There’s no disputing Logan Square’s rich restaurant scene; for instance, we’ve got Longman & Eagle, Reno Chicago, Webster’s and Billy Sunday all within spitting distance of each other. Going out, however, can get exhausting, expensive and, over time, unimaginative.
To break up the monotony of someone else cooking your food, dealing with crowds, restaurant noise and tipping the wait staff, consider shopping for meals from one of several ethnic bodegas located conveniently on Milwaukee Avenue through Logan Square, invite some friends over and create a foodie craze from the comfort of your own kitchen.
The Markets, Their Ingredients (South To North):
Looking for orange Fanta or Inca Kola in glass bottles? Need some booty-shaking Ecuadorian music, or something a little more romantic from a Peruvian crooner? How about chimichurri sauce? Dried herbs and spices? Powdered horchata, plantain chips or one of many cookies or sweets that have no English words on the front of the packaging for the kids?
El Condor has been selling products from south of the border—and south of the equator—for 15 years now. This is a store to purchase spices and sauces to marinate meats for distinct South American flavors. El Condor also has an intimidating selection of CDs and DVDs from Latin America, as well as international calling cards and clothing in case you’d like to rep Ecuador’s national soccer team next time they play an international match.
Just north of the Logan Square ‘L’ stop on the north side of Milwaukee, Half Italian is one part boutique grocer and one part hang out. The store stocks European goods like packaged cookies, teas, coffee, sauces and pastas. Also, dry goods like beans and rice and fresh produce can be used in soups or anti-pastas. Quality beer and white and red wines from South America, Europe and California round out a dense assortment of alcoholic beverages.
Inside and outside, tables and chairs fill up the empty floor space to give passers-by looking for a quick meal from Half Italian’s deli a place to eat. Often the seats are filled with people engaged in lively conversation over an espresso drink, a sandwich, one of the salads or a homemade baked good. Everything behind the deli counter is made in-house and from scratch.
Half Italian’s goal is to keep its selection simple, and what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality.
Carnicería La Mejor (2848 Milwaukee Ave.)
Carnicería La Mejor doesn’t have a website, but it does have a butcher who can supply any American barbecue or Latin American fiesta. Upon entering the store, shoppers are greeted with a colorful array of fresh produce, including fruits—like large papayas—not known to grow in northern climates. Beans, rice, masa, salsas, all coming from producers from south of the border, neatly line the shelves where it’s easy to find everything needed from a trip to the grocery store.
The butcher’s counter is the real treat for meat eaters in the neighborhood. Pork, beef, seafood and chicken of all cuts and varieties are is good supply. Homemade chorizo, carne asada, pollo asada and other marinated meats are offered at sensible prices.
Carniceria La Mejor stocks many of the same products, like the spices, Mexican bottled sodas and fresh Mexican cheeses, that other Hispanic supermarkets in the neighborhood stock. The difference with this bodega is that there are more choices per type of item and all the shelves are fully stocked.
When you’re in the mood to step into what an Eastern European grocery store probably looks like, Kurowski’s is where to take your field trip. Just about everything in the store is labeled in Polish, although looking at the pictures it’s easy to figure out what’s inside the packaging. An impressive collection of sauerkraut, pickled everything and preserves are available in case you’re stocking up for an Eastern European winter and not coming out of the house for a few months; all joking aside, the store sells homemade pickles and kraut out of three-foot tall barrels that make you question why you’ve ever purchased those items any other way. You’ll also find homemade frozen pierogies, fresh soups and baked breads and pastries from the bakery, too.
Kurowski’s is a butcher at heart and sells beef, chicken, pork, fish—some marinated, some dried, some cured—at reasonable prices. Still, if you want to know what you’re buying, unless you speak Polish, at times you have to ask; don’t be surprised if the clerk addresses you in Polish if they speak first.
The sheer volume of imported goods from Poland and Eastern Europe here could fill a refrigerator, freezer and pantry if one were inclined to not buy any foods produced in America. And if the Polish radio on the sound system wasn’t enough, Kurowski’s has a healthy selection of Eastern European music to take home.