I like American food. I have consistent hankerings for a good burger and a semi-annual hot dog, fried chicken and pulled pork are favorite southern staples of mine, and I have a difficult time turning down starchy sides like mac n cheese and mashed potatoes. I have a strong like for these items, like being the operative word. I have a strong appreciation for well executed traditional dishes and sides, but what I LOVE about American cuisine correlates with what I love most about our country in general: our diversity, our cultural influences, our food. There is not one country I wouldn’t be thrilled to visit and whose food I wouldn’t be game to try. Strip all of our political and religious values away, and we all are just highly advanced animals who’ve always needed food and water to survive. How we treat this need manifests differently for every group and subgroup and that is what makes being human an endlessly fascinating ride. There’s a few genres of cuisine I prefer over others and one of them is Mexican. Similar to Italian, I could eat some item from the country’s expansive list of choices every single day. For high quality ingredients, ideal ambiance and a well-rounded experience I visit El Nuevo Mexicano. My first visit to this uniquely spectacular place was for a birthday celebration last year, one of those very special occasions when you can join with both friends and family, share some adult beverages and great food together on a cool Spring/Summer evening. We sauntered a little less than a mile from Central Lakeview, walking south on the always busy and entertaining Clark Street, to Southeast Lakeview where El Nuevo resides, between Wellington and Diversey on the west side of the street. We had high hopes and limited expectations, choosing to meander their way because of proximity and wind of some potentially memorable food. We walked into their very charming facade, equipped with tall ceilings and exposed brick as nearly all great Chicago establishments carry, warm lighting and candlelit tables filled with many patrons all enjoying their company and environment. We sat in a cozy booth across from the bar with great views of the homemade margaritas and guacamole being made in front of our eyes. Every person at our table was moaning awkwardly with pleasure at El Nuevo’s high quality Mexican cuisine. By the end of the night we were drunk off satisfying food, great conversation and the sinfully enticing tequila.

I’ve now been back a handful of times, all coinciding with very special occasions. A friend’s birthday. Family and friend’s celebrating a loved one’s survival and recovery. A promotion. A reunion. A reason to feel and eat well, with the right people and the perfect environment. I recently went back on one of Chicago’s unusually warm March evenings with 3 of the most important people in my life. My love, my mom, my brother and I sat in the small room that leads out to their beautiful patio and we enjoyed one of the very best meals I’ve had there, or in Chicago in general. It was after this meal that I realized how foolish I am for not writing about them until now. You can know that I am recommending this restaurant based on multiple visits with consistently above average results. I’ve had excellent Mexican fare in many neighborhoods in Chicago. There are countless I’ve never even seen that I’m sure would blow me away and although I’ve had some fairly stellar meals on the North, South and West sides of Chicago, I fervently implore you to visit El Nuevo as well.

When I go anywhere and my “role” is as customer, my only hope or expectation is for hot, clean and hopefully delicious food to be brought my way. This is a largely populated city filled with busy restaurants. I don’t need my ass or hand kissed. What I love and prefer is when a restaurant’s credo and atmosphere inspire an engaging connection between those serving and those served. Let’s just be human beings having a conversation about food. Sure, you bring me what I ask for and I pay you nicely, but beyond those social parameters we can also enjoy each other as best as possible. If a server prefers to keep the dialogue to a minimum for efficiency or personal reasons, I am absolutely fine with that. Be kind enough and fulfill your duties as best you can and so will I. If, however, you also like to engage in some banter and make the night go better for us all, then it’s a win win for everyone. El Nuevo’s staff is among the friendliest, most helpful and respectful I’ve had the pleasure to absorb in this or any city. It’s as if they’re all on the same page, enthused about their genuinely awesome food and about their customers having the full experience. I look forward to seeing many of the same faces whenever I return. I hope the next time is soon.

Onto the exquisita comida, exquisite food. Of course, my recollections are just that, mine. The food I enjoyed is based on my palate and my perception of what good food is. I understand and respect we all vary on what constitutes a tasty meal. For my money, my taste buds and my belly, El Nuevo has some of the best, freshest tortilla soup I’ve ever had. It carries just the right amount of spice, a little kick and tang to keep you interested, chicken broth to comfort, anejo cheese to savor, sour cream for a burst of cool, and strips of tortilla chips for a textural crunch. I’ve often considered sitting at the bar with a cup of soup, endless chips with their addictive homemade salsa, and washing it down with an even more dangerously delicious margarita. But I always want to be a gluton. I want to enjoy as much as my stomach will endure. I love their tacos, enchilades and most of their classic Mexican dishes. What makes El Nuevo memorable is their specials. When in season, try their coconut shrimp. These are unlike any I’ve ever had, served with an equally delectable sauce. You’re gifted with astounding side options like cinnamon yams and chipoltle mashed potatoes, not to mention their remarkable mole, ranchero and tomatillo sauces. Their vegan options are created and executed with care and they’re so delicious, you will not miss the meat. Or cheese. The lactose intolerant (how unfortunate that must be) won’t miss the cheese either as there are a slew of dishes with thoughtful ingredients and impeccable results.

Below is the Carnitas Chipotle con Mango y Platanos. Tender pork in a zesty chipotle sauce with mango and plantain bananas, pico de gallo. Spanish rice. Unbelievably good!

I sincerely feel a gateway to opening a mind and becoming more comfortable with differences is experiencing how and what another culture eats. Ideally, we’d all visit each other’s neighborhoods, or better yet our actual countries, and share a meal together. My family and friends teach me everyday that different is good, there’s an endless wealth of knowledge and perspectives I’ve yet to hear and if we could all just stop talking and use our mouths to eat and our ears to listen, we may find more common ground than previously existed. That was my Miss America world peace speech.

Open your mouth, your belly, your heart, and your mind to something different. And enjoy every bite.

Just want to take a few words to express my gratitude for you, whoever you are. Whether I know you or not, whether you’ve read one or all of my articles, whether you liked it or not, thank you. I happen to feel very jazzed and appreciative to share what I love and my hope is one or more benefit from these words. That’s all. Thank you so much.

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