Sweet Jesus...I am obsessed with Los Niches and their chicken soup. It's a tiny, family-owned Colombian restaurant on North Clark that keeps the prices low, the portions huge and the atmosphere cozy and simple. I cruised over there earlier in the week knowing that Monday was pollo soup day and I was not disappointed. They serve each heaping bowl ($5.95) with a huge scoop of rice, sliced avocado, salsa verde and fresh limes. I also tend to order a handmade arepa con queso ($2) with mine, though I can never eat it all. I have never had bites of food this good, this utterly mouthwatering. So made-from-scratch; so rustic; so easy-on-the-eyes....Fall is on the way, and this is the soup that will help you make it through those long, cold days.
There are very few tastes in the world that compare to the beauty of maize mixed with queso. And, when you toss in a bit of fresh lime, my God....just heaven. I try to have arepa's as much as humanly possible. I'll take 'em from every little hole-in-the-wall that I can find and most are usually just about $1.00 or so. There are some that I buy at La Unica for a few bucks (the frozen kind) and sometimes when I'm coming home from work, I remember....Holy moly! I have the makins for a cuba libre and a friggin' arepa at home....and I just laugh out loud. What a delightful thing to realize in the ZERO degree weather. And, then to notice that I have a fresh lime too? Lordy, lordy...it does not get much better than that, kids~
I'm not sure why I'm so drawn to rustic, hand-slapped food, but there must be an ancient bug in my system that pulls me toward the basic. Given the choice of scones versus sopapillas, you know I'm hittin' the fried doughnut. Mention aioli and all I can say is, "I'll take my garlic mayo with a heaping side of fideos, please."
So when I've got a day off and I'm out scouting the city streets in search of something delicious to fill my belly, I'm not looking for pretty signs touting a funky one-name flourish; I'm on the hunt for random ethnic words that speak of the people.
Take Los Niches, 6619 N. Clark St., for example. This tiny Colombian storefront goes way back to its roots and pulls straight from them. The name literally translates into "dark skinned people," and since we're calling a spade a spade, you just know a restaurant named after a reference to the color of its people has got to be slinging together some old-school chow.
This weekend I miraculously managed to brave the blistering heat and make my way to a restaurant I've been meaning to try for quite some time: The Flying Chicken. The Colombian eatery had been calling my name since I laid eyes on it a few years ago, and I finally reached the point where my body needed some chicken. How did I justify slamming down a quarter-chicken in about a minute flat? It all started with my never-ending quest for the perfect sailboat...
I had woken up that morning totally delirious and happy at the same time. In my first real moment of freedom all week, I'd gotten on the horn with my dad, who was raving about a great website that has a sailing simulator on it. Cut to an hour later and I'm still whipping that boat through the ocean. When I finally noticed the time, I slowly backed away from the computer and attempted to release myself from the wild potential of being sucked in even longer.
Last week while everyone in Chicago suffered through the first real snowstorm of winter, I was lounging on the beach on a tiny island off the coast of Nicaragua. I gleefully played in the clear-as-glass waters of the Caribbean, snorkeled frantically with sharks and napped in colorful hammocks. Come dinner-time, I'd feast on just-caught lobster tails that cost a scant few dollars and guzzle (seriously) dozens of garden-fresh minty mojitos made with the best rum, Flor de Cana. What a life.
Now that I'm back from the beach, I'm making my old rounds and daydreaming about third-world countries. That might sound weird but it's amazing to me just how far the dollar stretches south of the border. It's put me on a mad quest to find out how far my dinero can go in the city. My first pit stop is Mekato's Colombian Bakery.