Courtesy of the Collaborative Institute of Cultural Arts

Best New Breeding (and Stomping) Grounds for Talent

Collaborative Institute of Cultural Arts

The Collaborative Institute of Cultural Arts, a new community hub for Mexican folkloric arts and learning, has surfaced impressively onto the Chicago fine arts scene. CICA began its programming in June, offering five different levels of Mexican folk dance as well as visual arts classes for children and teenagers that focus on traditional Mexican styles. The organization also hosts folkloric music classes for students of all ages seven and up, led by Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist Zacbe Pichardo. In a video of rehearsal posted to the organization’s Facebook page, the skilled musical group can be heard melodiously accompanying the graceful dancers in CICA’s advanced company. Regular practices like these have allowed the newcomers to already land gigs at a handful of regional venues. Summer appearances of advanced groups at the Fiesta del Sol, Tacos y Tamales Festival, and Berwyn’s Mariachi & Folkloric Fest showcased the payoff of CICA’s high ambitions. In the meantime, CICA continues with classes for dedicated pupils who embody the organization’s honorable mission statement: “As the students engage in this art form, they will not only find links to their native culture but they will also build criteria and appreciation for the arts, themselves… and continue to contribute to the production of Mexican culture.” (Sara Cohen)

Collaborative Institute of Cultural Arts, 4330 S. Archer Ave. Class times vary. To register or for more information, call (773)-394-9071.

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Best Neveria That Does it All

De Colores Ice Cream & Coffee Shop

There are some things you just expect at a neveria. One is a relentlessly cheerful interior, at which De Colores excels: ceilings, tables, and chairs come in bright, charming, candied tones, with miniature Winnie the Pooh–themed seating for kids. Another is a dizzying array of options: where De Colores of course succeeds as well. The highlights among its handmade ice cream are a Ferrero Rocher flavor, the mango chamoyada, and miniature paletas for the indecisive among us—this last treat is the sort of innovation that surprisingly but thankfully hasn’t yet come to overpriced shops up north (also notable, as minor as it seems, are the firm sticks in the paletas, a feature integral to consuming popsicles of any kind). De Colores’s rendition of the chamoyada is classic—slushy, spicy-sweet raspado with frequent chunks of mango, an all-important tamarind straw, and a pleasingly long spoon with which to eat it all—but, when you’re sitting at the outdoor patio on what you know is one of summer’s last hot, sunny days, it becomes sort of transcendent. Still, this is expected (though the patio is certainly a plus). What differentiates De Colores is that it offers tortas better than ice cream shop tortas have the right to be. Other non-frozen treats are available, like nachos and elotes and even Metropolis coffee, but these no-frills tender sandwiches are good enough that you could reasonably come here for lunch instead of dessert. Or you could skip the histrionics and come for both. What I’m trying to say here is that we should all be jealous of Curie Metropolitan High School students, who go to school mere minutes away from De Colores’s five-dollar student lunch (torta and juice combo) deal. (Julia Aizuss)

De Colores, 3838 W. 49th St. Monday–Friday, 8am–8pm; Saturday–Sunday, 11am–8pm. (773) 847-4594.

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Best Brains

El Rey del Taco & Burrito

Zachary Jesse
Zachary Jesse

Open to the tacos page of the El Rey del Taco & Burrito menu and the first thing that might catch your eye is cesos: beef brain.

There is a wide selection of plates offered at El Rey: quesadillas, huaraches, tostadas, tortas, a weekend special of barbacoa de borrego (steamed lamb), and of course, beef brain tacos.

You are seated in a wooden booth, one of several fire-etched with names and events like “P. Villa” and “Batalla de Puebla.” While you’re waiting for your food, enjoy the sounds of folksy Mexican music and Spanish rolling from the tongues of fellow diners. Admire the decor: every inch seems curated as an homage to Mexico’s talent and history. Frida Kahlo’s “Broken Column” hangs in the women’s bathroom. The dining room walls are adorned with portraits and collages of famous Mexican figures of politics and entertainment. Cantinflas smiles at you from one wall, Zapata from another. Above your head may be the taxidermied head of a 300-kg bull (“Compadre”), vanquished in a bullfight in Mexico. You may wonder what became of Compadre’s brains.

