Carne en su Jugo at Los Gallos
I was introduced to this manly soup over at LTHforum by Rob Lopata. I learned that it's a specialty of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, which is where a lot of Chicago's Mexican population is from. So naturally there's quite a few places in the cityscape that serve the dish, though for many spots, it's a weekend thing. At Los Gallos it's all day, everyday. Carne en su Jugo translates to meat in it's own juice. The base is beef broth with steak. Other standard ingredients served in the bowl include avocado, bacon, and pinto beans. Depending on the place serving it, you also typically get a plate of garnishes like chopped onions, cilantro, sliced radish, and a few dried chile de arbol chilies for you to reach the spice level you desire.
Los Gallos includes all of these options. There are a few things that can separate a good bowl from a bad batch, but the most important factor is the broth. At Los Gallos they have an almost clear brew, with just the right amount of real beef flavor in it—no bouillon here. When eating some with tiny bits of crisped up bacon and small chunks of crispy skirt steak it only gets better. My favorite bowl of soup in all of Chicagoland, I've tried to recreate it at home and even sought out a well known spot while in Mexico, but I still find Los Gallos hard to beat.
Caldo de Res at Tio Luis
Thanks to the advice of Mike Sula at the Chicago Reader, I always go for a bowl of the caldo de res. What this beef stew lacks in looks it more than makes up for in flavor. The broth is on point due to large hunks of shank that simmer away until fall apart tender. The straightforwardness of the dish continues with big chunks of potatoes, chayote, carrots, cabbage, corn, and green beans, all of which maintain their texture because they're added in separately, which is a common practice at most spots I've been to.
Carne de Seca at La Placita de Durango
There probably aren't many people in the middle when it comes to first hearing of Beef Jerky Soup. I think most folks are going to think either, "Awesome!" or "Eew!" I'm on the sweet sounding side. Still, it's probably best split with someone, so you can also try some of the other regional winners on the menu.