Best Food In Chicago

Best Food In Chicago

That’s a wide open question… are you looking for divey taquerias? High end? Specific dish or region? There is so much great Mexican in this city…

But some of the top:

  • Rubi’s – al pastor tacos at Maxwell St. Market (Sundays 7-3)
  • Mexique (higher end)
  • Frontera / Topolobampo (high end and even higher end)
  • El Gallo #3 – carne en su jogo (beef & bacon soup)
  • Tio Luis – asada tacos, wide range of affordable, traditional Mexican
  • Taqueria Moran – good tacos, wide range of affordable, traditional Mexican, best Tortilla soup in Chicago
  • Cafe Lagartia – tacos, esp. fried shrimp taco
  • La Chapparita – for tripe tacos
  • L’Patron – carne asada or tongue
  • Mario’s on west 63rd – al pastor
  • Birreria Reyes de Ocotlan – goat tacos
  • Carnitas Uruapan and Don Pedros – carnitas.
  • Islas Maria – ceviche (they have actual sit down ceviche dishes, but I prefer the stuff they serve as an appetizer which you can buy in a bulk portions, to-go. The fish is basically ground very small, and eat it with hot sauce, limes, and tostados Basically looks like this. havent found anywhere else that makes it the same: ).
  • Mixteco – more modern interpretations of classic dishes.

Topolobampo is absolutely amazing if you can swing the price. I did the 3 course option and split a desert and it was more than enough food. They change the menu reguarly so its hard to recommend a single thing, but you really cant go wrong. Will definitely change the way you think about Mexican cooking. (while Frontera is decent, its jammed with tourists and feels kitschy. I think its worth splurging for Topo and the more personalized service/higher caliber dishes).

Also try Birrieria Zaragoza – 48th & Pulaski on the South Side. They serve one thing – Birrieria (braised goat) and the best damn tortillas I’ve ever had. It’s also run by some of the nicest people I’ve ever met (family place).

Don’t let the fact that they only serve birrieria stop you, it is totally worth the trip.

But yea, this is basically tip of the iceberg. We are spoiled in this city, but you do need to go a little out of the way and do a little homework to find the good places. They are by and large not going to be on the north side (with exception of Rogers Park)

When Away Home Is Near

When Away Home Is Near

When I travel outside of the States, not to Mexico naturally but abroad to Europe or Asia, I really miss Mexican food. I’ve lived just about all of my adult life in either Chicago or Mexicali. But regardless both have amazing Mexican food to say the least. Then I started looking for alternatives when I was in Europe. Asia, well, I’m still without luck there. But I love Asian food so that is fine.

When I am away though in far off Europe these are the places I like to checkout:

  1. Candelaria in Paris
  2. Los Pilones in Amsterdam
  3. La Neta in Stockholm
  4. Maria Bonita in Berlin

Sorry the UK has some terrible Mexican food.

Our Cultural Heritage The Quinceañera

Our Cultural Heritage The Quinceañera

All across the American continent Indigenous people practice “coming of age” ceremonies.

There is a brief discussion of the quinceañera in Girlhood in America: An Encyclopedia, Volume 2 (ed. Miriam Forman-Brunell). It highlights pre-colonial roots of the ceremony and quotes Angela Erevia, who dates similar customs back to Mayan and Toltec festivities, in which both male and female fifteen-year-olds were presented to their tribal communities. According to her, this rite honored the young women’s childbearing capacity and thus marked the moment when the young women recognized her womanhood, and more generally the power to procreate. I can’t really comment on the Mayan and Toltec backgrounds, but see parallels between Aztec customs and the quinceañera as well. According to the Encyclopedia:

…the Aztec celebration of a girl’s puberty signified a social shift in her status in society. At the age of twelve or thirteen, the girl could attend two types of preparatory schools, the Calmecac or the Telpucucali. Young women who entered the Calmecac school were prepared to commit their lives primarily to religious service, whereas those attending the school of Telpucucali were primed for marriage. The selected daughters of nobles went to the Calmacac school, where they were taught by priestesses. As part of their rite of passage, the young girls participated in several nightly offerings of incense to the gods, practiced celibacy, and embroidered fine clothing. The daughters of commoners went to the less formal Telpucucali were women known as ichpochtlatoque, „mistresses of the girls“, prepared them for marriage. By fifteen the Aztec girl was ready to leave her parents and teachers and enter the life of adulthood either as a wife or priestess…

A festival honored the young women’s coming of age, and included other women of the community instructing the young adult in her responsibilities and traditions, and presenting gifts. I should add that young men also went to both of these schools, but that male students were rather educated as warriors in the Telpucucali (or Telpochcalli) and as priests/wise-men or noble leaders in the Calmecac. The education in the Calmecac was not necessarily restricted to noble children, although they were far more numerous (see León-Portilla, Aztec Thought and Culture). In contrast to this text I also read about education in these schools beginning for young (at least male) adults of 15 years, which would make sense as well seeing how the quinceañera honors the 15th birthday.

