Gentrification has drastically transformed Logan Square in the last few years from a primarily Latino neighborhood to hipster paradise with both positive and negative results. For all the cool bookstores like Uncharted and great restaurants like Lula Caf and Longman & Eagle, there have been longtime businesses that have closed and residents forced out.
However, during all of this neighborhood change, Esam Hani and his One of a Kind Group has thrived. Hani originally opened breakfast and lunch spot Caf Con Leche in 2001 and introduced the dinner concept DeNoche in 2009 at the same location. One of a Kind has also opened the nearby craft beer-heavy Harding Tavern (their burger is highly recommended), the Red Star liquor store, and currently planning a new food concept in the space across the street formerly occupied by Mr. G’s.
Partnering with Chef Antonio Del Real (Chicago Cut Steakhouse, Sixteen, Morton’s Steakhouse, Smith & Wollensky), DeNoche has updated their menu, changed their name to De Noche Mexicana, added new paintings from local artist ROME, and we were invited to sample the new menu.
Caf Con Leche by Day
When my girlfriend first moved to the city, in Logan Square, after college and I was still in the suburbs, I’d commute to the city to spend the weekend with her. Nearly every Sunday, we’d head to Caf Con Leche for Sunday brunch, just a couple blocks from her apartment. The great experiences there each weekend with our handsome, silver-haired waiter were largely what encouraged me to first move to Logan Square when I came to the city.
Though the focus here is on De Noche, Caf Con Leche occupies the Milwaukee Avenue location during the day with a full breakfast and lunch menu. For breakfast, the chorizo breakfast torta and chorizo and avocado omelet can’t be beat in the neighborhood. Pair those with a cup of hot caf con leche, which is like drinking a cloud of happiness, a fruit licuado (smoothie), or a Bloody Mary, and you’re going to be happy the rest of the day. If you’re in more of a lunch mood, they offer a great selection of Latin sandwiches including tortas and their well-known jibarito – a ribe eye-steak sandwich in the middle of two slices of flattened plantains.
And De Noche Mexicana at Night
Caf Con Leche is a loud, fun, festive place to be, but at night the lights are turned down, the space becomes more romantic, and the food becomes fancier. With the help of its sleek interior design and trendy artwork, it’s very much a romantic date night spot in the neighborhood.
I sat down at De Noche Mexicana to a classic lime margarita with an excellent balance of sweet and sour, as I picked a three course meal with drink pairings. Here’s what I tried:
Enfrijoladas & Pepino’s Revenge
Enfrijoladas are similar to enchiladas, except they’re covered in a black bean sauce. Inside the soft, rolled tortillas were cochinit pibil slightly spicy, tender slow-roasted pork). On top of the smooth, mild black bean sauce was a drizzle of lime sour cream to add an extra little bit of flavor. Enchiladas are generally one of my go-to Mexican restaurant picks, and these similar enfrijoladas did not disappoint.
Paired with the entre was Pepino’s Revenge, a complex tequila-based drink that was slightly fruity with strong cucumber and jalapeno flavors (there’s only a little bit of a spicy kick). If you’re looking for a drink that’s very different and gives the palette a workout, give this one at try. As a bonus, I was also brought a 5 Rabbit, a golden ale brewed by Chicago’s very own 5 Rabbit Cerveceria. It’s a refreshing beer that gives you more flavor than a Bud Light, but is still light enough to have with dinner.
Pollo Relleno & Mezcal Mule
For my main course, I sampled De Noche’s chicken breast stuffed with spinach and goat cheese on top of a pipian verde sauce and rice and onion on the side. It’s a lighter, healthier entre, but still with a mix of interesting flavors. Stuffed meats are always difficult to pull off, and I was impressed with the tenderness of the chicken.
Though my pollo was supposed to come paired with a wine, I substituted for a crisp Mezcal mule and did not regret the change whatsoever. Compared to a traditional Moscow Mule made with vodka, it’s smoother with less of an alcohol taste, but still very potent.
Tomatillo Crisp & Old Fashion
Finishing off the evening with dessert, the tomatillo crisp was quite a different experience from a typical American dessert. It starts off at the top very traditional with a rich, wonderful dark chocolate ice cream. Under that is a spicy cinnamon streusel that provides a needed solid crunch to the dish, but will also make your mouth tingle. The third layer at the bottom is the warm, sugary tomatillo. It’s like a sweet jelly with only a little bit of a tomato taste; the spicy streusel and chocolate ice cream are definitely the stronger flavors.
To finish off the drinking for the evening was their Old Fashioned with a Twist, that twist being tequila. The De Noche old fashioned is on the darker side and heavy on the cherry bitters, so it may be a bit more intense than what you’re accustomed from the classic cocktail.
De Noche Mexicana Bottom Line
De Noche Mexicana has successfully managed to retain the Latino heritage of Logan Square while adapting to its current modern state. It’s a restaurant that’s sleek and cool with high-end Mexican cuisine and complex cocktails that The Chicago Traveler highly recommends. And don’t forget to visit Caf Con Leche for breakfast and lunch!
De Noche Mexicana
2710 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
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