If you find yourself in the West Loop, chances are you won’t go wrong with any restaurant in the area. With famous places such as Au Cheval, which sells a burger with a cult following, or the innovative new American cuisine at Girl and The Goat, made great by celebrity chef Stephanie Izard, restaurants in this area must be good to stay afloat in the competitive dining scene.
But not every eatery in this part of Chicago has hour-plus wait times or a pricey menu. Cemitas Puebla (817 W. Fulton Market) off the Green Line Morgan station, is one such place that offers creative West Loop food without compromising your time or budget.
I visited with a friend one Friday night, and it wasn’t very busy. The worker behind the walk-up order counter could tell we were first-timers and was happy to give us a run-down of the menu, which included typical Mexican fare, such as tacos, quesadillas and guacamole.
The place’s specialty is the cemita, a sandwich made on a homemade sesame seed roll layered with avocado, housemade chipotle sauce, oaxacan cheese and meat. The restaurant is named for this dish and the food is from the Puebla, Mexico, region.
To begin, we ordered the guacamole of the day, which was the house guacamole with chopped jicama and pineapple on top ($3.95 for 4 oz. or $6.95 for 8 oz.). We ordered the larger portion, which was more than enough for two people. The jicama added a satisfying crunch to the creamy guacamole, and the pineapple gave it an interesting tropical flavor. The chips were hot out of the fryer and perfectly salted.
To get a good sampling of the menu, we split a pollo cemita, two tacos and a quesadilla. The cemita ($7.95) was a hefty sandwich, piled high with shredded chicken. The chicken was tender and flavorful in a roasted, tomato-based sauce. But all of the other ingredients, including cheese and avocado, were overwhelmed by the size of the sesame bun. The bread was fresh, but it’s size overpowered the fillings and made the sandwich somewhat bland.
Although I was disappointed with the cemita, it may have been more flavorful with a different meat option, such as al pastor or carne asada. Based on the other menu items I tried, I would be willing to give a different one a shot.
We also tried the taco arabe ($3.95) and the fish taco ($3.45). The taco arabe had spit-roasted pork and onions with chipotle sauce. The meat was tender and nicely coated in the smoky sauce. The fish taco included lime and fresh avocado slices. The fish was coated in a cold, citrusy creamy sauce and was a nice contrast to the spicier arabe.
The quesadilla with Chihuahua cheese and chicharron ($3.95) was my favorite item we ordered. The Chihuahua cheese was soft, tangy and perfectly melted. It balanced the crispy chicharron, fried pork rind, to make each bite flavor-packed.
I appreciated how each dish was distinct and didn’t taste like a repeat of the same ingredients compiled in a different formation. The service was quick and friendly; the waiter promptly brought our dishes out to our patio table and the staff was patient with any questions we had about the menu. If you ever find yourself in the West Loop and wanting a new food adventure, try Cemitas Puebla.