Sky Full of Bacon

#27: Senor Pan, 50-50 makes good enough odds

I was starting to feel like my quest to try 50 unwritten-about restaurants was turning into Mike’s list of mediocre bummers.  A lot of places that just didn’t measure up to what small promise they offered from the outside. (Especially since I was sitting on the whole stash of mostly good Bridgeview middle-eastern places till the piece appeared in Time Out.)  Which is the reality of doing this, of course; you try a lot of places and if you’re lucky, once every three or four times they’re good enough to want to go back, once every 50 or 100 times you find a true gem.

You can try to improve your odds in some ways.  First, of course, there’s location; your odds of finding a good restaurant of a particular type go way up if you’re in a neighborhood where those people actually live.  Another is by looking for certain indicators.  For Mexican, menudo and pozole are a good sign— it means they serve a lot of locals on the weekends— while anything that reeks of crude stereotyping and travel brochure cliches is a bad sign, since it means they’re aiming mainly at gringos.  (I call this The Sombrero Rule, as in, never eat at a Mexican place with a sombrero on its sign.)

I tried a place a couple of weeks back that passed the first test but not the second.  It’s called Sol Del Sur (which maybe suggests another rule about avoiding places with Spanish names that English speakers can readily decipher).  The location, Logan Square on Fullerton, could have been promising, there are some authentic places not far away (Gloria’s, Rinconcito Cubano).  But it turned out to be pretty much Mexican-American, aimed at a margarita-swilling crowd and, if I had looked more closely, giving off a number of sombreroesque clues as I walked in (travel brochure-esque decor, chimichangas as a main attraction on the menu).  Actually it was probably above average for that, if I lived in some distant suburb I would be glad to have a place that could make a decent salsa nearby, but in Chicago, it’s nothing special.  (I didn’t count it as one of my 50 places because it had been mentioned, briefly once, on LTHForum.)

Yet another place a few days later proved that the rules are only guidelines.  I spotted this sign:

!Muy sabroso, Senor Pan! Much of it seemed to be on a similar level of not-as-slick-as-it-thinks corporate inauthenticity— or at least suggested that someone involved had had a past career in fast food.  The menu was in the same font as Chipotle’s; a large banner inside offered a dollar menu.  It felt very much like the imitation-American chains you see in Europe, half Mickey D, half Cafe des Poseurs.

But I ordered a Cuban sandwich…

It was shockingly… pretty good.  Quality ham and cheese, house-roasted pork with some crispy crackling flavor around the edges, same Gonnella (I suspect) bread as all the other Cuban places in town, which isn’t Miami-authentic but is what we settle for here.  A side of plantains was just fine, too.  So, you never know.  Judge a place by its sign, you gotta, but accept that sometimes, a better place may lie inside.

Sol del Sur
3268 Fullerton Ave.
Chicago IL
(773) 384-8869

Senor Pan
4612 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60639
(773) 227-1020

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