J. Michael Eugenio

Best of Little Village & Marshall Square 2018

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Best Massive, Endlessly Amazing Thrift Shop

Village Discount Outlet

J. Michael Eugenio
J. Michael Eugenio

“It’s kind of like Goodwill, if you stacked three of them on top of each other” is the way I described Village Discount Outlet to a friend. Located on the corner of 26th Street and Pulaski Road, Village Discount is a neighborhood favorite and a valuable resource, hocking everything from vintage blazers to even more vintage exercise equipment. Allow me to conduct the grand tour.

It would be overly simplistic to say that the first floor is just women’s and kids’ clothing—it is so much more than meets the eye. Where else can you affordably buy new back-to-school outfits, quinceañera dresses, and winter coats all in one go? Though the store may seem overwhelming at first, each section is organized by clothing type, size, and color and clearly delineated by hanging aisle signs, so you’ll never get too lost in the warehouse-like premises.

Once you’ve begun curating an entirely new wardrobe, take a trip to the second floor and you’ll find racks of men’s clothing, more kids’ clothing, and an array of kitchen supplies, framed artwork, vintage children’s toys, board games, and electronics. At one point, I was perusing the color-coordinated shelves of glassware and spotted, nestled between a glass bottle and a pink vase, what was clearly a watercolor bong. If that’s not a true testament to the breadth of Village Discount’s wares, I don’t know what is.

The third and final floor is where you’ll likely garner the most savings. Are you mentally preparing yourself for the onset of winter? Pick up a used treadmill, rowing machine, or stationary bike today and preempt your strongest couch-potato tendencies. Or maybe just give in entirely—Village Discount offers an entire row of comfortable armchair and sofa options, any of which you could hibernate in until spring comes around. Rounding out the floor are bicycles (“No bike riding allowed in the store,” indicates one sign), sporting equipment, books, vinyl records, magazines, and a significant selection of desks, bookshelves, coffee tables, and wardrobes.

Whether you’re a habitual bargain shopper or a thrifting novice, Village Discount Outlet truly offers something for everyone. The hunt is half the fun, so skip the Targets of the world and experience the serendipity of a good discovery. (Taylor Moore)

Village Discount Outlet, 4020 W. 26th St. Monday–Saturday, 9am–9pm; Sunday, 10am–6pm. (866) 545-3836 (main office). villagediscountoutlet.com

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Best Fusion Tacos

El Taco Azteca

The moment that my waitress refilled my horchata for free, I knew that the restaurant had unwittingly made me a customer for life.

El Taco Azteca sits at the border between Little Village and Pilsen, in the Heart of Chicago, minutes away from the Western and Damen Pink Line stops. Outside, a colorful mural advertises “Gourmet Tacos” in a swirly font, while the interior features a chalkboard wall at the bar and tabletops supported by tree stumps. In the dining room, Mexican artwork adorns the walls and hand-painted ceramics sit on the tables. In true fusion style, El Taco Azteca manages to plant its feet in both the traditional and hipster realms of the Little Village restaurant scene.

Once seated, you’re immediately served a basket of tortilla chips, fried plantains, and yuca with the house salsa, which was deliciously creamy and smoky. The restaurant eschews typical accompaniments like beans and rice, focusing primarily on their namesake tacos. The one that attracted this curious writer was the arabe taco. Invented by Middle Eastern immigrants—believed to be Lebanese—in the Mexican city of Puebla during the 1930s, this taco is comprised of marinated pork and chipotle salsa on a homemade flour tortilla. Equal parts smoky and spicy, juicy and tender, the arabe taco is out-of-this-world good. In lieu of your typical onions and cilantro, the taco is garnished with dressed arugula and pickled onions to balance out the pork’s strong flavor. These small touches elevate the dining experience and remind you just how much care El Taco Azteca puts into its food.

They don’t sleep on the classics either. The al pastor is flavorful and juicy, with the pineapple hitting just the right notes of sweetness. And the chunky guacamole ranchero, which features chicharrón (fried pork skin), cubed panela cheese, red jalapeños, and smoked guajillo salsa, will leave you wishing you had more than one stomach. (Taylor Moore)

El Taco Azteca, 2151 W. Cermak Rd. Sunday–Thursday, 10am–10pm; Friday and Saturday, 10am–midnight. (773) 247-1103. ordereltacoazteca.com

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Best Paletas De Mamey

Paletería Los Magos

If you have a craving for paletas (Mexican ice pops), hop on the nearest Pink Line train and head to Paletería Los Magos, located just two blocks south of the 18th Street stop. The shop offers all sorts of frozen single-serve novelties, from ice cream bars shaped like cartoon characters to neon-striped popsicles. Skip all of those and look at the menu posted on the wall next to the cashier, listing the available paletas de agua and paletas de leche. Paletas de agua are brightly colored and refreshing, perfect for a hot summer’s day: try the piña, yellow-orange with chunks of pineapple studded throughout. For something more decadent, pick a few of the leche: the nuez—butter pecan—is wonderfully sweet, with ground nuts clustered around the popsicle stick for a tantalizing texture. To my delight, Los Magos carries my favorite flavor, mamey—ice cream made from an enormous Cuban and Central American fruit that’s sometimes the only thing sweet enough to satisfy my sugar cravings. When I took a bite, I cursed and thought to myself, ‘This is it, folks: this is the best frozen mamey treat I have ever had.’ As I ate, small specks of orange from the blended fruit—shone through the light pink of the paleta. We don’t deserve something this beautiful or delicious. Los Magos is open fourteen hours a day, every day of the week. Go grab a paleta, or three, or five. (Jasmine Mithani)

Paletería Los Magos, 1700 W. 19th St. Open daily, 8am–10pm. (312) 566-6508. facebook.com/PaleteriaLosMagos

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Best Grassy Knoll

Stretch of Marshall Boulevard

Cermak—often smoggy, loud, and generally rather terrible—is not exactly a pleasant street to walk down. But if you do happen to find yourself taking a stroll down Cermak going west from California, push yourself just a tad further. You’ll find one of the best hidden gems in the city: the Marshall Boulevard grassy knoll.

Nestled between Cermak and 24th Boulevard, this beautiful mini-park is a tree-covered treat in a heavily concreted area. Children play with one another, older folks walk their pups, and neighbors at large munch on delicious snacks scattered throughout the stretch (including some delicious zesty mango and occasionally paletas to match). There’s even a coffee shop on the corner to grab an iced beverage before taking a seat in the nice, cool grass to watch the cars and people glide by. (Bridget Newsham)

Marshall Boulevard between Cermak and 24th Blvd. Open all the time, but best enjoyed before noon, after 5pm on weekdays, and all day weekends.

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