I love the holiday season, not just for its colors, or the excuse to wear a heavy coat, but for the drinks you get to enjoy: steaming hot cocoa with marshmallows, the pumpkin spice drinks that have conquered America’s heart, and coquito. Coquito, otherwise known as Puerto Rican eggnog, is a flavorful part of Logan Square’s holiday tradition.
Right after Halloween at least one of my friends will announce on Facebook that they’re making coquito. Some people sell them in simple jars with lids, with a big cinnamon stick at the bottom. Some will meticulously bottle and gift wrap their coquito, looking like something from Whole Foods.
There’s nothing like a snowy night in under a pile of blankets, watching a movie and sipping on a homemade concoction of cinnamon, coconut, and rum. It’s the kind of drink that would make The Big Lebowski give up drinking his White Russians. At least for the winter.
According to writer and full-time lecturer Natalia de Cuba Romero, “Not unlike the mainland United States, Christmas in Puerto Rico starts at Thanksgiving (although arguably some of the festivities begin just after Halloween).
But while so many up north start packing up their trees right after Dec. 25 and certainly by Jan. 2, we like to stretch out the holiday as much as we can. Some say we have the longest Christmas in the world.”
There are many incarnations of coquito: In Cuba, a version of coquito is served with scoops of coconut ice cream; around the Caribbean, it’s made with fresh, light coconut juice; Spanish tradition calls to serve it with turron. There’s even a Caramel Pumpkin Coquito recipe out there if you wanna walk on the wild side.
A great place to get a bottle is my go-to grocery store, Rico Fresh Market (3552 W. Armitage Ave.). They have great produce, an indoor restaurant and little pasteles that go great with a warm sugary drink. Plus, their muzak has some banging tracks, like Stereo Love, MIA, and Dura. Sunday afternoons you will catch me there, getting my veggie burrito before the after-church crowd comes in for their evening shopping.
If you want to try coquito before investing in an entire bottle, Logan Square favorites The Black Lion (2434 N. Milwaukee Ave.) and Caribella (3311 W. Fullerton Ave.), owned by Nancy Melissa Cruz and her daughter, Isabella.
“This is our second year selling coquito at Caribella,” said Nancy Melissa Cruz. “However, our house specialty latte, which is made with the coquito and espresso (Coquito Latte) has been sold at our location continuously for the past almost 10 years, eight of those under the business name, Café Bella.”
Yari Vargas, the executive chef/owner of Casa Yari (3268 W. Fullerton Ave.), won 2019 Best of Logan Square: Best Restaurant and Chicago’s Best Flan by Brittney Payton of Chicago’s Best TV for her Coquito Flan, an idea that arose while experimenting in the kitchen.
“It was the month of September and it was a slow day,” said Yari Vargas. “We were all reminiscing about our childhood and the topic of coquito came up, and I got a lightbulb and looked at my team and said ‘What about if I do a flan out of coquito and offer it only seasonal?’
“It took me two tries to actually make up the recipe, all of a sudden we were on TV twice in three weeks for our coquito flan,” she said. “We became so popular for that flavor that two years later we were in Chicago’s best.”
If you want to try and make your own coquito, and you don’t have a recipe handed down from your Abuela or your tia—do a quick YouTube search for “coquito recipe” and you’ll be all set.
Otherwise, visit one of these local establishments and try their coquito, or hit up your Facebook friends, because everybody knows somebody who knows somebody that has that hook up.
Featured photo: Erik Island