South Side Cheap Eats: Kiki D's Carnitas
By Chuck Sudo in Food on May 1, 2007 3:00PM
There's a stretch of freight train track and pothole-marked road that runs parallel to 41st Street that makes a great shortcut to the southwest side via bicycle, particularly on days where we don't want to fight the congestion of Archer Avenue. A service road at 41st and Ashland allows freight rail employees easy access to the rails. It also dumps us off at the Ashland Avenue Swap-O-Rama. If you've never been to the Swap-O-Rama, you don't know what you're missing. What we were missing was Kiki D's Carnitas, located across the street. After the meal we had this weekend, we wished we'd kept missing it. The sign that once announced its presence is long gone, but the steady foot traffic from Swap-O-Rama customers keeps Kiki D's from totally fading in the background. Service is no-nonsense: walk in, take a number, give your order, follow the line to the check-out counter and avoid the kids hopped up on Mexican soda scurrying around your feet in the process. Meats and homemade pork rinds fill display booths, whetting an appetite that doesn't know what this place has in store.
We ordered a plate of carnitas, served with rice, beans and corn tortillas ($5.99). The meal was lukewarm, at best. The tortillas had seen better moments and the pork was tougher than either leather or Run DMC. We had to order an extra bottle of orange juice to wash the meal down, and sprinkle our pork liberally with salsa and hot sauce to give it flavor. Then we made our second mistake and asked for a sample of the cabesa de chivo ($1.99 each), a deep-fried taco filled with goat's brain and salsa. We bit into the taco and had to suppress the gag reflex just as the sweet kid behind the counter asked, "What do you think? It's hot, huh?"
It wasn't, and that lack of warmth in their food - the feeling that we were eating something that's been sitting out in the open for who knows how long - was unacceptable for even the most low maintenance diner. We know that most places like this specialize in volume, but if they're going to keep their food under warming lamps, then the lights need to emit something equating warmth. Reviewing their inspection reports from last year, the city health department seemed to agree, citing Kiki D's twice for not having adequate food storage (their most recent inspection a few weeks ago found them to be in substantial compliance). This is a case of Chicagoist taking one for the team; as we're writing this on Sunday morning, we're still chewing antacid. There are better carnitas shops in the city. However, if you have a cast iron stomach, looking for something to tide you over after buying that black panther sculpture for your living room at Swap-O-Rama, or simply like to flirt with death, then head down and check out Kiki D's for yourself. Just don't say we didn't warn you.
Kiki D's Carnitas is located at 4117 S. Ashland. Their hours of operation are 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Telephone: 773-254-3526.