Whether or not we choose to see it, food is a powerful medium in which we share culture, politics, class and tradition. And the story behind Lolitas Delicious (2937 W. Armitage Ave.), the new, family-owned restaurant on the corner of Armitage Avenue, is no different.
Upon walking into the quietly cozy interior of Lolitas, you’ll likely be greeted by Antonio, 17, or Isabella, 22, son and daughter of Lolimar Gutierrez. Nicknamed Lolita, Lolimar stations herself in the kitchen. She has crafted the entire menu at Lolitas, cooking mostly from scratch. So upon ordering, you can expect results of the inexplicably comforting, home-cooked variety.
From Venezuelan Politics To Food In Logan Square
Lolimar does not speak English, so her story was conveyed through her son, who is fluent, as well as through a series of emails translated via Google Translate. This family of three sought political asylum in the United States in 2018, making their way to Chicago through the help of a Chicago-based family friend. The city of Chicago stands in sharp contrast to their home of Coro in Falcón state, a small, colorful desert town in Venezuela.
Back home, Lolimar was a lawyer. Fueled by the deteriorating state of the country she loved so much, Lolimar served as the coordinator of planning and finances of Vente Venezuela, a prominent liberal party that has challenged the government since the reign of Hugo Chávez. Because of her involvement, Lolimar received threats from the government-controlled police force. When her children became the target of threats, Lolimar said, she had no choice but to flee the country with them – leaving behind her parents and close friends.
For Lolimar, cooking runs in the family. She began at 18 years old. “My mother is a fantastic professional cook. She has taught me almost everything,” Lolimar said. “My grandmother was the main hallaca maker in the city where we lived, and my mother and uncle owned a nationally renowned restaurant in our city.” (The hallaca is a traditional Venezuelan dish similar to the tamale.)
With Lolimar’s deep-rooted affinity for cooking, it made sense that she turn that passion into a career here in Chicago. It gives her the freedom to express her creativity, as well as a means to share her story and that of her country.
Traditional And Fusion Dishes
Lolitas serves traditional Venezuelan food, as well as a host of other options. You can find a fusion of Italian, Spanish and Peruvian food on the menu. “For us Venezuelans, the Spanish, Italian and Portuguese gastronomy is very influential because these colonies are immense in Venezuela,” Lolimar said. “So we assume things from them like they are our own.”
The roasted pear salad, a decadent, creamy affair balanced by the crisp, smoky edge of grilled fruit, is an especially popular menu item. Lolimar created the recipe herself. “If you don’t like it, you don’t pay for it,” she insisted.
It’s very difficult for Lolimar to speak of Venezuela. Her parents are still there, and she worries about the lack of medicine available to them. “Venezuelan people all carry a deep wound in our hearts. There is great pain in leaving our homeland,” she said. She lamented that her children never had the opportunity to experience the Venezuela she knew, as her version of Venezuela disappeared when Chávez assumed power.
Lolimar said she hopes to return to Venezuela someday, but she and her family feel uplifted and embraced by the Logan Square and greater Chicago community. “Logan Square has been good and generous,” Lolimar said, “full of the magic of North American culture. We’re very happy in this community.”
Lolitas is open from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m.Tuesday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday and is closed on Monday. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a BYOB option available.
Featured photo: From left to right: Isabella, 22, Lolimar, and Antonio, 17. Photo: Bella Foote