Lunch in the Loop: Lost in Translation at Spanglish
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.
Ever see the movie Spanglish, starring Adam Sandler? If you haven't seen it... don't see it. Trust me on that one. The term "Spanglish" actually just means a mash up the between Spanish and English languages, and it happens to be the name of a Mexican restaurant a few doors down from Epic Burger (reviewed here) on State Street. It's owned by the same folks who own La Cocina (also reviewed here). The restaurant has been open for just about a year now.
To be honest, the menu isn't that much different from La Cocina, but its interior does look different, with a sleeker urban feel to it. So you'll see burritos, tortas, enchiladas, that sort of thing on the menu—no big surprises here.
I'm a burrito fiend. Steak burritos are one of those things I crave about once a week, usually late at night, and especially while I've been drinking. But sometimes daytime urges hit me like a ton of bricks, and I'll spring for a burrito at lunch, risking a huge food coma. You know, because I totally live on the edge. This time, I decided to try the steak burrito suizo ($7.75). I usually don't get my burritos covered in melted cheese, but hey, why the hell not? Cheese blankets are the best kind.
The burritos here are filled with your choice of filling, plus lettuce, tomato, refried black beans, cheese, and sour cream. No rice! I hate rice in my burritos—I'd rather eat more meat, because I'm all business. Overall, it's a pretty average specimen. The steak is a little dry and chewy, but beefy, and the usual fillings round out each bite. If you're craving a burrito, you could do worse. I'd recommend just a regular burrito; the extra cheese armor is probably better if you're combating a hangover. Also, this thing is honkin' huge, if you're a monster burrito fan. It gets soggy quick, so you might need to break out the knife and fork.
There are three types of tamales ($2.00 each): chicken, pork, or green pepper and cheese. The pork tamale is filled with a slightly spicy red chile pork. Despite the color, it isn't supremely flavorful right off the bat; the bitter chile flavor comes through after a few bites. The meat is tender, but the masa ends up being dry and crumbly.
As someone who frequently craves breakfast for lunch, I'm happy to report that all breakfast items are available all day—breakfast burritos, tortas, eggs rancheros, and chilaquiles ($6.75). I like to think of chilaquiles as soggy egg nachos. You get an insane amount of chilaquiles per order, and they're satisfying and heavy, though sparse on the eggs.
My favorite tacos are the grilled fish taco ($2.30) and the chile relleno taco ($2.85). The fish is meaty and plentiful, and it's topped with pico de gallo to add a fresh acidic bite. I don't often order chile relleno tacos, but the battered fried poblano pepper stuffed with cheese is robust enough to be a meal in and of itself. The batter is eggy and rich, giving the bitter pepper some extra flavor. But the whole thing cools off quickly, so eat it while it's still hot and gooey.
I'm a little disappointed with the chicken enchilada dinner ($8.00). Spanglish perplexingly uses cubed chicken breast as opposed to shredded chicken, resulting in the little cubes tumbling all over the place. If you want to see a grown man chase after dry chicken cubes on the floor, then by all means, order it for the entertainment. Otherwise, skip them. Watching me pick up chicken is pretty funny, though.
While the rice isn't particularly notable—it's just soft tomatoey rice—I'm happy that they serve black refried beans as opposed to pinto refried beans. They have a slightly deeper flavor than refried pinto beans, and it's just a nice change of pace.
Oh, guacamole ($3.50 small, $5.50 large), how I love thee. Well, at least, when you're not overly salted. The guacamole is loaded with salt, to the point where a few scoops of it is too much. I raise my fist to the heavens with tears running down my face! I'd much rather have undersalted guacamole, that way I can add some myself, but salty guacamole is tough to save.
All in all, Spanglish is pretty much your usual quick-service Mexican restaurant. We have a ton of them in Chicago. I'm surprised that they didn't take the opportunity to try something new, because they might as well have just called it La Cocina and called it a day.
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.