La Cocina de Frida (CLOSED)

Restaurants, Mexican Andersonville
La Cocina de Frida (CLOSED)

Depending on which server you have at La Cocina de Frida—and depending on how good your Spanish is—there’s a chance you may run into a language barrier. This is a good thing: A surefire omen that a Mexican restaurant is in trouble is when there aren’t any Mexicans working there. But since it may make ordering a little difficult, practice saying these dishes: poblano tamale, pollo en mole negro, “bomba Frida,”arroz con leche. They’re the ones you’ll want to order.

This won’t guarantee that the poblano tamale will be good, mind you; on one visit it was boring and dry. But on another visit the moist interior had such a hearty corn flavor, one that was heightened by traces of heat from the poblano pepper, that ordering it is worth the risk. The rest of those items are sure things: The tender chicken in a nuanced mole negro boasts layered, complex flavors, the result of an old recipe that takes forever to prepare. (One of the two sisters who own the place explained that they start the mole, the recipe for which comes from their grandmother, at 9pm and finish it at 2am.) The “bomba Frida,” an amalgam of cubed pork, melted cheese and pineapple, was not as complex as the mole—in fact, the description of the dish reads like something a 12-year-old would make in a microwave—but because both the meatiness of the pork and richness of the cheese is offset by sweet pineapple, it makes for a tasty taco.

And the rest of the menu? Well, there’s not much left—the restaurant, only serves about a dozen items. The guacamole is fine, and so is the ceviche (though the measly ratio of shrimp to tomato makes it more like a salsa). But other dishes feel slapped together. On a busy Thursday night the tilapia tasted like a speedy afterthought, an underseasoned filet doused in a one-note red sauce and flanked by scoops of refried beans and rice. And the mole manchamantales that topped a tender (but not quite flavorful) pork chop was not half as delicious as the mole negro, making for a disappointing dish.

But mistakes like this are hard to hold against the restaurant. It is, at its core, a family operation, and the warmth with which the owners treat their customers speaks to the familial way they run it. Like any home-cooked meal, some dishes are better than others, and inconsistencies are easy to forgive as long as there’s a payoff. Here that payoff is the arroz con leche, a lush rice pudding with a heady cinnamon aroma that is so special it can’t be replicated anywhere else. “It’s my grandmother’s recipe,” one sister proudly remarked as she put it in front of us. If you ask, she’ll tell you how to make it; there’s a neat trick to it, but it won’t do you a lot of good—as with most home cooking, the recipes aren’t as nearly important as the people making them.

By: David Tamarkin


Venue name: La Cocina de Frida (CLOSED)
Address: 5403 N Clark St

Cross street: at Balmoral Ave
Opening hours: Lunch (Fri–Sun), dinner
Transport: EL stop: Red to Berwyn. Bus: 22, 92.
Price: Average main course: $11
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