Last weekend I visited some friends of mine in Chicago. Whenever I visit we always make it a point to go to "Las Mañanitas", a Mexican restaurant just a few blocks from their condo. I've never had a bad meal there, and the food there is more authentic than the typical restaurant in the United States which is more "Tex-Mex" than truly Mexican.
I have nothing against good "Tex-Mex" food. However it always annoys me that so many "gringos" don't realize that Mexican cuisine consists of so much more than tacos and enchiladas, and that concoctions such as "chimichangas" are no more authentically Mexican than chop suey is authentically Chinese.
Yes, the menu at "Las Mañanitas" includes dishes that cater to the "gringo" perception of Mexican cooking. But there are also many items, especially among the daily specials, which are not normally seen in restaurants up here. My friends tell me that the owner frequently travels back to Mexico to get recipe ideas. I ordered something that was obviously inspired by the cuisine of the Yucatán... chicken "fajitas" flavored with the Yucatecan seasoning "achiote" and bitter oranges. It was scrumptious!
We visited the restaurant on the eve of the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and at the entrance an altar was set up in honor of Mexico's patron saint.
My Mexican experience went beyond our dinner at "Las Mañanitas". One morning we went to a nearby diner for breakfast. I ordered a Mexican inspired variation of eggs Benedict. Instead of Canadian bacon, it was served with "chorizo" (Mexican sausage), and instead of hollandaise sauce it was covered with a "poblano" pepper sauce. A very inventive and delicious dish!
When I went to O'Hare Airport for my flight home, I was looking for a place to have lunch. I found a little restaurant owned by Rick Bayless. Rick Bayless is a chef from Chicago who specializes in Mexican cooking. I have watched many of his TV shows on PBS, but I have never been to any of his restaurants on my visits to Chicago. I went in and had corn and "poblano" pepper chowder, and a chipotle chicken "torta". (A "torta" is a type of Mexican sandwich of a crusty roll.) Another very tasty meal.
So, I definitely had my fix of Mexican food to hold me until my next trip to Mexico!