Best Quesadilla the Size of a Machete
Machetes Big Quesadillas
Most folks do not think of knives when they think of large, cheesy quesadillas. But unbeknownst to many Chicago eaters, “Machete” is the name of the behemoth two-foot quesadilla that originated in Mexico City, whose shape resembles the broad knives by the same name. Lucky for us, this sizable dish is available in Archer Heights—though four inches shorter than the standard—at Machetes Big Quesadillas. Try not to let the extensive menu stump you into ordering a classic cheese quesadilla—venture out and try all you can here, and you’ll discover rich flavors usually found only in a grandma’s cooking.
A vegetarian used to only having one option will find themself especially satisfied by the meatless fillings: queso, nopales, champiñones, huitlacoche, rajas poblanas, and the crown jewel, flor de calabaza. But why choose just one? Machetes knows a dilemma when it creates one, which is why you’ll be getting all six options in the Machete Champion, a quesadilla that allows for up to ten fillings. If the Champion sounds a little extreme for you and your stomach, rest easy—the Machete JR and Machete Baby were made for you.
On just such an occasion, I ordered three four-inch Machete Babies filled with huitlacoche, flor de calabaza, and cochinita pibil, respectively. Next: a trip to the well-stocked condiments bar where you’ll find multiple salsas, crema, onion, cilantro, and cabbage. My machetes appropriately garnished, I sank my teeth into the huitlacoche. Tender, hearty, and slippery, this corn fungus blends well with melted cheese enveloping it. Flor de calabaza (squash blossom), is by far the most unique flavor, simultaneously rich and delicate, with hints of zucchini, citrus, garlic, and hominy. Carnivores, I encourage you to try the cochinita pibil, a Yucatecan, slow-roasted, specially-seasoned pork filling. Every flavor compound of the shredded meat melts in your mouth–the cheese only helps.
If you’re here between 9am and 11:30am you can try the restaurant’s breakfast machetes—a waitress offered me a small sample with her choice of filling: huevos con chorizo. I read the offer as a sly signal, or even a challenge, telling me that whether you eat here during the morning or night shift, the experience will be the same: a maelstrom in food form. Machetes Big Quesadillas is an institution where every item on the menu is just as palatable as the next, leaving you wondering who in fact is the star of the show. (Leo Williams)
Machetes Big Quesadillas, 4888 S. Archer Ave. Sunday–Thursday, 9am–9pm; Friday–Saturday, 9am–10pm. (773) 321-9143.
4636 S. Cicero Ave. Sunday–Thursday, 9am–9pm; Friday–Saturday, 9am–9:30pm. (773) 306-1923. facebook.com/MachetesBigQuesadillas
Best Pierogi With Your Beer
Kazmierzanka Lounge, aka “Mama’s House”
Let me tell you about my night at Kazmierzanka Lounge. First of all, blink and you’ll miss the bar; it’s at the southeast corner of Lawndale and Archer, with no signage to announce its presence aside from a large Budweiser sign jutting out and an Okocim label. I came in on a lazy Sunday night and was immediately greeted by Maria, the owner and bartender, and loud mariachi music from the jukebox. Just my luck: I had walked in on somebody’s birthday party and the whole bar area was outfitted with signs, balloons, and colorful lights. Within a few minutes, friends of the birthday man (who had disappeared) took a break from their pool game and came over to introduce themselves, welcome me to the bar, praise Maria’s hospitality, and soon after order everybody a round of shots. It was late but I asked Maria if there was food and she gave me three options of Polish pierogi. I went for the “Russian” variety with potato and cheese and Maria went into the back kitchen to prepare them herself.
The patrons treated me like I was a regular. One explained that the music switched genres every night, depending on who was there, and went on to hand everyone an Almond Joy. Maria soon came back with twelve pierogi, topped with sautéed onions, crispy bacon, and a dollop of sour cream. Maybe it was the beer and shot of tequila, but they were some of the best pierogi I’ve ever had. Maria’s been the owner for twenty years; she named the bar after the Polish town of Kazimierza Wielka, where she grew up, though the man who ordered the shots insisted that the bar was known as “Mama’s House” because of the hospitality and great cooking. I left the bar that night with a business card (“Wherever you are, whatever you need…call me,” he had said), a couple new friends, and several invitations to come back. There’s no guarantee every night will be quite like this, but isn’t it worth a try? (Adam Przybyl)
Kazmierzanka Lounge, 4785 S. Archer Ave. Sunday–Friday, 3pm–2am, Saturday 3pm–3am. Card and cash accepted. (773) 890-9002.
Best House Of European Highlanders
Polish Highlanders Alliance of North America
Step inside the vaulted entrance, past the intricately chiseled wooden door, and travel back in time and across an ocean. Originating from the hills and mountains in the south of Poland, górale, or highlanders, are known for their distinctive colorful clothing, dances, food, and a rick folkloric tradition. Though the building itself has only been here for around thirty-five years, the organization will be celebrating its 90th anniversary next year. The “alliance” is often joined by other “circles” of górale, of which there are some sixty groups from across the country, during the various parties and celebrations thrown throughout the year. The house, built in the traditional góral style, has a beautifully furnished restaurant serving up Polish classics like pork schnitzel and stuffed cabbage, a bar, and a banquet hall, where it organizes performances from eighteen dance troupes and several musical groups. At the top is the organization’s radio station, called Radio ZPPA at WPNA 1490 AM, which has been in existence for over thirty years. Don’t worry—it’s not just for Poles. The group is open about inviting everybody to host their own parties or to come to the Polish ones and learn about góral traditions. (Adam Przybyl)
Dom Podhalan (House Under the Mountain Meadows) of the Polish Highlanders Alliance, 4808 S. Archer Ave. Wednesday–Friday, noon-8:30pm; Saturday–Sunday 11am–8:30pm; closed Monday and Tuesday.. (773) 523-7632. zppa.org
Best Street Mural Gallery
Crawford Steel Company Graffiti
Stretching for two to three blocks, the exterior walls of the Crawford Steel Company likely contain the most murals in one condensed area in all of Chicago. Run by artist OBE of the CMK graffiti crew, the company allows artists to practice letters, characters, and large-scale productions legally. The graffiti wraps around all of the building’s sides. The mural is important and well-known enough that Meeting of the Styles (MOS), an international association of graffiti artists, held an event the weekend of September 8 featuring artists from around the city, as well as other states and countries. This was the fourteenth edition of MOS in Chicago and many people came out to observe various murals be completed over the course of anywhere from two days to just a few hours. A meet and greet gallery show was held on September 7 at Camp/Us Gallery in Logan Square that allowed artists to meet and showcase their artwork. There are various paint events held here year-round, and beginner artists wishing to hone their craft can come paint on the huts in the back. (Roderick Sawyer)
Crawford Steel Company, 3141 W. 36th Pl. (773) 376-6969.