Friday, March 15, 2013
I am happy to say that we are back online after making our cross-country move to Florida and tackling all of the details associated with such an undertaking (our microwave in the Canteen is currently not functional, but that's a story for another day). For those of you who are regular readers, I am planning to officially rebrand the blog following publication of my last 3 Chicago postings, which will hopefully all happen before the end of the month (at least that's my goal - I may not get there, we'll see). Today I present the first of the final group featuring some stellar Southwest Side tacos and a not-well known fried chicken purveyor hidden away near Midway Airport.
I had originally read about Zacatacos (several locations, including 3949 W. 71st St.) in Serious Eats Chicago's roundup of the best taquerias in town to get carne asada (the al pastor tacos were also recommended), and given that they were the only place listed that was relatively close to the old Commissary, I decided to stop in one Friday morning before the move. The location at the corner of 71st and Pulaski is in an industrial neighborhood (W.R. Grace's catalyst plant, an old client of mine when I was still a working stiff, is just across the street) and has a narrow, awkwardly-shaped parking lot. These issues aside, when I walked in, I didn't see a typical taqueria; rather, the layout resembled more of a diner with a long counter/barstools and a few tables off to the side. The lunch crowd hadn't yet arrived (it was about 11 am), so I quickly received my order of a carne asada taco and an al pastor taco, plus some horchata to wash it down.
The tacos were terrific (see photo above), served on fresh tortillas with perfectly seasoned meat, lettuce, tomatoes, and queso. Apparently, I'm not the only one who enjoys the house asada as one of the cooks was manning an entire grill piled high with the tasty skirt steak, presumably in anticipation of the oncoming rush of patrons. I could have easily downed several more tacos, however, I needed to save room for fried chicken at my next stop, Mini Hut (6659 W. Archer, no website), tucked away in the neighborhood immediately west of Midway known as Garfield Ridge (no, I hadn't heard of it, either).
If you ever try to find this place, the entrance is actually on Normandy (you'll never see it from Archer - I drove right by without a clue as to its whereabouts). There are parking spots on the side street and it almost appears that you're walking into some bunker at the back of the corner building (see photo above). Once inside, I actually did feel like I was in a cave. There's a claustrophobic, chilly seating area immediately to the left (more on that in a minute) and a counter for ordering on the right. The kitchen (which must consist mostly of deep fryers as there's not much on the short menu that doesn't involve this cooking technique) is behind a partition across from the counter. That's it. What the eatery lacks in amenities, however, it makes up for with the chicken. I ordered what the proprietors call a chicken "boat", featuring two fried chicken pieces (being a dark meat fan, I chose the thigh/leg combo), some fries, and a dinner roll (see photo below).
I'd read several comments online about the wait time for the chicken (the guy behind the counter told me it'd be about 20 minutes as they fry everything to order) - the fries were not bad and the roll was practically inedible, however, the bird was well worth the wait. Both pieces were crispy and perfectly juicy (and hotter than hell, I might add - I think the steam burns on my tongue have finally healed), with just the right amount of breading. I wouldn't say that it was the best fried chicken I'd ever eaten, but Mini Hut's version clearly makes my "best of" list in Chicagoland. Next time, I might consider calling ahead for a to-go order, as the small seating area appears to have been frozen in an apocalyptic version of 1985 (there was a broken cassette deck, some giant, old school cabinet speakers, and a fading framed tribute to a prominent harness racing jockey, perhaps a relative of the owners?). Regardless, there's no shame chowing down on this stuff whether you're inside the bunker or inside your car...