Photo by Emily Soto

This section was originally written in Spanish and was translated by the Weekly.

Are Clearing and Garfield Ridge part of the so-called “El Sur,” as a publication recently referred to the larger Southwest Side that is predominantly Mexican/Latino? The answer should be obvious when you see the business signs on the commercial streets of these neighborhoods.

Chicago magazine published an article jokingly questioning whether Clearing/Garfield Ridge would soon be joining “El Sud” (sic). It seems that whoever wrote that has not been around these parts of town or they only saw what they wanted to see. A subjective view.

The article acknowledged that two-thirds of Kennedy High School students are Latino, but it overlooked the brand new Hancock College Prep in Clearing that was built during the pandemic, and is also predominantly Latino.

Of course this area is part of the larger Southwest Side. On 63rd St., you can see old-school Polish and English signs, alongside newer Spanish-language signs, in bakeries, supermarkets, restaurants and places to treat yourself—like Los Mangos and Xurro.

Like neighboring Chicago Lawn and West Lawn, Clearing’s main artery is 63rd. St., the same one that runs parallel to the runways of Midway Airport. (While in West Lawn you can hear the planes landing, in Clearing you can hear them taking off.) Another main artery is Central Ave., which connects to Chicago Ridge to the south and meets busy Archer Ave. to the north, and you can find a variety of Mexican businesses there.

Perhaps on those streets the magazine can find its answer. A change in Clearing and Garfield Ridge is surely taking place, but these are also two neighborhoods where Polish, Anglo, Latino/Mexican, and Hindu cultures effectively coexist—where neighbors respect each other.

Gisela Orozco is a Mexican immigrant with a degree in Communication Sciences who has resided in Chicago since 2002. For ten years she was the entertainment editor of the now-defunct Hoy newspaper, the Spanish-language publication of the Chicago Tribune. From 2002 to 2009, she was a reporter and entertainment editor for the weekly La Raza. She is currently a copy editor and contributes articles for La Voz Chicago of the Sun-Times and occasionally translates articles for the Weekly.

  • Best ‘Thrift’: The Salvation Army Family Store & Donation Center

    “The golden age of thrifting is over,” said a recent article in The New York Times, announcing the end of the era of wearing second-hand clothing also known as the trend of “vintage.” It was seen as a fad.

    But for people with limited resources or looking to stretch their budget, the Salvation Army has always been there. Its history and origin dates back to London in 1865 and it became a worldwide charity movement.

    Regardless of creed and religion—and in many cases, income—the Salvation Army’s donation centers allow you to donate what no longer serves you, while offering things that you might otherwise not find elsewhere.

    In the Clearing location, despite it not being as big as other stores, it’s possible to find pieces of fine art, furniture, and accessories at a good price, even vinyl records and books. One of its best sections is where they have handy kitchen glassware on display. 

    You do not have to be “hip” to enter the store as some of the vintage subculture seems to encourage. The best thing is to find people of all ages and backgrounds simply browsing through items that others no longer wanted but that for the customer may be a treasure. And being able to donate and contribute as well.

    The Salvation Army Family Store & Donation Center, 6434 W. 63rd St. Monday–Saturday, 11 am–7 pm. 1(800) 728-7825.


  • Best Fitness Center: Push Indoor Cycling

    Near the corner of 63rd St. and Central Ave. is a studio with classes as early as 5am and that stays open into the evening. Local women come to do indoor cycling, lift weights or do yoga; most of the instructors are Latinas.

    Push Indoor Cycling is a great fitness option in the area. It has a varied schedule and it’s a space where participants can forget about home, children, and work as they spin to the rhythm of 80s and 90s music—to de-stress and work out at the same time. 

    There are those who make new friends and can both talk and exercise together. Or you can keep to yourself and focus on your workout. Both personalities are welcome because, when class starts, everyone pedals toward their goal to feel and look better.

    Push Indoor Cycling, 6315 S. Central Ave. Class schedule varies. (708) 372-353.

  • Best Family Kitchen: Gorditas La Tía

    It’s a place of homemade Mexican food, where the specialty of the house are the gorditas, but the mole is an equal culinary gem. Gorditas La Tía is special for both its menu and its history.

    It was the creation of Doña Estela González, who with her family migrated from Irapuato, Guanajuato (Mexico) in the 1990s, during a time when the devaluation of the Mexican peso led many Mexicans to come to the U.S.

