Smoked Trout Tacos at Kopi: A Traveler's Cafe


Photograph: Lindsey Howald Patton

If you're a full-time, office-less freelancer, your diet tends to take one of two extremes.

First there are the working-from-home days. You can't remember eating an actual meal at any point, but you do remember opening the refrigerator every time you needed to just "brainstorm" for a second. Case in point: as I write this, I am sitting on my living room rug with a giant spoon in my hand, dipping it first into a jar of Smucker's peanut butter and then into an espresso cup filled with chocolate chips. (I have been doing this a lot lately. Blame Costco for selling me the five pounds of chocolate.)

Then there are the days you actually get dressed and go to a coffee shop to work. You hit the opposite extreme there, subsisting on coffee refills all day, starving but too cheap, too sick of half-hearted sandwich-y coffee shop fare, and too embarrassed to sneak bites from your own packed lunch under the table (although I have for sure done this) to do anything about it.

For these reasons I keep tabs on places nearby serving inexpensive and interesting food, but whose staff wouldn't mind if I stay for like four hours after eating it. One of my all-time favorites is Kopi: A Traveler's Café, which has everything from standard café fare (muffins, scones) to hearty brunch (lox plates, breakfast burritos) to a whole list of wonderful eclectic things inspired by the café's world-trekker theme, like the Fromage D'Alps sandwich (aged cheese with tart apples and mustard on raison), falafel plate with roasted veggies and Israeli salad, and grilled tofu in Indonesian-style soy sauce.

I was writing there one afternoon last week and decided to give the duo of fish tacos ($7) a shot. I admit tacos aren't my usual pairing with coffee, but generally the word "smoked" as a menu adjective makes me really, really happy, which it did in the case of this trout.

These tacos are exactly what you'd get if you took one of those crustless Victorian high tea sandwiches and mated it with a taco just south of the U.S.-Mexico border. The smoked whitefish, cucumber, dill, and mayo call forth the dainty former, while the chipotle, creamy layer of guacamole, and authentic corn tortillas make a solid case for the latter. And it works. The flavors are powerful all the way around, with particular punch coming from the spicy aioli, sweet dill, earthy corn, and fish, but nothing gets crowded out. The gentler, play-nice ingredients—like the chopped tomatoes and creamy, mild guacamole layering the bottom—are there for texture, rounding out this unique riff perfectly.

Kopi: A Travelers Café

5317 North Clark Street, Chicago IL 60640 (map)