Best of Archer Heights & West Elsdon. Photo by Joseline Rodriguez

In the south and most western part of the city you will find the adjacent neighborhoods of Archer Heights and West Elsdon. These neighborhoods are composed primarily of single family homes, local businesses, and big streets that connect them to the far East, South and North Sides of the city. What the naked eye can’t see is that, for many of the residents that live or work in these neighborhoods, they also encompass the American Dream. For some, it’s the place where they purchased their first home, for others, the place where they started, operated, and expanded their business. In either case, a goal was set and achieved. You have the desire to make something happen, you work hard to obtain this desire, and finally you achieve your goal. Isn’t this the American Dream? There is no denying that Archer Heights and West Elsdon embody this dream through the people and the businesses that make them.

Even though the demographics of both of these neighborhoods have changed throughout the years, they have always been places where immigrants have been known to settle. In many cases, including my family’s, purchasing a home or starting a business are dreams one could only achieve by leaving one’s home country in pursuit of more opportunities and a better life. Families that migrate from their home country tend to settle where they already have friends and family in the United States. Like many of his friends and family from Guerrero, Mexico, my dad moved to Chicago because he was promised a job and a roof over his head. Even though he first settled in Little Village, he was determined to work hard and one day move out of his aunt’s garden unit apartment and into a place of his own. Of course at the time, he had no idea it would be into his own home in West Elsdon. While it all didn’t happen at once or even within a decade, he accomplished his goal.

What I find is that the American Dream is evolving. For my dad, it was purchasing a home and raising his family in it. For my sister and I, the American Dream consists of not taking any of the sacrifices our parents made for granted, taking advantage of the opportunities that were given to us, and fulfilling our dream of graduating from college. In either case, a goal was set and achieved. We had the desire to make something happen, we worked hard to obtain this desire and finally we achieved our goal. (Joseline Rodriguez)

Neighborhood captain Joseline Rodriguez is a South Side native who helps run her family’s business in Gage Park, La Quebrada Restaurant. She aspires to follow her parent’s footsteps and open up a business of her own. In her free time she enjoys going on walks with her xoloitzcuintle named Teotl.

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Best Quesabirria

Birrería Zaragoza

Photo by Joseline Rodriguez

In 2020, the quesabirria blew up on social media and it seemed like everyone wanted to dip their tacos in the hot and steamy broth called consomé. While there are many businesses, including pop-up restaurants and food trucks, that specialize in quesabirrias, Birriería Zaragoza is doing something completely different. For starters, their quesabirria is made with a handmade tortilla. This on its own makes their quesabirria unique, but it’s what’s inside that really differentiates them from the rest. 

To appreciate Birriería Zaragoza’s product as a true quesabirria, we first have to understand the difference between birria and barbacoa. Barbacoa is a method of cooking meat that also refers to the meat itself, while birria is a product of barbacoa. Originating from the Mexican state of Jalisco, birria is a stew made by submerging barbacoa in its own broth. While barbacoa can be the cooking method for many types of meat, including goat, lamb, and beef, birria is typically made from goat meat—so one would assume that a quesabirria would be made of goat meat, right? However, some of the most coveted quesabirrias in the city are made with beef. Deceiving, some might say.

Birriería Zaragoza sticks to the origins as their quesabirria is made with goat. Their quesabirria is served as a type of sincronizada, two handmade tortillas filled with cheese and goat meat and cut into fourths. You can also request a quesabirria taco, which is served as the quesadilla we have come to recognize online. Make it a combo and it includes the consome used to dip the savory and delicious treat. Their consome is delicious on its own, but it is served with onions, cilantro, and lime on the side to add to your liking. Next time you are craving a quesabirria, consider making the trip to Archer Heights and trying one that lives up to its name. (Joseline Rodriguez) 

Birrieria Zaragoza, 4852 S. Pulaski Rd. Monday-Friday, 9am-8pm; Saturday, 8am-8pm; Sunday, 8am-6pm. (773) 523-3700.

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Best Nixtamalization

El Popocatepetl Tortilleria

Nixtamalization is an Indigenous process used to make grains, most commonly corn, edible. Nixtamal is the product of nixtamalization, where dry corn is cooked with slaked lime (cal), steeped, and washed. Nixtamal on its own can create exquisite dishes like the classic holiday favorite pozole, but if taken one step further, nixtamal can transform and provide us with so much more. At El Popocatepetl, nixtamal is ground through a machine with large discs made of volcanic rock, also known as a molino. The end product is a dough called masa, one of the most important ingredients in Mexican cuisine. While most families tend to stick to one or two tortilla brands to purchase for their home, odds are that if you have ever dined at a Mexican restaurant in Chicago, you have tried El Popocatepetl’s products. Their product list is extensive, ranging from pre-packaged corn and flour tortillas to different types of ready-to-use masa for tortillas or tamales. Loved by so many families, chefs and business owners, El Popocatepetl honors the ancient tradition of making masa and has been doing so for over fifty years. (Joseline Rodriguez)

El Popocatepetl Tortilleria, 4246 W. 47th St. Monday-Saturday, 7am-5pm; Sunday, 7am-1pm. (773) 843-0888.

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Best Puesto de Abarrotes

Artesanías Neri

Photo by Joseline Rodriguez

It’s easy to get lost inside of the Super Mall on Pulaski, with its narrow hallways and what seems like an endless number of merchants, but make a right turn from the entrance and a quick left at the end of the photo studio and you will find Doña Rosa down the hall on your left. I first came across her stand when I was on the lookout for a tortillero. After moving into my very first apartment, I wanted to make it homey, and I felt like purchasing my own tortillero was a great place to start. After all, every Mexican household needs one! Doña Rosa, her husband, and son own and operate this small business. They take trips out to México, primarily Guadalajara and Michoacán, and bring back artesanías to fill up their small but organized and well-stocked store. Need a molcajete, huaraches, tazas de barro, or even a comal? No need to make the trip out to México yourself, Doña Rosa has you covered. I was able to purchase my tortillero, four tazas de barro for café de olla, and a beautiful wall decor piece for under fifty dollars, definitely much more affordable than a round trip to México. (Joseline Rodriguez)

Artesanías Neri, Super Mall, 5220 S. Pulaski Rd. Monday-Saturday, 10am-8pm; Sunday, 10am-7pm. (773) 581-9200.

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