You think you should try the beef brain tacos. And you should. Like dining in the wooden booths beside portraits of María Sabina and Santo Toribio Romo González, and Compadre’s head—the experience of these tacos should not be missed. (Erisa Apantaku)

El Rey del Taco & Burritos, 4157 S. California Ave. Sunday–Thursday, 7:30am–1am; Friday–Saturday, 7:30am–5am. (773) 475-6365.

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Best Railway Junction for Sentimental Trainspotters

Brighton Park Crossing

Look to the north when you’re heading east on the Orange Line, almost but not quite at the 35th-Archer stop, and you can see the crisscross of railroad tracks below, one of many junctions visible from the Orange Line. Much of Brighton Park has always been devoted to transportation and industry, and the railroad crossing northwest of Archer and Western Avenues isn’t even the biggest railroad landmark in the neighborhood—that would be Corwith Intermodal Facility, the freight terminal behemoth at Pershing and Kedzie that covers nearly a square mile. But three Class I freight railroads—CSX, Canadian National, and Norfolk Southern—cross at this spot, making it a major junction. Major as it is, the spot is still one of many nondescript areas devoted to industry, especially when the buildings lining the Orange Line blur from steel fabrication to vinyl manufacturers to more steel fabrication . The secret to appreciating this seemingly anonymous site is to learn a history that is surely fading fast for all but the train enthusiasts. It’s now been ten years since the semaphores (a telegraphic flag system) and switchtender shanty (a literal ramshackle shanty that housed the manual operator, or “switchtender”) were removed from Brighton Park crossing, features that were antiquated even in 2007. Now it’s just like any other junction, operated remotely in the typical “interlocking” style. This is a loss one comes to feel keenly after falling into a rabbit hole of Facebook groups and blogs devoted to the nuts and bolts of railway signaling and bygone industrial scenery. You don’t need to be a fervent railway blogger to find yourself growing somehow nostalgic for the old days, when a manual switchtender could leave the shanty after work and head to the nearby Burger King (which, reliable fast-food that it is, is still there). “The shanty was very rustic,” recalled Les Wuollett in the public “Chicagoland Railfan” Facebook group; that was back in the fifties and sixties. “Rustic is being generous,” another member replied. Generosity indeed—it’s the same quality necessary to look out when you’re on the Orange Line and see something worth remembering. (Julia Aizuss)

Brighton Park Crossing, northwest of Archer Ave. and Western Ave.

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Best Place to Take a Date (or Anyone)

Cocula Restaurant

Zachary Jesse
Zachary Jesse

Cocula has been a stalwart local chain since the seventies, with all six of its locations on the South Side or in the southwest suburbs, but the Cocula on Pulaski Road holds a special status as a premier date night location for those it serves in Archer Heights and Brighton Park. It is the only location to have a strangely realistic horse and carriage sculpture greeting you by the entry. Inside, the atmosphere strikes a crucial balance between casual and elegant: Spanish colonial arches that open up the space, Mexican blue-and-yellow ceramic tile, straight-backed hardwood chairs and booths, and sunflower decorations hanging over the bar. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to sit in the sunniest spot, a room whose ceiling has an inset painted a pleasant cloudy blue, sort of like—but honestly better than—a skylight. Wherever you are, though, you and your date will be able to debate what makes the salsa so good (its saucier texture? the bright, prominent tomato flavoring?), sip the complimentary house soup (chicken, noodle, a squeeze of lime), and not have to worry about the other being dissatisfied—the extensive menu will not let you down. Pair with a pitcher of horchata (the Weekly has long repped the South Chicago location’s, but Pulaski’s is just as milk-white and sweet), or a couple cheap drinks, and it’s hard to see how the night can go wrong. (Julia Aizuss)

Cocula Pulaski, 5241 S. Pulaski Rd. Sunday–Thursday, 8am–12am; Friday–Saturday, 8am–2am. (773) 582-2900.

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