajillo salsa, staining it a brilliant sunset color that persists after it's been split and then griddled until crispy. You can get it with chicken or carne asada, but the ur-pambazo is filled with chorizo and potatoes topped with shredded iceberg, crema, and cotija cheese ($6.49). You might find the large bun overwhelms the quantity of filling, but you'll have no trouble washing it all down with a large horchata ($3.59).
El Habanero, 3300 W. Fullerton, 773-227-9225