It's been ten years, and my wife still can't keep her hands off my pollo milanese.
It's been ten years, and my wife still can't keep her hands off my pollo milanese. Credit: Andrea Bauer

One day in August many years ago, my wife, our daughters, and I were heading off for our annual vacation in Michigan. The plan was to hit the road “early”—no later than noon—so we could make the 8 PM closing time at Old Hamlin, a restaurant in Ludington, Michigan, that makes a pretty good fried chicken.

THE FOOD ISSUE: Where Chicago Eats

I’d drive a long way for a good piece of fried chicken.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. We got up late. I had a column to finish. My wife had errands to run. One delay led to another, and we didn’t hit the road till six. Meaning: no fried chicken!

A loss I’m still not completely over.

Plus, somehow or other we’d gone the whole day without really eating much of anything. And, well, I must confess—my wife and I come from a long line of people who get really, really grumpy when we haven’t had enough to eat. You might say it’s not one of the better traits we’ve passed to our daughters.

Point is, the whole family was snarling like bears as we hit the road. I blamed my wife for being late and she blamed me and the kids were blaming each other. As I recall, one may have actually thrown a punch as they sat squeezed between the suitcases in the rear seat of the car. But don’t quote me on that.

So there we were—one big happy family driving south on California Avenue, heading for the expressway. When we pulled to the red light at Belmont, my wife said, “Enough!,” and made two declarations.

Number one: “No one’s allowed to talk until we’ve had something to eat!” (A declaration that’s been made more than a few times in the old Joravsky household, believe you me.)

Number two: “We’re gonna eat right . . . there!”

She pointed to the first restaurant she saw, a little Mexican joint just south of the three-way intersection at Belmont/Elston/California.

And that, my friends, is how we discovered Taqueria Traspasada, our favorite Mexican restaurant in Chicago.

We walked into a dining room with Mexican tchotchkes on the wall, an antiquated Ms. Pac-Man machine in the corner, and Spanish-language soap operas playing on the TV.

We sat in a blue plastic booth along the window, looking out at a warehouse on California. The waiter brought us a complimentary bowl of chicken soup, as is their custom—which, in my hunger, I didn’t eat so much as absorb.

Then he brought a cup of spicy black salsa to go with the chips. And everyone’s like, “Oh, my God! There’s garlic.”

Something else you should know: we come from a long line of people who love garlic. It sort of makes up for the whole grumpy-when-hungry-thing.

I ordered the pollo Milanese (breaded chicken). It was so good I was practically making little moaning sounds as I wolfed it down.

My wife and kids got the enchiladas and chile rellenos. They were good, but not as good as my breaded chicken, which they kept sneaking bites of whenever I dropped my guard.

“Hey, man,” I said, my mouth filled with food. “If you wanted the chicken, you should have ordered it!”

“It’s always better to share,” said my wife.

“That’s easy for you to say—you’re not the one with the chicken that everyone wants to share.”

As we ate, our grumpiness faded until it was like party time at the taqueria! My wife had a cantarito, one of those fruity alcoholic drinks that comes in a clay cup that the waiter said was made in some town in Mexico.

“So, it’s an indigenous cup,” wisecracked my wife, who, now that I think about it, may have knocked back a few cantaritos.

That meant I had to drive. No problem—as I was food fortified for the long haul. I put on Stevie Wonder’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale—one of the greatest albums ever!—and off we went.

Well, that was at least ten years ago. And we’ve been going to Taqueria Traspasada ever since.