Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
Man, I've had a rough go at things lately. My girlfriend moved out, I'm officially unemployed, and if I lose my truck, this would make the perfect setup for a country song. Too bad I don't have a truck. So on one of my last days at the office, I decided to do something fun for Lunch in the Loop, and my coworkers and hit up the newest joint near my former office—the goofily-named Saucy Porka.
Saucy Porka is yet another fusion place, turning Puerto Rican, Southeast Asian, Japanese, and Korean food into its own culinary Frankenstein. It's owned by Amy Le (formerly of the DucknRoll food truck) and Rafael Lopez (formerly of the Wagyu Wagon), and it's like their two trucks came together to have a restaurant baby.
The curry sweet potato fries ($5.00) are on the starter side of the menu. They're crinkle-cut sweet potato fries decked out with queso fresco, and sprinkled with green onions. You'd imagine that these would have an interesting flavor combination, especially with curry on the fries, but the curry seasoning is curiously absent. The melted queso fresco is very mild, very similar to shredded aged mozzarella cheese. So overall, the loudest flavor is the green onion; the rest of the components just don't pack much flavor.
The umami nachos ($7.00, add $2.00 for shortrib) are somewhat of a misnomer as the dish isn't the savory bomb you'd imagine. The corn tortilla chips are flecked with bits of pineapple, tomatoes, queso fresco, and green onions, and for two dollars extra, you get a generous helping of rich beef shortrib. A relatively mild cheese sauce is served on the side, but all together, the flavors seem a little confused. The shortrib, however, is fatty and delicious and its inclusion turns the nachos into a full on meal rather than an appetizer. And is it just me, or are people starting to use the term "umami" pretty much everywhere now?
Another part of the menu is dedicated to fusion bao, or as the folks at Saucy Porka like to call them, "bacos." The bacos consist of a cute little fluffy steamed bun with fillings of your choice. From the left, you've got the pork carnitas baco ($2.75), the sofrito marinated shrimp baco ($3.50) , and the soy ginger tofu baco ($2.75).
And the winner is? The tofu baco. The crisp and meaty tofu is glazed in a salty sauce, which has the approximate depth of umaminess (yes, I made that word up) as oyster sauce. The barbecue sauce isn't particularly sweet, but is very flavorful.
The Asian-style paella ($10.00) is more like fried rice rather than paella. It's capped with a large helping of the moist carnitas, but what brings the dish together is the Chinese pork sausage. It has a good spicy kick as well as the five finger flavor slap of Chinese five-spice.
On special the day we visited were the banana Nutella beignets ($3.00) Azuki bean beignets ($3.00). I prefer the red-bean filling, but both versions are absolutely caked in cinnamon sugar, making the fillings harder to appreciate through that sugarbomb.
Saucy Porka aims for territory similar to that of Belly Shack, and while it gets most of the way there, some of the flavor inconsistencies hinder its way to the finish line. It's already packed to the gills during lunch rush, so it's a good start for the new place. And hey, the food is good enough to distract me from the bumps and scratches in my life lately, so that's not too shabby either.