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South Side Eats: Mama Nena's Shrimp House

Editor's Note: I'm psyched to introduce you all to Titus, who will be chiming in occasionally with food finds on the South Side. Of course, you may already know him from his blog, Smokin' Chokin' and Chowing with the King, where he's single handedly eaten at almost every restaurant in Chicagoland. (Slight exaggeration, but only sort of.) I'll let him take it from here.

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[Photographs: Titus Ruscitti]

The South Side is kind of like the last frontier for Chicago food voyagers like me. When something good opens up there is no PR email or buzz on Twitter. Word of mouth is still the way around these parts, where small plates are something you eat after you've consumed two large ones.

Two things you won't find a shortage of on the South Side are Mexican-owned mom and pop spots and fried shrimp shacks. Over on 43rd street, just West of Ashland in the shadow of the Union Stock Yards, you'll find the two combined at Mama Nena's Shrimp House.

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After randomly driving by one day, I decided to Google it up and was surprised to find very little on a place, even though it that was obviously popular with families visiting the nearby Swap-O-Rama on Sundays. So I decided I needed to go in, only to find the Hungry Hound once again staring me down.

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I'm surprised that even with a visit from Steve Dolinsky this place hasn't caught on with others, as there are only three reviews on Yelp and it's never been discussed over at LTH. I'm hoping to try and change that because this a really friendly place that is serious about shrimp.

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Anytime you're visiting a shrimp shack in Chicago, the first thing you need to try is the fried shrimp. Sitting fresh in the display case with a medium thick breading, I thought Mama's jumbos matched up pretty well with most of the others around town. They're true to form as far as Chicago style fried shrimp goes and come with both a hot sauce and cocktail dipping option.

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There are a few other fried options which can change based on whats in the display case. I've seen catfish nuggets as well as fresh smelts. They also do a few grilled seafood options, including a shrimp skewer meal. Ten dollars will get you ten pieces of grilled marinated shrimp, avocado dipping sauce, and your choice of a side. The onions rings are battered in house.

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The shrimp cocktail is one of those foods from a bygone era. I don't know where people order it nowadays in Chicago, besides old school steakhouses. I order it while on vacation somewhere on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. There it's called coctel de camarones and it's one of the best things to eat on a hot sunny day. Mama Nena's makes quite a fine example of this popular regional treat made with steamed shrimp, pico de gallo, hot sauce, lime juice, ketchup, avocado, and other ingredients which can vary. I liked the addition of chopped cucumbers in this concoction as well as the fact they give you extra hot sauce, limes, and plenty of saltines. Roll thru on a Sunday and these are on special for just $5.50, making them a popular stop. Step out back with it onto their mini-golf-green turf patio and it almost feels like you're somewhere in Acapulco.

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The Shrimp Diablos brought me great joy from a memory flashback. They take a shrimp, stuff it into half of a sliced jalapeño, wrap it with bacon, and then cook it. Sold by the piece ($1.75) these reminded of a favorite dish of mine from when I first started cooking in my early teens—back when anything wrapped in bacon and all things stuffed into a jalapeño were a way of life.

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Surprisingly there is no shrimp taco on the menu, but they do have taquitos. These turned out to be different than what I was expecting. They come four to an order ($3.99) and taste pretty terrific for something so simple. All they are is a piece of shrimp wrapped in an appropriate amount of corn tortilla, which are held together with a toothpick and then deep fried. Served on a bed of lettuce and tomatoes, be sure to get some of the house avocado sauce for dipping these crunchy crustaceans in.

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If you're here on a weekend over summer you're sure to see what's quite a site if it's a hot day outside: Vendors line 43rd street with jug upon jug of large old school orange colored Gatorade coolers filled with Nieves. Whats that you ask? It's a Mexican style of ice cream made with fresh fruits and other natural ingredients. Cups of it are a very popular eat along the highways of Mexico, and with that my next investigation is looming.

Mama Nena's Shrimp House

1623 W. 43rd Street, Chicago, IL 60609 (map)
773-254-9380


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