As the mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley was not one to throw around his endorsements lightly. That makes the signed token of praise on May St. Café’s wall even more remarkable. Though Mayor Daley was duly impressed by chef Mario Santiago’s blend of Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Cuban cuisines, he might have been equally taken with Santiago’s personal story. The chef’s ascension through Chicago’s culinary ranks began at his family’s restaurant and continued during his stint at the renowned Graham Room at Chicago’s Civic Opera House, where he served as captain of the kitchen.
Today, Santiago draws on more than three decades of experience to craft a veritable quilt of Latin American flavors. One exemplary dish is the French double-cream brie quesadilla, which takes an unexpected turn with winter pear and chipotle sauce fillings. In a similar pairing of sweet and savory, the cinnamon chipotle chicken fajitas balance spicy peppers with a tinge of dessert flavor. For a full-blown dessert, try the homemade white chocolate flan, which can be enjoyed by the spoonful or sculpted into an edible bust of Mayor Daley.