The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

La Diosa Chef Doesn't Let Blindness Get In The Way Of Cooking Great Food

By Melissa Wiley in Food on Jan 30, 2015 8:30PM

Photo by Melissa Wiley

All restaurant owners operate on trust to some degree. Blind since birth, Chef Laura Martinez must trust in her food’s quality even more than average for La Diosa (2308 North Clark Street) to succeed. When we ordered lunch at the new restaurant late last week, Martinez stood smiling and manning the cash register. Once pressed, each button repeats aloud its function, but she still had to assume we were giving her the amount we told her as her husband and mother ferried food to other customers. It’s a small measure of faith, granted, but most of the world doesn’t give you even that much. Suffice it to say we immediately felt more welcome inside this new restaurant as a result.

Photo by Melissa Wiley

Food at La Diosa, meaning "goddess," is Mexican with subtle French influences. We ordered the le fogadilla supreme, a vegetable quesadilla with salsa and a wheat or flour tortilla ($8.50) whose flavor was matched only by its simplicity, making anything we’d order at Chipotle for a similar price point feel heavy-handed in comparison. The menu also contains two types of quiches as well as meatloaf, baked empanadas, a le sous Martinez sandwich, tuna salad, soups and an assortment of desserts, including an “impossible cake” that layers flan and chocolate cake.

Photo by Melissa Wiley

“Our food is comfortable and contemporary. I like to be creative and play around with ingredients, so the menu will continue to evolve,” Martinez told us while anticipating the change of menu with the change of seasons.

Photo by Melissa Wiley
A student and former employee of Charlie Trotter, Martinez began researching funding for her own venture when the late chef closed his eponymous restaurant. DNAinfo reports Martinez originally sought to open La Diosa on the same opulent scale as that of her former boss. But the financial reality limited her to this 450-square-foot space, painted a warm avocado with orange ceiling beams.

Martinez has clearly mapped out all its contours in her memory. With her husband’s hand resting on her shoulder, she carried a bowl of soup to a customer sitting in the window then returned to the counter by herself with ease, averting the tables and small refrigerator storing bottles of soda and water while her arms hung loosely at her sides.

“Business is good so far,” Martinez said when she returned to the counter, “a little slow, but you have to expect that in winter.”

Martinez speaks quietly but projects self-assurance. “Awesome,” we heard her say in response to a succession of orders as a light lunch crowd filtered in. We couldn’t help but agree.