These precursors were in turn strongly influenced by European traditions to form the quinceañera, mixing indigenous with Spanish religious customs, as in art, architecture and other areas. This was connected to the more rigidly defined roles for young women in colonial society.

The quinceañera goes back to Native American traditions, but was transformed in colonial Mexico. Precursors include Mayan rites honoring both male and female powers of procreation, and the end of Aztec female education that led to marriage or priesthood. The Catholic Church in colonial Mexico allowed the quinceañera as a religious ritual, which was connected to the changing role of women in colonial society. Later modifications included a medal of the Virgin of Guadalupe, as well as the influence of French courtly ritual in independent Mexico.

Again from the Encyclopedia: “Now the native young women had a choice of dedicating their lives to the church (most likely the modest life of a nun) or to motherhood”.

The Catholic Church allowed the festivity within the church ritual of the mass itself, using the occasion for socializing the young women in proper behavior as well as preparing them for their roles in society. One religious aspect is a medal given to the young women by close relatives and depicting the Virgin de Guadalupe (according to the Encyclopedia of Latino Culture: From Calaveras to Quinceaneras, ed. by Charles M. Tatum). The Virgin of Guadalupe is a strong symbol for a hybrid Catholicism integrating native symbolism, as the sign of the virgin had according to legend appeared before an indigenous person in 1531. Later on it played an important role in Mexican creole patriotism. Looking further ahead, in the mid-19th c. French influence and the court atmosphere of the Austrian emperor and empress Maximilian I and Carlota were introduced to the quinceañera. Maximilian’s rule was short-lived, but still many of the French customs were kept and elaborated in this period, possibly in connection with the importance of French rituals and language at courts at the time.

Various regions in Mexico added their own local traditions to the festivities over time, which subsequently influenced other Latin American regions and Chicano communities.

These ceremonies are treated as “rites of passage.” For most Indigenous cultures boys and girls both participate in these ceremonies. It is supposed to represent the transition from childhood to adulthood. The girl’s ceremony is usually more elaborate, because it was easier to determine when a girl was “becoming a woman” (menses). The quinceañera can be thought of as a rite of passage for girls who are becoming women. The celebration includes a religious services, a big feast, and sponsors(madrinas/padrinos) of the event. There is a lot of preparation, more than you might expect, to make the celebration come to life.

Much of the planning that goes into the quinceañera is focused on preparing the young girl to enter womanhood, a equal amount if dedicated to the celebration’s festivities. Today a big market has spring up offering solutions for every aspect. Parent’s might feel overwhelmed when they see all of the pieces that can be included. Everything from limousine rides to custom crafted decorations. Sites like offer ways to easily create invitations featuring the honree as a movie star or celebrity on the cover of a magazine.

All of these move away from the real meaning of the quinceañera.

Where as they once had a strong cultural, personal, and religious meaning that once aligned with the ceremonies that are practiced by Indigenous people. It is unlikely that the Indigenous people of Mexico had a similar ceremony focused on consumerism. Instead these customs and values went through syncretism with the introduction of a foreign religion and resulted in the quinceañera. I’d definitely recommend the book “Empowerment of North American Indian Girls: Ritual Expressions at Puberty” by Author – Carol A. Markstrom as it gives many examples of the ceremonies that different Indigenous cultures practiced. Although this book is centered on the Apache girls’ rites, it also mentions quinceañeras. I would say that the practice of a puberty ceremony/rite of passage is a pre-colonial practice, and the quinceañera is a result post-colonial syncretism.

Somewhat less popular cincuentañera (which is a bit closer to the 20 years-rule) celebrated for someone’s 50th birthday — I’ll just add that this festivity was initiated by Chicanas as a more traditional celebration only in the 1980s and early ’90s, and followed by male cincuentañero festivals shortly afterwards. It welcomes the honoree to elder status – entering la tercera edad, the third age. Both celebrations mark a change in status and a transition into another stage of life.

Gringo x Mexican Wedding

Gringo x Mexican Wedding

There is quite a lot of different traditions pertaining to the wedding party itself. Many are common throughout Mexico, others are regional and there might be even very local traditions. Also be aware that Mexican society is quite classist, so bear in mind the idiosyncrasies of your guests.

