Sky Full of Bacon

#28, 29: Mexicans on Kedzie

I went to a community meeting the other night in which people who’ve lived in my yuppified ‘hood for something like 60 years were complaining about the new parking problems caused by the ‘hood’s recent hotness.  It reminded me how often people in Chicago think the way things are is the way they should stay, and so they don’t even see the irony in, say, Latinos complaining that Pilsen is losing its traditional Hispanic character or that breeders are overrunning traditionally gay Andersonville.  Neighborhoods in Chicago are in constant demographic evolution and be glad of it, because the alternative is Detroit.  Or Dayton, Ohio.

All of which is by way of saying that I was a bit surprised to run up to Kedzie near Lawrence and find my attempt at a middle eastern lunch experience should be so Mexi-flavored.  I don’t think Kedzie is going to stop being middle-eastern any time soon, and there had been taquerias and such on Kedzie before, but it was still striking to, for the first time, see such a Latino presence here in two places, both new but only one of them intentionally Latino.

The first was in a new restaurant called Zahrat al Madaa’en, named for a nickname for Jerusalem.  I went in to the pristine, empty restaurant and saw what looked like pretty decent beef and chicken shawerma cones, with a fair amount of outside char.  But I also saw something I couldn’t quite decipher on the board.  I asked about it and the guy kind of shrugged and said something about the main guy being back soon.  Likewise I tried to order baba ghanoush and it became evident that this guy had no idea what it was or how to make it.  It wasn’t necessarily clear at first glance, but I soon realized that he was the Mexican hired hand in the kitchen, and I’d have to wait for the Palestinian owner for anything beyond simple shawerma.  So… I ordered beef shawerma.

I had misjudged how done it was– it was kind of rare, which isn’t all bad, but was certainly a bit odd for shawerma– but the flavor wasn’t bad at all.  For a Shawermachanga.  No, it was a decent version, and the place has at least modest promise, and I’ll probably check it out again when the owner is on the premises, since Kedzie is close and the best known places (I’m talkin’ to you, Salam) have disappointed me a few times in recent times.  I wouldn’t mind some good competition for the established places on the strip; we’ll see if this could be it.

I walked up a few more blocks and found a new spot next to the El called, simply, Antojitos!, supposed to be offering simple snacks to commuters.  Well, there must be a fair number of Latino commuters in the area, since it’s hard to imagine Palestinians or Lebanese munching tamales in their corn husk wrapping on the Brown Line.  Anyway, I got a salsa verde chicken tamale, and it was fine.  It was just like authentic tamales sold out of Coleman coolers at Mexican bakeries all around town.  The interior is nothing great, tiny and with daytime TV blaring.  If you live nearby, check it out, if you don’t, not a lot of need to travel that far. A cutesy name has gotten this place more attention than it would rate if it was called El Gallo Loco or Panaderia Juarez.

The numbers, incidentally, in the headline refer to my ongoing series of places not written about so far on LTHForum.  Aha, you say, they may not have been written about on LTHForum, but Mike Sula just posted about both of these at The Reader.  Yes, he did, but I actually beat him to eating at at least one of them.  How do I know?  Because I ran into him outside Zahrat as he was walking to Antojitos!, and he told me so.  (He definitely hasn’t been to Zahrat yet, I wasn’t sure if he had eaten from Antojitos! but he was on his way to talk to the proprietor.)  So watch the Reader for more on at least one of these, anyway.

Zahrat al Madaa’en
4503 N. Kedzie
(773) 279-7200

4645 N. Kedzie

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