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Pinot and Pollo

It's true. Rique's Regional Mexican Food is a top-notch BYOB.
Tuesday Apr 11, 2006.     By Zinny Fandel
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

The delish <I>tinga</I> at Rique's, served with tortillas.
photo: Zinny Fandel
Steamer is in Key West this week, which I find incredibly unfair. So I figured I'd have a mini-holiday of my own by trying a BYOB that's long been on our list (after several glowing recommendations): Rique's Regional Mexican Food, 5004 N. Sheridan Rd. My friend Merle agreed to play the role of diner-in-crime, and we made plans to meet at the Argyle L.

The area seems more tired than I remembered it being, with plenty of chipped paint and aimlessly wanderlust people. As we rounded the corner onto Sheridan, I felt a quick moment of ego-related panic. Rique's storefront wasn't the bubbling Mexican fašade I was hoping for: What if Merle wasn't down with a divey dinner?

But, as I learn time and time again but never seem to retain, my worrying was for naught. The brightly decorated interior was awash in blues and yellows, and an eclectic collection of art overlooked the handful of tables.

I ponied up my bottle, a Kris Pinot Gris that I had bought from the oh-so-helpful Kafka Wine Co. I literally walked into the wine shop and said "Cold. White. Mexican food." The clerk recommended something sweet, and after overdosing on Riesling last summer, I opted for the tamer Pinot Grigio.

The onset of the warm weather means its time to start building up the chilled white reserves. Most wine stores only refrigerate a few bottles, and as Kafka is unable to chill on the spot, the Kris was pretty much a $13.99 done deal, but a tasty one at that.

The bottle was quickly opened by our sweet waitress, who offered us stemless glasses (my fav). Merle and I then started our trek through the menu, which was a stark departure from the rote taqueria offerings I'm used to. A glossary on the backside defined delicious things like piloncillo, unrefined dark brown sugar cane with cinnamon.

The cuisine hails from various points in Mexico (a nod to chef/owner Enrique Cortes' travels as a youth), and we decided to sample a sweep of it: with pico de gallo, a chicken tamale, tinga and lomo de res con cebollas caramelizadas. And oh, was it good.

The pico de gallo had nary a tomato in it, but contained long, refreshing slices of cucumber, jicama and mango in lime and lemon juice and chili powder. The tamales was soft and smoky, a sort of chicken cloud in the mouth, and I could have eaten five more, if not for the entrees.

My tinga, shredded chicken slow-cooked with oregano and onions in a chili chipotle tomato sauce, was the perfect portion, and I eagerly spooned it into warm corn tortillas while slyly eyeing Merle's dish. Luckily, like Steamer, he's all for sharing, so I dove into his perfectly cooked zucchini and, better still, his grilled beef tenderloin with caramelized onions, cooked in that delish piloncillo sauce.

The wine was a great complement: sweet enough to let the savory spice stand out, but mellow enough that it just melded into the woodwork of the meal. But what stood out just as strongly (or more) as the food and the service and the relaxed pace of it all was the bill, a knock-my-socks off $30.75. Now that's my idea of a restaurant.

Zinny Fandel's tales of living the (mostly) BYOB life are intended to be attempted at home and in the community, preferably at BYOB restaurants.


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