    “We came to this country like any immigrant family,” recalled Claudia González, daughter of Doña Estela. “We lived in La Villita, in Cicero, and we always worked in the restaurant industry.”

    The family always worked together. Claudia said that in the restaurants where her mother worked, there was always a nephew or relative in the kitchen and they always called her “aunt.” The name stuck as a show of affection and trust.

    When Claudia and her sister Michelle were students at Kennedy High School, they started working in restaurants, first as hostesses and then as waitresses. Then their mom had the idea to start a food business.

    “At first we didn’t know what was happening,” Claudia recalled when her mother gathered her daughters, her husband Miguel Ángel and their son, Miguel Ángel Jr., to announce that she wanted to open a food business. 

    The first location of Gorditas La Tía was located on 47th and Harlem Ave. Claudia remembers that it was very small and that there was no parking space, but it worked for a while due to the seasoning and dedication of her mother, who although she didn’t have a background as a cook, she found in the kitchen not only her sustenance, but also the way to maintain her identity and traditions.

    In 2016, she moved to the home she now owns in Clearing. Her customers followed her from the previous location and has gained new customers at this location, made up of not only Mexican paisanos, but also of Poles, who prefer her cheese and jalapeño tamales over everything else.

    The restaurant’s dishes have that homemade touch. Doña Estela’s gorditas are not just any gorditas. When customers ask for them, they are made right then and there. They are neither frozen nor pre-prepared, they are shaped from corn dough and cooked when the customer orders them.

    Doña Estela’s mole, which is served in different ways, deserves its own mention. One of the most labor-intensive Mexican dishes and whose flavor varies according to each Mexican state and region, Gorditas La Tía has a special seasoning, a sweet and spicy flavor that is pleasant and enjoyable to the palate.

    “When my mom said, ‘I want to sell mole,’ she started experimenting with ingredients. We ate mole for two or three weeks,” said Claudia, amused. She “was searching and finding her seasoning.” 

    “Same with the flor de calabaza (pumpkin flower) quesadillas, the peanut gorditas, the food that she grew up eating and that today she shares with everyone who comes.”

    What Claudia admires most about her mother is that for Doña Estela the most important thing is to see that visitors enjoy her food. The place itself feels as if one is visiting the kitchen of her own house. “We, the family, eat here. She is not going to lose the quality if she knows her family eats here. This is the family kitchen.”

    And although it may be tempting for others to streamline the process of preparing something like gorditas, Doña Estela does not want to cut corners and compromise what makes her Gorditas La Tía one of the best Clearing spots.

    “When we suggest that we should change the process, she tells us: ‘No. It stays this way. They are tastier this way. Tell the customer that we are going to take a while, but it is worth the wait.” 

    “And the customers come back, and she fulfills their cravings,” she added.

    Gorditas La Tía, 6425 W. 63rd. St. Monday–Saturday, 8am–10pm; Sunday, 8am–8pm. (773) 229-1153 or

  • Best Mexican Vegan Restaurant: Healthy Substance 

    If you think that in order to eat tacos al pastor or carne asada, you need to eat meat, you best think twice. Or better yet, visit “the vegan side of Mexico,” as the restaurant, Healthy Substance, describes themselves. Since it opened its doors in 2018, it has demonstrated that traditional Mexican foods can be enjoyed vegan.

    Founded by Patricia González, originally from Guadalajara, Jalisco (Mexico), Healthy Substance emerged as a healthy and more ethical alternative to Mexican staples. It was also seen as a wellness alternative by her husband, Don Camerino González, who founded Taquería Los Comales.

    The story of the restaurant’s founding has “many layers,” Miguel Franco, chief financial officer of Healthy Substance and González’s son, told the Weekly.

    “The seed was sown several years ago when my mom, who was always looking for ways to live a healthy life, saw a doctor who observed her eyes and recommended ways for her to take care of herself. The doctor suggested that she stop consuming dairy and meat, and go vegan,” he said.

    Two years after starting her vegan diet, her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer. Franco remembers his mother, devastated by the news, looking for healing alternatives to help him, combining medical treatment with more natural methods and a vegan diet. “That combination could do miracles, and in that moment, she needed one,” he recalled

    Convincing Don Camerino, the mastermind of the taqueria chain, to try some tacos al pastor that were not made from animal meat, was a major challenge for Patricia. Franco remembers that one night, she invited him and his brothers to dinner, and served them the tacos al pastor. At the end, she sat down with her own plate, prompting one of her children to point out that she couldn’t eat tacos al pastor since she was vegan. She replied that actually she could, that she had managed to create the perfect al pastor recipe that did not require animal sacrifice.

