Dozens of authentic cafeteria-style Mexican restaurants litter Cermak Road on the South Side, so in order to stand out you have to be really good at what you do. La Michoacana, an 18-year-old family owned and operated carnitas house, has the method to greatness down pat. Prices are low, the menu is simple and the food is rock-solid every single time you go.
Once you seat yourself at one of the random booths scattered along tangerine colored walls, you're greeted with a basket of fried flour tortilla chips (truly the best chips in the city) and spicy green chile salsa, which, upon the first innocent bite, immediately makes the eyes gush and nose clear up. Even though the menu sounds quite standard (quesadillas, gorditas, tacos and chile rellenos), it's the quality and the standard of cooking that makes this place special. As a carnitas shop, loads of preparation goes into making the finest pork available. La Michoacana buys entire pigs and braises the whole beast in a massive vat, full of nothing but lard, for hours and hours. It may not sound appetizing, but it turns out the most intensely flavored, falling-off-the-bone meat that you can imagine. Once done, the pork is hand chopped for every order by the butcher who resides in the front window, then taken back to the kitchen to fulfill your order.
The dinners ($6.50) come with homemade refried beans (with whole beans peppered throughout) and snazzy Mexican rice, full of perky lima beans, green beans and carrots. Tacos ($1.35 each) are packed solid with meat of your choice (spicy chorizo, lean steak, tender chicken, melt-in-you-mouth pork, beef tongue) and served with piles of fresh cilantro, chopped onions and wedges of lime. Most folks order a platter of pork (or pork skins) and stacks of tortillas to make their own rollups. If you arrive early, you will be greeted with a line out the door, already clamoring to get to the legendary carnitas.
No alcohol is served, but there are huge jugs of house-made juices (mandarin, tamarind and lemon) lining the back wall ($1.50). And, in true Mexican fashion, the bathroom wash station is smack in the center of the dining room; these guys are all about good food, in a family style manner.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Misty Tosh