Food & Drink in Melrose Park

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Every morning, the dough masters at Aracely's Bakery rise before dawn to craft house-made cupcakes, pastries, and sandwiches to bejewel their display cases. Confectionary artists transform dreams into fondant-covered reality by crafting custom cakes for birthdays, baby showers, and Eat a Portrait of Your Boss day. Meanwhile, traditional Mexican recipes lend sweetness to cakes and spice to 11 kinds of sandwiches, whose ingredients include avocado, chihuahua cheese, and secret sauce, and pack flavor into handheld meals.

144 N 19th Ave
Melrose Park,
IL
US

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.

2211 W. Lake Street
Melrose Park,
IL
US

It starts with homemade mango ice cream. Slices of fresh mango thicken the mixture, and splashes of lime, salt, and chamoy—a sauce known for being sweet, sour, and spicy all at once—settle in, ready to surprise taste buds with their complex mix of flavors. The resulting drink, a Chamango, is one of many specialty blends at La Dulce Vida Neveria, a cafè that stirs up Mexican-style sweets and snacks. Baristas mix chocolate abuelitas and cafe con leche, and they blend pineapple, cucumber, or melon to create fruit smoothies. Fresh fruit resurfaces in the selection of desserts: bananas and papaya line bionic fruit sundaes, and strawberry triangles encircle shortcake à la mode to keep it from running off and joining the circus as “the crumbly lady.” In addition to sweets, customers dig into savory snacks such as nachos, chicharrones, and Cheetos con queso.

2015 Rice St
Melrose Park,
IL
US

Danny’s Cafe warmly serves what co-owner Carl Dote described as “Italian peasant food” on Danny’s Check, Please! feature. Their cooking aims to comfort, from generously stuffed artichokes to their signature fried-meatball sub. The hefty sandwich, highlighted on WGN, comes to fruition after staff members hand-form fresh meatball mix into patties and pile on fried peppers. Co-owner and chef Paula Dote told ABC’s “Hungry Hound” that when she and her husband bought the restaurant, she wanted to make exactly what she made at home, and indeed, she uses recipes from her mother and mother-in-law in all of her cooking and homemade volcano experiments. She ladles vodka sauce and crumbled sausage over homemade rigatoni, and layers provolone, parmesan, mozzarella, and ricotta in the four-cheese lasagna. Pork neck bones, one of Danny's more unique dishes, are served twice a week and praised by Hungry Hound for the tender meatiness resulting from hours spent simmering in spiced tomatoes. The eatery has also spawned relatives—appropriately named “Cuzzin’s Cafe”—that serve similar dishes in Des Plaines and Orland Park.

1419 N 15th Ave
Melrose Park,
IL
US

The epicurean engineers at Squabs Gyros dole out dishes from a mouthwatering menu all a-bristle with Mediterranean cuisine and juicy, grilled meats. Savory slices of gyro⎯a roasted mixture that combines the flavors of beef, lamb, and spices⎯lounge atop foundations of warm pita, dressed with piquant onions and vibrantly red tomatoes. Creamy dollops of house-made tzatziki enhance the edible architecture with notes of cool, tangy flavor like the edible columns that encircle the Acropolis. Sharable plates of fresh-cut fries and diners' choices of fountain drink join forces to form a full meal in a tasty triumvirate of Greek-American fare.

2348 N Mannheim Rd
Melrose Park,
IL
US

Sandy's Sandwiches prides itself on feeding customers high quality bread, but not too much of it. Instead, they focus on serving up more meat, more cheese, and whatever other toppings make up the customer's sandwich of choice. With the Big Bet BLT, it's bacon, sliced avocados, and ancho-chipotle sauce; in the Chicken Melt Sub, it's swiss cheese and honey mustard; while the Chicken Salad Sandwich is topped with baby spinach and creamy pesto. Other sandwiches include massive eats such as the Colossal Corned Beef with horseradish dijon on marbled rye, or the Big Hammer, made with enough smoked ham and swiss cheese to put Thor to sleep. The menu also includes hot dogs—the Chicago Dog, the Striped Dog, and the Bacon Chili Dog—and wraps such as the Straight Veggie Wrap with roasted red pepper and artichoke hearts.

2130 W North Ave
Melrose Park,
IL
US

Melrose Park Scene