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Masa Mexican, Please

Corn fungus and quesadillas put Misty's rum-filled belly to rest after St. Pat's revelry.
Monday Mar 19, 2007.     By Misty Tosh
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Leave it to me to lose my wallet on my first glorious weekend off in ages. I was out for St. Patrick's Day, slipping down rum like it was water and what do you know? My wallet, full of cash, credit card and drivers license, had disappeared.

But all things happen for a reason, and that reason turned out to be Quesadillas doa Lolis, 6924 N. Clark Street, the non-descript Mexican eatery beside the random ATM I hit up on Clark Street. If it weren't for the handwritten signs in the front window touting all the house specials, I probably never would have noticed it.

At 10 a.m., I was the first customer of the day. The waitress seemed tickled pink that I'd rolled in the door the minute the restaurant opened and shuffled right over to my sunny table with a colorful, picture-laden menu. The right side was all about seafood, but the left side, which listed flor de calabaza (squash blossom) quesadillas, called my name.

From the photo alone, I could tell the restaurant made its own corn tortillas. I ordered one squash blossom quesadilla as well as a big, fat second stuffed with Huitlacoche, a delicious black fungus that grows on corn. It usually shows face in high-end Mexican restaurants, but I'd never seen it in smaller, neighborhood spots. I topped that off with a huarache (the Spanish word for tire-bottomed sandals and the name of a dish, which stacks a layer of refried beans on a fried corn tortilla) once I saw the price—under $3—and the toppings—cactus and egg. Yum.

Once my gal took my order (she seemed a bit stunned by how much I ordered), she jetted off to the back kitchen and a spell later, came rolling out with a basket of freshly fried corn tortilla chips, red and green salsa and a small dish of hot, refried beans. What a friggin' bounty! I was delighted that I'd ordered a glass of cantaloupe juice to wash it all down because it made the best elixir for my still-full-of-rum belly.

A few minutes (and a few additional customers) later, my table was buried under the most authentic Mexican food I have had since, well, Mexico. Hand-rolled corn tortillas were stuffed with that crazy fungus, corn kernels, onions, cilantro and queso and then fried up to caramel-color perfection. My mouth literally gaped at the complexity of all those flavors melded together. The squash blossom quesadilla had the same fillings, and every two seconds, I had to just stop and moan because the fried masa (corn dough), that basic little peasant food, was so dang delicious.

The killer, though, and I mean the absolute stunner, was the simple huarache covered with scrambled egg and soft cactus. It's sort of like an open-faced sandwich, but the dense corn patty tastes ten times better than any bread you've come across. It starts with a smear of beans, a layer of cheese, a scrambled egg and some sauteed cactus, topped off with a hit of thick crema. Talk about hangover cure from the gods. Looks like I've found a new Sunday breakfast spot. M. Henry who?

The Final Rave: Of course, I brought my camera, but left my camera battery at home. Shame, no photos. Blast that rum! It's real bad on the brain cells.

Keep It Going:

Do It: Huitlacoche
Man, this Huitlacoche recipe even sounds good on paper. Dig in.

Eat It: Frontera Fresco
I hear the hauraches served at this Loop lunch spot are the best in Chicago. I almost believe it.

See It: Maxwell St. Market
The vendors here whip out everything from menudo to tamales, and wouldn't you know it, homemade huraches, too. This wonderful market just got better.

Get Crazy With It: Melon Agua Fresca
I'm thinking one of these tangy melon coolers, coupled with a splash of rum, has to be a gift from above. Just make a day of it, why don't you?

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.


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