Pastoral services take place daily at the nonprofit Café El Meson, which provides literature and camaraderie in order to bridge the gap between Christian religious practice and daily life. Beyond a nook containing the sandwich counter and the espresso machine, wood tables spread out under an A-frame ceiling, and armchairs cozy up to a fireplace. Visitors sup on the El Meson sandwich, a ham, turkey, and pepper-jack shindig held on a focaccia-bread dance floor, and they imbibe blended drinks flavored with mango, peach, and other fruit flavors. Musical instruments displayed near the entrance evince a commitment to creative collaboration, and a gurgling fountain on the patio reveals what regular speech therapy can do for a puddle.
Carnitas Don Rafa's owner Rafael Vega transforms the knowledge he inherited from his father, a butcher turned restaurateur, into a menu of homestyle Mexican fare. Staffers lovingly stuff tortillas and tortas with a variety of proteins, including carne asada, milanesa, or the house specialty, the eponymous carnitas, made from a family recipe. A parking lot next door keeps faithful chariots and dune buggies safe as patrons pick up their doggie bags.
Maddanthony's Bar & Grill sports a newly renovated 6,000 square feet of lounging space with plasma televisions. Waiters pile plates with food from sister restaurant LaCoco's Pizza & Pasta next door and pour suds until 4 a.m. Sunday–Friday, 5 a.m. on Saturdays, and forever during a time warp. Karaoke enthusiasts belt tunes on Tuesday nights and guests with dance fever hustle onto the dance-floor Wednesday–Saturday nights with a live DJ spinning the most current tunes. The bar maintains a young, energetic vibe with abundant events and eats, hosting nights centered around UFC matchups, boxing tournaments, and high-octane city-council meetings.
For more than 26 years, the LaCoco family has piled crusts with fresh toppings and served house-made italian ice and sandwiches. Beginning with thin, pan, or deep-dish crusts and 19 toppings, LaCoco's pie tossers craft all manner of regional pizza styles, including gourmet specialty pizzas that bury nontraditional toppings in melted cheese, such as the BLT or buffalo-chicken pizza. LaCoco's recently-added large dining room better hosts larger parties and standard-issue pizza launchers. For off-site occasions, the restaurant proffers a catering menu of hearty Italian entrees.
As they struggled to make ends meet by peddling fruits and vegetables from a truck, Mr. and Mrs. Ricobene never dreamed that their family’s name would one day be renowned throughout the South Side of Chicago. The couple first opened their own food stand in 1946, where they doled out sandwiches, pizzas, and pastas inspired by their Italian homeland. With the aid of their sons, they soon perfected their signature dish—the breaded steak sandwich, a meal that would one day be lauded by reporters from Chicago magazine as one of the best in the city. Today, Ricobene’s has expanded to multiple restaurant locations across Chicagoland, and chefs continue to whip up steak sandwiches in accordance with the original Ricobene family recipe. They fold ultrathin steaks into crusty Italian rolls before showering sandwiches in peppers, cheese, and meaty marinara sauce. The chefs draw culinary inspiration from both Italy and Chicago, seasoning wieners in celery salt and topping deep-dish pizzas with mozzarella. Meanwhile, out in the casual dining rooms, guests perch at wooden tables and admire the photographs of old Chicago that speckle the walls.
Though there may be more than one way to skin a cat, there’s only one way to roast a goat—learn from a master. According the Chicago Reader, once John Zaragoza became interested in making birria, he sought out Miguel Segura, a renowned birriero in La Barca, Jalisco, Mexico who roasts his meat in backyard brick ovens. Two weeks studying with Segura taught him the varying cuts of birria and how to cultivate trust at the counter by chopping the meat in full view instead of pinkie swearing to each customer that the knives are clean.
Today, John and his family have their own recipe down pat. Kosher salt seasons the goat, which they seal in a steamer for up to six hours before covering it in an ancho-based mole sauce and transferring it to the oven. The cuts also yield a clean consommé broth that doubles as a garnish, which can be sprinkled on top alongside onions, cilantro, lime, and peppers. Handmade corn tortillas add the finishing touch to a birria meal at both Birrieria Zaragoza locations.
The goat can be ordered bone in or out, on a plate or in a taco—Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine ranks the restaurant No. 2 in the Midwest on a list of The 64 Best Tacos in the Country. For a spicy side, John's son Jonathan brews a signature fire-roasted salsa from scratch. Imported Mexican sodas wash down savory bites, whose popularity causes the Zaragozas to go through as many as 22 goats in a single weekend—more than the average caged T-Rex eats in a month.