Wordless Wednesday: Tortillería El Milagro Mural in Pilsen

Pilsen Tortillería El Milagro mural in ChicagoFor many years while living in Chicago, I bought my tortillas each Saturday morning from Tortilleria El Milagro on South Blue Island Avenue in Pilsen. It was also the only place where I would ever buy ensalada de nopales, for which I’d have to wake up extra early because they always ran out quickly. On the back side of the building is this beautiful mural I often stopped to admire when picking up my tortillas. The neighborhood, located on the Lower West Side, is one of the city’s two Mexican enclaves, and is one of the things I most miss about living in Chicago. My weekly trips to the market, tortilleria and panaderia were like briefly stepping out of Chicago and into Mexico for a few hours at a time.

You can read more about the history of Chicago’s Mexican neighborhoods and the murals of Pilsen here.

  • Does your city have something special that transports you to Mexico?

Alambre de la Patrona

This taco de alambre recipe is a Mexico City-style taco made with thinly sliced pork, bacon, chile poblano, onion and cheese.

I haven’t written much here about my favorite taquería in Chicago, La Lagartija, but have always widely recommended the place to anyone who asked me in person, on Facebook or Twitter about where to get an authentic Mexican meal in my hometown. I wasn’t exactly trying to keep it a secret, but it’s definitely a gem and I always appreciated the neighborhood charm and the way that the meseras and owners always remembered us and greeted us like family. I have so many photos of memorable meals we ate there, and it was the only place in Chicago where we’d regularly eat tacos al pastor.

RELATED RECIPE: Slow-cooker carnitas

But one of my favorite standby meals there, the alambre, is both succulent and super easy to recreate at home. This recipe is my own spin on one of their alambres. The owners are from Mexico City, and the dish on their menu is actually a version of a popular dish at one of our favorite taquerías in Mexico City, El Charco de las Ranas. This dish is also sometimes known as alambre de chuleta and is best served with warm tortillas, but you can skip the tortillas if you like and just eat it with a fork.


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Día de los Muertos at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood

In Chicago, we’re very lucky to have a lot of Mexican food and culture at our fingertips. But one of my favorite places, particularly around Día de los Muertos, is the National Museum of Mexican Art. Located in the Pilsen neighborhood, the museum is free (thanks to sponsors) and open six days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Every year, they have an excellent exhibit for Día de los Muertos. This year’s exhibit, titled “Hanal Pixán” which means “food for the souls” in the Mayan language, is no exception. And it runs until December 16 if you haven’t seen it yet.

Every year, I love going to the museum around Día de los Muertos not only for the exhibit, but also for the calaveritas de azúcar (sugar skulls) that are handmade and decorated by the famous Mondragón family from Toluca, Mexico.

But one of the things I love most about the museum is open year-round: the Tzintzuntzán gift shop, which has all kinds of Mexican treasures from art to books and music to home decorations and more. Especially during Day of the Dead festivities, the gift shop is filled with Día de los Muertos trinkets and goodies—they’ve got papel picado (that is actually reasonably priced), shadowboxes with mini ofrendas, sugar skulls, paper mache food for ofrendas such as paper mache pan dulce, and the list goes on and on.

Below is a slideshow of some of my favorite items for sale in the gift shop during a recent visit.

La Virgen de Guadalupe

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This shadowbox from the museum's gift shop is one of many dedidated to La Virgen de Guadalupe.

The National Museum of Mexican Art is located at 1852 W. 19th St., Chicago, IL 60608.

  • Have you been to the museum? What’s your favorite exhibit or thing you’ve seen in the gift shop?

Siempre junto a mi corazón/Always near my heart

Over the weekend I posted a photo online of a locket that I wear often that always seems to get compliments from strangers. It’s got a vintage map of Mexico City on the outside (er, as close to the heart of Mexico City as they could get with the maps they had available), and on the inside, a tiny photo of the home where my suegros live.

If you’re a geography whiz, you’ll notice that the map on my locket is not quite accurate. But no matter. I love it anyhow.

I seem to have developed an eye for finding these kinds of unique pieces. I found and purchased this necklace at Chicago’s annual Renegade Craft Fair two years ago, from a little booth called The Weekend Store. You can purchase one here with a map of anywhere you like.

When I wear it, I somehow feel like I’m never really that far away from my México lindo y querido.

  • Do you have any special jewelry or trinkets that remind you of Mexico that you keep close to your heart?

Wordless Wednesday: Las Piñatas de Target

One of the great things about living in a city with a large Mexican population is that you can often find Mexican things in places you might not normally expect. This past weekend while running errands at Target, I turned a corner down an aisle I don’t usually shop in to cut through to another section and I saw these colorful piñatas.

I love piñatas because they make me think of Christmastime, spending La Navidad and las posadas with our family in Mexico.

  • Do you have any fond memories of growing up or spending time with family that involves a piñata? Leave a comment below to tell me!

Tacomiendo: Carnicería Guanajuato in Chicago

I’m always on a quest for a good taco in my city, and thanks to the fact that there are tons of Mexican immigrants here, it’s not too difficult to seek out the best changarros for the most authentic tacos.

A few months ago, my friend Steve told me he knew this awesome place for tacos. Given that I have an incredibly high standard for what meets my expectations for a “good taco” or an “awesome taquería,” I usually nod and say something nice when someone tells me they had a good taco somewhere. My circle of trusted taco advisers is admittedly small. Yes, I’m a self-admitted taco snob. I bet you are, too.

But he was persistent about these tacos inside a little Mexican grocery store in his neighborhood. I’d been there before because I liked the butcher but the produce wasn’t great, so I didn’t shop there very often. And I knew I’d eaten at the taquería inside the store but I couldn’t say that I remembered it one way or the other. So we went out one Saturday morning for tacos with Steve to give it a shot.

This was the taco I ate. (OK, I ate more than one…) Mmmm, carne asada.

While not perfect (I’m not a fan of the double tortilla, for starters, and their salsa was a bit weak for my taste), I can’t list any other complaints because this taco de carne asada really hit the spot.

Two other factors won me over this time, despite being underwhelmed by my previous experience eating here. First, they’ve renovated and expanded the eating area so it’s no longer terribly cramped trying to eat lunch there (which can get pretty busy). And second, although they’ve usually got several different kinds of aguas frescas to choose from, the grocery section sometimes carries glass bottles of Yoli, a beloved Mexican lemon-lime flavored refresco. I admit I’ve been back there several times just looking for Yoli and have grabbed a taco on my way out.

There are plenty of other tacos on the menu, of course, and we’ve tried most if not all of them. José really liked the cecina. But I personally only return for the carne asada.

Carnicería Guanajuato
1436 N. Ashland Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622

  • Have you been to Carnicería Guanajuato? What’s your favorite taco there?