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Flor de Calabaza Huarache at El Huarache de Maria [Photographs: Mike Gebert]

Years ago, when I heard of flor de calabaza quesadillas at Maxwell Street, my universe of Mexican food expanded three sizes that day. You could do that? You could put a squash blossom—a flower—on a tortilla instead of hamburger, and it would be good? Yes, very good, actually—a kind of sautéed spinach taste, combined with the visual appeal of the squash blossoms, which look like flowers with orange petals and plump little green bulbs.

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I wouldn't say it jumped into my top ten foods, but it's good to have once in a while, and it cheers me to see it on a Mexican restaurant's signage, because it means a place that isn't just making steak tacos and burritos, but is true to the peasant roots of its community. (Though I found a reference online to them having been associated with a particular Tijuana restaurant, where Sammy Davis Jr. was a big fan. I assume using them goes back into antiquity, though-- or at least before Robin and the Seven Hoods.)

Usually they're served in quesadillas, and being stuck in oozy cheese suits them well, but if you specialize in something else, no reason you can't use them on that, too—year-round; you see fresh ones in season, but canned ones are much more common around town.

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El Huarache de Maria means "Maria's Slipper," and it specializes in the long freshly-made tortillas called huaraches, which here would seem to suggest that Maria wears a 27EEEE. So that's what the flor de la calabaza go on here, and combined with their smoky, robust refried beans, it's a first-rate version.

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But like a lot of other family-run Mexican places, the menu consists of approximately everything, from steak to shrimp to grilled chicken. My dining companion went for pork ribs in salsa verde, and though those tortillas weren't handmade, it was a good version with a brightly flavorful salsa and those superior refried beans.

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The exterior of this comida in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood may look a bit haphazard, but there's a warm kitchen inside.


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