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A Beginner's Guide To South Kedzie

By Chuck Sudo on Aug 8, 2005 5:45PM

2005_08_Teds1.jpgThe Orange Line is quite possibly our favorite train line in the “L” system. Towering high above the southwest side it cuts a swath across several working-class neighborhoods before reaching its final destination at Midway Airport. Furthermore, with the right conductor you can get from downtown to Midway in twenty minutes- sometimes a ride on the Orange Line is more thrilling than a roller coaster at Great America.

With dining and nightlife so focused on the north side and downtown it’s easy to overlook the fact that the south side actually makes up the majority of the city size and population. In our years of living down here we’ve found that south side neighborhoods have a more practical approach to food and nightlife. The Orange Line is a cheap way to visit some of these neighborhoods that are unfamiliar to north side residents. A couple weeks back Chicagoist rode the Orange Line to South Kedzie for just such an excursion.

South Kedzie Avenue acts as a connector street for many neighborhoods. It intersects Little Village, Brighton Park, Archer Heights, and Chicago Lawn before plunging into Marquette Park at 67th Street. The residential make-up is predominantly Latin American. You’ll also find substantial numbers of African and Asian Americans, Polish and Lithuanian immigrants, Arab Americans and Arab immigrants also planting roots and investing in their respective neighborhoods. Not surprisingly South Kedzie’s dining and nightlife options reflect the make-up of the neighborhoods. It reminds Chicagoist in some ways of Lawrence Avenue between Western and Pulaski.

After the jump are some recommendations for good food and drink along South Kedzie Avenue. Remember, for the cost of a train ride you too can get better acquainted with the city.

2005_08_lasbrisas.jpgTwo blocks south of the Orange Line is Las Brisas Restaurant (3207 W. 51st Street, 773- 434-5040). The restaurant is spacious, with an adjoining banquet hall for private parties and weddings, and inexpensive dinners. The most expensive item on their menu is a seafood combo for two at forty dollars. When we entered to order a horchata a mariachi guitarist was serenading diners with a rendition of “Una Paluma Blanca” sung so off key it wouldn’t make us forget Slim Whitman anytime soon. But the horchata made up for it, with a sweet rice flavor that put some pep in our step and slaked our thirst immediately.

Two blocks south we found Elias Tacos (5249 S. Kedzie, 773-476-3173), which is not for the vegetarians among us. Elias also has a private room for banquets and weddings and ample parking in its private lot across the street. Elias’ house special is sirloin topped with flaming cheese, onions, and poblano peppers. Their freshwater fish dinners (tilapia, catfish) are served with the heads attached and are bursting with flavor. Wash all that artery clogging goodness down with a $3.75 margarita or domestic bottled beer at $2.45.

2005_08_lafrance.jpgA pleasant surprise was La France Bakery (5405 S. Kedzie, 773-737-2113). This warmly decorated bakery and confectioner serves up some of the best mocha cakes and chocolate covered strawberries Chicagoist has ever tasted. We also bought a mini-chocolate cake served with dark chocolate squares in a chocolate saucer. Just down the street fro La France is Taqueria Atotonilco (5656 S. Kedzie, 773-436-4890/91), which makes nothing but tacos and tortas. The barabcoa tacos we ordered were served with a generous helping of cilantro with key limes for added flavor.

After all that eating we needed to balance it out with some beer. Thank God we found Ted’s Firewater Saloon (5834 S. Kedzie, 773-436-8444). Should you visit Ted’s don’t be frightened by the sticker on the front door that reads, “protected by loaded guns.” It’s merely for show… we think. Anyway, inside the bar is decorated in a motif that is a cross between an Old West general store and a Wisconsin hunting lodge- think Hogs ‘n’ Honeys without the irony. The beer selection is fairly pedestrian, but then the name of the bar is Ted’s Firewater Saloon. The truth is indeed in the advertising.

2005_08_teds2.jpgWe enjoyed $2.50 shots of Old Crow, which the bartender noted was the first time she remembered serving. Shots don’t go above four bucks here. In fact the true special that day appeared to be the bartender, who projected a confident-but-urgent sex appeal. It was the kind of sex appeal where she knew her best windows of opportunity lasted only as long as she was at work and her sister was able to keep the kids occupied at Kiddieland, and if she found the right guy she’d be locking the door for a half-hour. Chicagoist could have been that right guy, but with two bikers in the bar we didn't stand a chance even before we broke out the camera to take pictures.

Approaching 63rd Street we headed west for a block and came across the Nile Restaurant (3259 W. 63rd, 773-434-7218). The sweet scent of broiled lamb perfumed the all the air in a thirty foot radius. We sampled a shawarma sandwich and sipped a perfect cup of Arabian coffee. The Nile anchors a half-block stretch of Arab-American business that included a grocery store, an Arab American owned hardware store and a community meeting hall that- in the bogeyman age of the Patriot Act- looks as though its more productive days are behind it.

We decided to end our trip with a visit to a familiar watering hole. In its old incarnation as the 6511 Pub, Chicagoist and our then-roommate enjoyed cheap Guinness and were offered absinthe by the bartender. And not some sanitized version like Absente or Pernod. This was the wormwood-laced “green fairy” herself. Remembering the loss of motor skills we experienced when we first sampled it in Prague, Chicagoist declined on the grounds that we were the designated driver. But we digress.

The since-rechristened Los Chorillos Bar (6511 S. Kedzie) had been scrubbed, painted, and bleached, but still retained the filthy pirate hooker atmosphere of its previous existence. Single serving cans of tomato juice and clamato lined one end of the bar, tequila the other. We ordered a Herradura resposado (five dollars) and earned some respectful stares when we shot it back without salt or lime. We left a decent tip and headed back north to the Orange Line, about forty dollars lighter in the wallet and six pounds heavier around the belly.