Now to some traditions. The wedding rings. I’m sure this applies for Mexican and American weddings. The symbol of the commitment between the bride and groom. El ramo, this represents the fertility of the couple. Las arras, this are just 13 little gold coins that the groom offers to the bride as a symbol of wealth, fortune, prosperity and all that stuff. El lazo, symbolizes the union between the couple. A symbol of a lifetime bound. Arroz, prosperity and fertility. For the couple to have a beautiful family.

Also in Mexico, is very common to marry in a church (Catholic traditions practically require this). The bride wears white. And yeah, I can’t think of any others things. But you can do a research to learn more about it. Happy wedding!

Music is very important to the party’s life, talk to your fiancee about it, to her it may be something too obvious, but tell her what music is like in weddings you’re used to and ask her what she expect it to be like on the wedding. Gringo weddings have very calm music most of the party, like blues or jazz, people dancing mostly just slow dance. This doesn’t happens in mexican weddings, people will want cheerful music they can dance like cumbias.

For example: I’m a native of Mexicali and I’ve seen dances and traditions different than in my hometown. And I’ve also got family at Hidalgo; a wedding party there was substantially longer (as in: from 3 pm up to the following morning) and there were local traditions that I had never seen before (for example, the groom’s friends make the groom drink tequila from his shoe).

Your best bet here: assist to a local wedding if possible; also, consult with both your fiancée (and maybe some of your fiancée’s close friends) as to what would, or would not, be nice or even acceptable.

Just as one parting word: You want to be remembered as “el guerito guapachozo” instead of “el pinche gringo codo”.

  1. Sometimes the groom has to pay for the wedding dress and the bride’s father for the party (It depends on where she is from, you’ll have to ask your prometida or pay attention to any details concerning this issue).
  2. Also, near the end of the party the newlyweds go to each table and the attendants pin money bills on the husband’s shirt and the wife’s wedding shoes box to help them settle (again, I’ve seen this mostly in pueblo weddings).
  3. Also in pueblo weddings the newlyweds usually pick up bottles of tequila and go to each table giving tequila shots, this is quite fun actually, but if you can’t hold your liquor be careful.

As you can see there’s a lot of difference between styles, depending on the region and the people involved. You don’t want to rent a party hall and serve (pseudo)gourmet food where closing the street and offering homemade birria, cabrito, cochinita pibil or other regional dishes which might be better.

Above all, consider your guests!

Playing A Guitarron

Playing A Guitarron

Playing a guitarron is a little different than a cello, and a little more different than a guitar. So I thought it would be interesting to discus which strings are plucked to play that the desired note.

But before we do I will delve into one of the secrets of playing a guitarron.

Guitarron is done in octaves, so two strings at once.

They don’t have built in frets, but there are set positions to get the tuning right. The exact distance varies, so you’ll have to memorize where on yours the pitch sounds in tune. There are 4 “frets.” So, if you look at the fingering for C, your thumb is on the 3rd fret (mine is marked with a dot instead of a line for the first one, so that’s how I drew it) of the top A string. You pluck that string and the C string simultaneously.

For D, your middle finger is on the 2nd fret of the C string and you pluck it with the D string. It’s tuned where the top and bottom strings are octave As, so you don’t hold anything down for those.

There is a fingering for G/G#/Ab that uses 2 strings, but I don’t use it and as such don’t remember it. Since it’s directly over the sound hole, I was taught you didn’t need to double it. There are 2 fingerings for C#/Db. The one books will teach you, the proper way to do it is to have your index finger on the 1st fret of C and ring and little finger both on the 4th fret on the top A string. I can’t make that reach, so I do it the just as acceptable, but not technically correct way by just holding down the 4th fret on both A strings with my thumb and middle finger. Either way is good, it’s just whatever you’re more comfortable with.

As far as plucking the strings goes, the top 3, A, D, and G, will always be plucked with your thumb. C and E will use your index finger. The bottom A will use your middle and ring finger together. So if you’re playing a C, you’ll pluck with your thumb on the top A and index finger on the C.

I had never played a string instrument before learning guitarron, so I’m glad I had a good teacher to help me. I just wish I still had the materials he gave me as they may be more useful. It’s pretty easy to get the hang of, though

It’s not my primary instrument, but I’m happy to help as much as I can.

Let me know if you have any questions. And if you want to learn more Jeff Nevin’s Mariachi Mastery is a good start.

Mariachi Without An Acoustic Base

Mariachi Without An Acoustic Base

Some people think that you can play mariachi with an acoustic base. So can you?

In truth the answer is no.

