MR. TACO’S PLACE, 4641 N. Clark, 773-728-2113: The Ravenswood Guatemalan restaurant Antojitos Guatemaltecos was one of my favorites. So I was saddened when it closed last year and its space was leased to a Mexican restaurant. But when that place, La Condesita de Acapulco, moved out after just eight months, the Mazariegos family, who ran Antojitos, had trouble finding a new tenant. “We had no other choice than to pick up where we left off,” says Cynthia Mazariegos, a student at Loyola. “But the neighborhood changed. The Guatemalans couldn’t afford to live there anymore. They all went to Kedzie. The neighborhood became more American, and Americans are more accustomed to Mexican food. They’re not accustomed to our food. And since the restaurant was already Mexican, we decided to go with it.” So Cynthia’s mom, Dalila, is back in the kitchen, but this time cooking a limited menu of simple, inexpensive, well-prepared Mexican food–huevos rancheros, chicken or steak fajitas, tacos, burritos, and fresh guacamole. The burritos are filled with flavorfully seasoned meats like carne asada, pastor (marinated pork), and chorizo; each costs $4 and comes with rice, beans, and a small lettuce salad. Dinners, which top out at $5.50, include sopes (masa cups filled with meat or beans), enchiladas, and tostadas. Mr. Taco’s is aiming mostly at carryout (there are only six tables), but they’ll also deliver in the immediate area.
HAMA MATSU, 5143 N. Clark, 773-506-2978: It’s hard to get excited about yet another sushi place, but this Japanese-Korean hybrid is trying its best to stand out. Despite its shabby exterior, Hama Matsu’s interior is clean and simple, with natural bamboo floors, upside-down canvas umbrellas overhead, and dark cherry chairs surrounding tables covered in white linen. The food is equally uncomplicated: along with familiar Japanese dishes like sashimi, nigiri, maki, and teriyaki and Korean specialties like pajun (a seafood or vegetable pancake), bulgogi (thinly sliced marinated beef), and kalbi (marinated short ribs), the menu features katsu (fried cutlets of beef, pork, chicken, or fish in a mild sauce) and chirashi (rice bowls with raw fish, chopped vegetables, or beef, topped with an egg). The dinner prices are steep for Andersonville (most entrees run in the low- to mid-teens), but the portions are generous and the service courteous. The lunch menu is cheaper: sushi and sashimi combinations and teriyaki dishes cost under $10. Bring your own drinks for now, or try the complimentary corn tea.
MOXIE, 3517 N. Clark, 773-935-6694: With the three televisions, dim lighting, late-night dance music, and cigarette smoke, it’s easy to mistake Wrigleyville’s Moxie for a bar. But there is food here, and it’s worth the trip all by itself. A Moxie salad was dotted with creamy blue cheese, candied pecans, and Granny Smith apples, while the grilled asparagus came stacked log-cabin style, lightly glazed with lemon juice and olive oil. Sesame-crusted seared ahi tuna was fresh and flavorful, and the Szechuan crusted filet of beef was well prepared, if a little light on the peppercorns. The dozen or so small plates combine nicely to create a tasty meal that’s a good value. Moxie’s designer martinis include sweet concoctions made from flavored vodkas–orange, lemon, vanilla–and are unusual and popular in this beer-guzzling neighborhood.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Cynthia Howe.