It's the small spots with simple names that always snare me, and the Latin Sandwich Cafe is a prime example. Located on Elston Avenue, the unassuming Chilean restaurant is the kind of off-the-grid place that always made me pause when I drove by, mostly due to the creativity-free name. It's really as simple as "The Latin Sandwich Cafe." Done and done.
The casual name stuck in my head all the same, and when I heard the swirling rumors about how fantastic the food was, I finally mustered up a free afternoon to go explore the menu.
Dipping into the homey atmosphere of this humble cafe is like stepping into your nana's kitchen on a dark, blustery day. Its warm, neighborly vibe reeks of home-cooking and delicious scents. I started with a big bowl of crispy chips and salsa and absolutely one of the best empanadas I've ever experienced. The flaky dough was packed with layers of gurgling cheese and was so steaming hot it almost seared off my first layer of taste buds (but was more than worth the damage done).
Gooey quesadillas and perfectly fried sweet plantains with crema came next and were soon accompanied by a hulking sandwich. When I normally think about what makes a good sandwich, it's all about the mayonnaise and the bread. I could literally sling sandpaper in between two slices of soft Wonder Bread, top it with a hit of mayo and be happy as a clam. In fact, when I was a mere babe in the woods, I used to eat Wonder Bread by the loaf, taking each piece and meticulously pulling off the dry, brown crust and scrunching the entire piece of bread into a tiny ball to be sucked on 'til it dissolved in my mouth.
My taste buds have since graduated to a more respectful caliber and now I gravitate toward warm, yeasty bread dolloped with honey butter, or fresh baked crusty rolls doused in olive oil and covered with grilled vegetables.
After stuffing my face with more cheese than I'd had the whole of 2006, I had the kitchen whip me up a jam-packed veggie sandwich. It's not too often that I run across a sandwich loaded with two of my favorite things: country-style green beans and mayonnaise. The bread was soft, semi-sweet and literally stuffed to the gills with think chunks of queso, crispy shreds of lettuce, tomato, and boatloads of mayo. If you've never had green beans plopped inside a dough ball, you don't know what you're missing.
The hyper-potent coffee that followed my feast was a delightful cap to such simple fare. Too bad I missed out of the already-famous 1,000 layer cake; I'm told it's better than all the soft bread, addictive mayo and green beans in the world.
The Final Rave: Given the fact that the empanadas are to die for, I'd consider changing the name of the restaurant to "Empanada." But, really, why mess with a good thing?
Keep It Going:
Do it: Chicago's Famous Italian Beef
Though I'm not really a meat eater, there is nothing more I'd love to do than go on a roundy-round of Chitown chowing down on the best Italian beef in the world. Someday, kids. Someday.
Eat it: Cold Comfort Cafe & Delicatessen
Diving into one of the extreme deli-style sandwiches here is pure joy. Make sure to give the cheesecake a go, as well; it's tart and sour creamy, as all good cheesecake should be.
Drink it: Northside Bar and Grille
Sling back an icy-cold beer at this Bucktown favorite. The grilled cheese, French fries and ranch dressing side is enough to shake the last of the winter blues away.
Get crazy with it: Milk and Honey Cafe
Every single sandwich on the menu at this adorable cafe is absolutely delicious. That's all you need to know. I'm also a sucker for its granola, tuna and pasta salad. Ah, what the hell, just order the menu. C'est la vie.
Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.