Without the guitarron, the ensemble loses that punch and lacks the characteristic mariachi fat low-mids. I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten to play or mess with a guitarron, but their entire design is based on sound projection. Unlike a well constructed double bass that will last decades and even hundreds of years, the tension on the guitarron is usually so high that even the highest-end, well-maintained instruments will begin to warp after a decade or 2. Also, the tuning is designed to be played in octaves unlike the double bass. I will say though: they are so much fun to play! That is, after you get over the blisters you will immediately get…

Now, you CAN play double bass with a mariachi ensemble – in the same sense that you can play electric bass in a dixieland ensemble or tuba in a rock band or big band. It’s possible but it’s not going to sound right, whatever that may mean. In all honesty, the general population will probably not even notice, especially if your main audience is non-hispanics.

Btw, there are plenty of Mexican genres that utilize the double bass (more specifically, the rustic cousin called the tololoche) mostly from the Northern parts of Mexico.

And to answer your last question, nope. No self respecting professional group would do that.

Either way, I’ve rambled on way too much. Hope this helps and feel free to PM me if you have any questions regarding this stuff. I do this for a living and I love to educate people who are willing to learn about my beautiful culture!

Looking For Exciting Mariachi?

Looking For Exciting Mariachi?

Are you looking for some exciting mariachi to see if the genre is for you? Then here’s some you might like.

  1. Cancion del Mariachi – This one’s pretty upbeat.
  2. Cielo Rojo – This one’s more serious but still very pretty and more lighthearted at times.
  3. Juan Gabriel Popurri – This isn’t one particular song, but many songs by the same artist played in succession.

Let me know what you think. As a side note you can also try banda which is more common today than mariachi, at least what is being played on the radio anyways.

Some Good Mexican Music

Some Good Mexican Music

Here are some good examples of Mexican music, not necessarily mariachi.

While Mariachi El Bronx and Los Lobos might be considered Mexican music, they are not “mariachi” music per say. In a nutshell it works like this: there are artists that are accompanied by mariachis and generally have large fan bases, and then there are mariachi ensembles with no real front man but are not as popular in the greater scope of things. A mariachi musician like myself is expected to know and perform almost any song from either a soloist or a mariachi ensemble. Here are some of the more famous names to get you started:


  • Vicente Fernandez
  • Alejandro Fernandez
  • Pepe Aguliar
  • Pedro Infante
  • Jorge Negrete
  • Javier Solis

Mariachi Ensembles:

  • Mariachi Vargas De Tecalitlan
  • Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano
  • Mariachi Sol De Mexico
  • Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan

Famous Pieces

  • La Bamba
  • El Rey
  • Mariachi Loco
  • La Malaguena
  • La Charreada
  • Cielito lindo
My Thoughts On Mariachi Music

My Thoughts On Mariachi Music

Or music theory, mariachi music theory.

I’ll give you some food for thought in the meantime.

From what I gather (and may be subject to debate), the mariachi group has seen three stages of evolution since the French wanted to know the ensemble’s name in the 1800s.

The first stage is Folkloric, usually small groups of string-based players with violins, an harp and various guitars types, with their origins in Michoacan. The skill ceiling is mostly 1 or 2 part singing, fiddler-level violin play, guitar chords and the odd harp solo here and there. Keep in mind that the trumpet use here is anachronistic, since the trumpet was added later on. As example is the old interpretation of El Son de la Negra.

The next stage is Traditional, mostly initiated in Jalisco.

It came with a standardization of uniforms and group elements, instrument experimentation with the addition of trumpets and the integration of classical music theory. That came to be with the involvement of Mariachi music within the golden age of cinema in Mexico in the 40s/50s and preceded with the advent of radio. This is the style that most people remember in general and a backbone to any mariachi’s repertoire, with legendary people which have yet to be replaced, such as Pedro Infante for singers or Miguel Martinez “el Trompas” for the trumpet. As an example of this is an excerpt from the movie Escuela de Vagabundos.

The latest stage is Modern.

As mariachi started to fall in the cultural foreground of Mexico, the musicians started travelling outside of Mexico more often and established themselves further out in America, Europe and Asia. In addition of this expansion, their musical flexibility and the balance within the core elements permits them to be easily inserted into many projects, which often brings them to work with different music genres and even orchestras. As for musicians in this era, we got Vicente Fernandez with a well-aged and very conservative style, Mariachi El Bronx as one of the most progressive approaches and Luis Miguel that uses Pop culture as a middle ground.

Also in regards to progressive Mariachi sound, Mariachi Vargas Introduced songs back in the early 60’s like La Bikina, La Gruta and more Instrumentalized/Personalized songs to give Mariachi a prestigious outlook instead of the negative stereotypes associated with Mariachi. Take in mind this was back in the 60’s and ever since then there was pride that Mariachi could be a Musical style worth musical merit.