Chow, Baby isn’t the life of the party anymore, unless your idea of a party is a 12-hour “Top Chef” marathon with microwave popcorn. Since I’m not really in training, overindulging can hit me like a ton of bricks. The morning after I attended a wedding with an open bar, I woke up to find my mouth coated in sadness. I needed some chorizo therapy.
Instinctively, I lurched my tortured body to Benito’s (1450 W. Magnolia Ave.), where I hoped to apply the healing powers of its unparalleled menudo ($3.50 a cup), and chase it with a greasy, cheesy tostada de chorizo meal ($7.25). In my younger days, the combination of those two dishes were like a miracle elixir to me. Little did I know that its pursuit would lead me to one of the great unanswered questions of life: Why in the world would a joint well known as an intensive care unit for the hungover hire a mariachi band? On Sunday, no less. It’s a tragedy that ranks right up there with their bland, soupy queso and overly spicy salsa.
I had just been to Benito’s a few nights before and enjoyed the spicy tacos de puerco en salsa verde dinner ($7.25), and the just-greasy-enough queso flameado ($7.50) with chunks of chorizo. The place stays open late on weekends and draws a good after-bar crowd, which made someone’s decision to allow the mariachis to roam the dining room all the more mystifying. When the mariachis tried to corner us and play “El Rancho Grande” in our ears, we dropped some money on the table and ran.
Saddened but not broken, we headed a few blocks south to Esperanza’s Mexican Café (1601 Park Place Ave.). I’ve had a rocky relationship with Esperanza’s, mostly because of slow service and the grumpy bald man who trolls the dining room with a perma-scowl but doesn’t seem interested in helping his staff, even when they’re weeded (restaurant-speak for “very busy”). As a former restaurant server/bartender/line cook, I’ve been in the weeds all too often (just call me dandelion), and nothing irritates me more than seeing the emperor fiddling while Rome burns.
Mr. Clean was nowhere to seen on that day, but the service was still very slow. The place was packed, so I wanted to cut them a little slack, but I couldn’t help feeling frustrated. We were seated relatively quickly, but it took a while for our server to find us. We watched other people who came in after us get drinks and salsa, but our little two-top was ignored. Eventually, a server stopped to ask if someone had taken our drink order. We gave her both our food and drink orders. Moments later, in an almost comic turn of events, two other servers showed up at our table.
After a long wait, the food mostly made up for the bumpy start to our meal — although the wait had built our appetites to the point where we would have enjoyed anything. The migas with chorizo ($8.95) were exactly what the doctor ordered. The egg and strips of fried corn tortillas are served with lardy beans and an enormous portion of fried potatoes and smothered in white cheese. It was gooey, fatty, and well worth the wait. The pork chops with eggs ($9.50) were borderline-decadent. The over-easy egg atop the nice-sized chops belonged in an art museum, and it tasted as good as it looked.
It was the exact food I needed at the exact time I needed it. I’ve never before felt so much like I had earned a meal. Gradually the world began to seem good again. A few sips of coffee later, I was almost ready to give that mariachi band another chance. … Nah.
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