Today's side deal recalls a famous scene from For Whom the Bell Tolls when Robert Jordan rolls himself in a giant pastry shell to avoid detection by his Fascist foes. For $5, you get $10 worth of thrilling Colombian-style empanadas and more at Macondo Colombian Coffee & Empanadas in Lakeview.
Half restaurant, half cultural museum, and half diplomatic mission, Macondo came here to win hearts and minds by way of stomachs. With steaming cups of fair-trade Colombian coffee and full plates of gluten-free empanadas ($2.50 for two) in varieties such as camaron (shrimp with goat cheese and spinach), queso chipotle, and arequipe con banana (dulce de leche with bananas), Chicago and Colombia's long-running border dispute might finally end. Macondo also features other traditional Colombian favorites, including Bogota's own ajiaco, chicken soup with red, yellow, and criolla potatoes seasoned in Andean herbs ($3.99) and aborrajado, sweet plantain filled with guava and melted cheese ($4.49).
Las Tablas Colombian Steakhouse
"Did I like it? Do you want to get slapped? I loved it."
That was one diner's response to Ted Brunson, the host of America's Best Bites, when asked about whether or not he enjoyed Las Tablas Colombian Steakhouse's signature dish, the Entrana. This South American take on skirt steak is downright beloved by some Chicagoans. One such guest admitted to living above one of the city's most iconic steakhouses, only to find himself trekking over to Las Tablas whenever he gets a craving for steak. The thinnish strip is scored along its generous length, allowing it to absorb the super-secret eight-spice blend that's rubbed into it—only two people know the recipe. It is then served on a warmed metal plate that rests upon a wooden slab (a "tablas"), as are many of the restaurant's other dishes.
Considering how much they've been through to get to this point—including an uprooting from Colombia in the 1980s and a fire—it's probably a relief for the Suarez family that their recipes are so revered. It also helps that their menu is refreshingly simple, yet flexible. There are a few beef dishes, a few chicken dishes, a few pork dishes, and so on, but guests can also order a combinaciones, which allows them to pair two proteins of their choice. The Entrana and shrimp make a classic match, though options such as baby octopus and pork loin lend themselves to more creative pairings. Vegetarians need not feel left out, either, as there's a veggie platter, 100% meatless napkins, and a paella that blends spiced rice, beans, yuca, plaintains, and potatoes. Those starches reappear throughout the menu, and are served with most entrees.
If you're inspired by the Suarez family's cooking, you can try to recreate the recipes at home with their new product line of sauces and seasonings.