    “Don Camerino was impressed,” Franco remembers, “and everyone, in support of his health, became vegans.”

    Within months, Don Camerino’s health began to improve and when he would go out to eat with his wife, she had to adjust his menu or order salad. And from there came the initiative to open a vegan Mexican food restaurant in Garfield Park. Part of the reason they picked this area is that they considered it relatively close to his taqueria in La Villita via the I-55.

    Franco said that it was destiny that they arrived at Garfield Ridge since they could have gone somewhere else where vegan food was more popular. “We have created a presence in this place, we have had great acceptance and it’s something that people from different backgrounds enjoy,” he added.

    At some point, Patricia also returned to college to take culinary and food service sanitation classes—she already had a degree in Communication Sciences from her native Guadalajara.

    In early 2020, Healthy Substance was recognized by Yelp as one of the Top 100 Restaurants in the country—it ranked number 57. “It was exciting,” recalled Patricia, who was in Mexico when Franco called her to share the news.

    That same year, it was added to the list of restaurants at the Taste of Chicago. Due to the pandemic, they adjusted the food festival as a Taste To-Go concept that time. This year they were part of it again, as well as Sueños Festival and Lollapalooza, bringing their food and mission to new generations.

    In June 2021, Don Camerino passed away. But Patricia’s legacy continues, which she loves to share, inspired by her lifelong love for Mexican food. 

    “Our food really has a bigger impact. Every taco we sell is an al pastor taco that requires no animal sacrifice. And to further that movement, we created the ‘impossible’ carne asada taco. We have transformed our menu and will continue to transform popular Mexican food without sacrificing animal lives and without sacrificing flavor,” Franco pointed out.

    Eating delicious, feeling good and being good to animals is possible. Get to know “the vegan side of Mexico” in Chicago.

    Healthy Substance Vegan Restaurant, 6852 W. Archer Ave. Monday–Saturday, 11:30am–9pm; Sunday, 11:30am–6pm. (773) 306-2808.

  • Best Place to Find That Special Dress: Peaches Boutique

    It’s a rainy Sunday in September and it’s a little past noon. Though the sky is gray, my pupils dilate when I open the door of Peaches Boutique—seeing so many colorful puffy dresses, sequins, lace and ornaments that make even the most humble person want a piece of that glamor. It’s a special place.

    According to its website, Peaches Boutique was founded in 1984 by Jeff Surdej and is located in a shopping plaza near the corner of Central Ave. and Archer Ave. Its exterior is inviting, and its interior traps you.

    At the entrance they tell you that you don’t need an appointment to try on a dress and also remind you not to take a photo or video—it must be an agreement with the designers to protect their work. The hustle and bustle inside is truly an experience.

    It’s exciting to watch mothers, daughters, and women of all ages—plus one or two dads who are along for the ride—looking for a dress for a quinceañera, graduation or prom. It is like a mix of happiness, hope, pleasure, and even pride that, for many, represents a step into womanhood (and simply wanting to look good).

    Photo by Emily Soto

    You can just as easily see a quinceañera trying on her dress for her party, getting the final adjustments, and talking to her relatives in Spanish, and next to her, listening to a young woman speak Polish with her mother while looking at herself in the mirror in what looks to be a dress for a graduation or a gala.

    The female employees are attentive to detail in this space that could somewhat resemble Cinderella’s fairy godmother’s sewing workshop or the wardrobe of any Disney princess.

    There is something in that special moment of trying on a dress, the dress that will make you feel special for one day, the one that takes you away from your day-to-day routine and makes you feel like the queen or princess of your own story, a combination of empowered woman and runway model. 

    And at Peaches, that happens within its 20,000 sq. foot store that has forty-five changing rooms and an inventory that they assure includes more than 30,000 dresses from renowned designers. These won’t be the designs of Coco Chanel, Dior and those luxury fashion houses, but Peaches gives families in the area and all of Chicago the opportunity to make that dream of looking their best come true without breaking the bank.

    For some, it may be just a dress, but for many girls and women, it could be the dress for a very special moment that will create a lasting memory.

    Peaches Boutique, 5915 S. Archer Ave. Monday–Friday, 12pm–7pm; Saturday, 10am–6pm; Sunday, 11am–5 pm. (773) 582-0102.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *