Places We Like: La Mexicana Taqueria

Where:

La Mexicana Taqueria
815 W 35th St Chicago IL, 60609
(773) 890-1090
Website

My number one complaint when I moved to the Midwest was that there wasn’t enough good Mexican food. Seriously. There are generally two options: overpriced and decent or cheap and terrible. I don’t understand what makes it terrible, but people in Evanston just couldn’t figure out how to do a good salsa or, really, any Mexican sauce. So when Andrew and I moved to an area close to the Mexican neighborhoods of Chicago, I was so excited. I could actually order good Mexican food and not have to make it myself? Really? I felt like life in Chicago was finally becoming the best it could be.

We ordered online from La Mexicana Taqueria before and really enjoyed the steak and chicken tacos. But, there’s such a difference between food that’s been sitting for 15-30 minutes while on its way to you and food straight out of the oven, so we decided to actually visit this place a week or two ago.

SERVICE

The workers were incredibly nice and did a nice job of hitting the right balance between giving good service and checking in too much. They made sure we were taken care of, but also left us to enjoy our dinners.

DRINKS

IMG_20160311_185053

I got a pina colada, because there was a $5 special for them, and Andrew got a margarita, because he loves his margaritas. It came in such a cute glass! The pina colada was a little too sweet for me, and I made a note not to order just based on specials next time, because I probably would have been happier with a margarita.

Andrew: The margarita was good, but nothing super special. I will say that the amount of alcohol in it was substantial.

DINNER

IMG_20160311_191054 (1)

I ordered a steak burrito suizo — with rice and beans, of course, because it’s my favorite part of Mexican food. I know that’s silly, since they aren’t very complicated, but they’re delicious. The dinner was so good — really, everything I look for in a Mexican meal. The burrito had really nice cilantro and onion flavors cooked into the steak. Delicious. Of course, along with the rice and beans, it was way too much food for me to finish, so I had to save half of it. Luckily, when heated up in an oven for a bit, it holds up great as leftovers. As someone who frequently gets overexcited about food and has a small stomach that can’t fit a lot of food in it, the quality of how it holds up for the next day is incredibly important to me.

Also, the price was incredibly reasonable. $9.95 for my dinner. Not too bad.

IMG_20160311_191208

Andrew ordered the carne asada — his favorite Mexican dish. It came cooked medium rare and he thought it was delicious. I swear, we hardly talked during dinner, because both of us were shoveling food into our mouths and thoroughly enjoying the experience. Andrew didn’t take his eyes off that carne asada until it was finished. I took a piece and also thought it was yummy.

His dinner was a bit more expensive, and I can’t remember exactly how much it was, but I think it was around $15 or so. For what is basically a steak dinner, incredibly well-priced.

In short, I believe this is very much going to be our favorite local Mexican place. The food is delicious, reasonably priced, and the people were really nice to us when we went there. They also have good rotating specials, which makes trying new things exciting, since we can eventually branch out to something we don’t usually eat and not have to spend a lot to do so. Guess we’ll have to go back often so we can try everything. 🙂

Book Review: Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

grave sight by charlaine harrisTitle: Grave Sight
Author: Charlaine Harris
Series: Harper Connelly, Book 1
Publisher: Berkeley
Paperback: 293 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Harper Connelly has what you might call a strange job: she finds dead people. She can sense the final location of a person who’s passed, and share their very last moment. The way Harper sees it, she’s providing a service to the dead while bringing some closure to the living – but she’s used to most people treating her like a blood-sucking leech. Traveling with her step-brother Tolliver as manager and sometime-bodyguard, she’s become an expert at getting in, getting paid, and getting out fast. Because for the living it’s always urgent – even if the dead can wait forever.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

This is so different from the Sookie series — I love it! I’m hoping that future books keep the tone and don’t turn into straight-up romance novels like the Sookie series kind of did. A sex scene or two is fine, but I don’t want to feel dirty reading what I thought would be a nice thriller/mystery story. Anyway, back to the topic.

It’s refreshing to have a female character as complex as Harper — she has cool powers, a pretty twisted background, can take care of herself, and is yet still fragile and quite dependent. She’s not one of those kick-ass female characters who’s constantly beating people up — she actually has some fragility and problems with insecurities, and it’s beautiful. I really like her relationship with her brother, but I wish that his characterization were a bit more developed; I hope to see that in future books.

In terms of story, this one is quite good. Investigating crimes in small towns is an inherently creepy concept, considering that there are only a few suspects and how knows who could be in on the crime. This is no different, especially since the crime was left to be unsolved for such a long time before they called Harper in. This was a fairly fast read — nothing felt too dragged out, and I mostly enjoyed myself the whole time.

There is a sort of weird teenage-crush thing that goes on in this book where a teen falls in love with Harper’s brother. Nothing inappropriate happens, but it felt like a contrived way to get Harper and her brother to be involved in this character’s life, and I think it could have been done in a way that was far less creepy. It took me out of the story and just made me feel gross and uncomfortable whenever she came up.

Aside from that, this is an entertaining story with interesting characters and Charlaine Harris isn’t a best-selling author for nothing — the woman can write! If you like mysteries, definitely check this one out.

Alton Brown Adventures: Mayonnaise

Andrew and I both hate the mayonnaise you can buy in a grocery store. It seems way too goopy to be good for you and, on top of that, it doesn’t even taste good. It has to be one or the other, right? Jarred mayonnaise just doesn’t cut it.

Sadly, a lot of yummy things require mayonnaise, like tuna salad, or deviled eggs, or really well-made sandwiches. It’s not fair! I’ve tried substitutes like a mix of mustard with just a dollop of mayonnaise, but it really isn’t the same. So, when Andrew said that he’d never had tuna melts before (I mean, seriously. What?), and we had some nice sourdough bread for them, we decided to go one step further and try our hand at making our own mayonnaise. Worst case scenario: we confirm that we don’t like any form of mayonnaise.

However, that didn’t happen, because, as it turns out, homemade mayonnaise (Alton Brown’s version, at the very least) is delicious. Andrew was a little wary of it, because the recipe does call for a raw egg — seriously, what is that jarred stuff actually made out of, because it certainly isn’t a raw egg — we also didn’t have a neutral-flavored oil, but we were making it specifically for some tuna salad, so we thought that using olive oil would be perfectly acceptable.

Lesson learned: get a low speed hand mixer, or at least a full-sized whisk. Have we mentioned that we’re living our first year together? Yeah. We have a whisk attachment to an immersion blender. That’s what we have for a whisk. (We can’t wait to upgrade our kitchen supplies, seriously.) Needless to say, whisking it took some effort. Andrew is a hero.

IMG_1148
We tried it — and it was delicious.

When we first saw how much we made, were both on the same page: it’s good for a one-time try, if we don’t like it, dump it out. But that absolutely did not happen. It was so good, we ended up using all of it even though it’s only good for a week. So, what I’m trying to say is that we lived off tuna salad (made with homemade mayonnaise!) for a week. And it was amazing.

IMG_1149
Andrew’s first tuna melt — he was not disappointed.

Want the recipe? Find it here!

C2E2 2016

C2E2 is the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, and it is slowly becoming a yearly ritual for us; Andrew’s first time going was in 2014, when he heard about the event through one of the podcasts he listens to, and we both went in 2015, the day after we got engaged. We have two friends whom we go with, and this year was no different.

20160319_121029

20160319_121031
View of the floor from above

 

ART

We’re just starting out in our lives together, and Andrew and I have very little to decorate the walls of our apartment. In 2014, Andrew bought a Deadpool print designed by Skottie Young, and last year we bought a few prints from Chris Uminga, so we’re now making it a tradition to stop by a new artist every year and pick up a favorite print or two so that we can continue to decorate our apartment with beautiful, nerdy art. This year was Zac Atkinson’s turn.

20160322_215656-1
Inside Out + Batman? Yes, please!
20160322_215642-1
This one is so cool, and it’s actually part of a “Burton” series. We might end up becoming collectors, honestly.

 

Sidenote: Like Zac’s Facebook Page, or follow him on Twitter!

FAVORITES

20160319_152709

The Mountain Dew truck continues to be a regular stop for us; when you go up, you choose whichever flavor you want (you can pick more than one!) and get a bit of a sugar rush. It’s a nice way to break up the day, and it was fun daring Andrew to drink the terrible Kickstarter drinks, which we all agreed were not at all enjoyable. Andrew and I go for the Volt Mountain Dew, because you really can’t find that very much anymore.

Andrew: This isn’t really a thing. It’s on the edge of the convention floor and every year, I bully my friends into visiting it. It fits into my overall attitude towards the convention: I’m simultaneously really excited and really sarcastic about everything going on around me.

IMG_1158

There was a transformer dude on the level above us kind of messing around as we waited for the Battlestar Galactica panel. It was at once very cool and a little terrifying.

PANEL

Last year, we all went to a Geek quiz show type of thing where four authors competed for the title of “Best Geek,” or something like that. It was a lot of fun, and we were all sad to see that there wasn’t anything like that this year on Saturday, except for a Geektastic Cage Match that started way too late for us. This year, however, there was a Battlestar Galactica panel with Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell. (AH!)

Battlestar Galactica was the first show we watched together as a couple, and it holds a special place in our hearts, besides being an amazing show (except for the ending). The panel was lovely. Ed and Mary had so much energy and were absolutely hilarious throughout. We had so much fun at this panel, and felt that it really made the money we spent on C2E2 tickets worthwhile.

Andrew: Last year, I also went to the Orphan Black panel with one of the friends we go with. Ed and Mary chose not to have a moderator, which was a really cool choice. Whereas the Orphan Black panel was very focused, the format of just letting fans ask questions generally worked. I wish there were more follow up for some questions, but it was nice to see them interact as friends and hear how thoughtful each of them was about not just the show but life in general.

IMG_1164
Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell

 

SUMMARY

At the end of the day, we don’t go to a ton of panels or spend a ton of money at C2E2. We love just walking around, talking to vendors, seeing people cosplay, or being really opinionated about nerdy stuff (House Martell, Best House!). It’s also nice to go with the same people every year and revisit inside jokes made from previous years. The best part is having the the nerd/geek community band together to hang out for a couple of days and celebrate the nerdy things we love.

Book Review: Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

night circusTitle: Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Doubleday
Hardcover: 387 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

Within these nocturnal black-and-white striped tents awaits an utterly unique, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stare in wonderment as the tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and become deliciously tipsy from the scents of caramel and cinnamon that waft through the air.

Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves.

Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is under way–a contest between two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in a “game” to which they have been irrevocably bound by their mercurial masters. Unbeknownst to the players, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I’ve been hearing about Night Circus for a while now, but there always seemed to be something else to read before I could read this (the dilemma when you have a long “to read” list). Also, whenever something becomes as popular as Night Circus, I’m more reluctant to read it, because I don’t want to be disappointed. (I’ve been burned before with Divergent, Twilight, etc., so popular books nearly always scare me when I first set out to read them.) However, this finally became available through OverDrive and I’d run out of excuses not to read it, so it was just time to get down to it. Luckily, there was no reason to worry.

The story itself is absolutely lovely and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of reading it. It was one of those books where I couldn’t put it down, but I wanted to stretch out the experience so I could spend more time enjoying it — quite the dilemma when I’m reading a good book. It has a nice mix of realism along with fantasy, to the point where I could see it *almost* being reminiscent of magical realism, but it doesn’t quite hit that point. I think the way Morgenstern portrays the darker side of magic and the game/war between the two older magicians touches on a lot of deeply gruesome notes, and it kind of reminded me of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in regards to the dreaminess and darkness of the story itself. (But don’t worry! This novel isn’t nearly as long or as complicated. It’s much more to-the-point.)

I was worried when a romance started blooming in the book, but I think it was handled well. It was just whimsical enough to be believable, but not so overly dramatic that it annoyed me. The characters weren’t going crazy for each other and abandoning everything so that they could be together, which I really appreciated. This is the type of romance I want in young adult books. So, well done on Morgenstern for that.

The only thing that pulled me out of it is that I wasn’t quite sold on how the story is told. There were some chapters written in second person that I didn’t feel were relevant, and I’m not sure that the story was at all enhanced by the past-future switch that occasionally happens. Without those things niggling at me, this book would have been 5 stars for sure. Highly recommend. I’m trying to convince Andrew to listen to the audiobook version of this since it’s narrated by Jim Dale. Hopefully we can get a copy of that so he can listen to it soon, and then he can share his thoughts on the book!

Alton Brown Adventures: Southern Biscuits

So, Costco has an amazing deal on Red Lobster biscuit mix, and we get it basically every time we go there. They’re pretty easy to make and there’s just something about mixing together some biscuits as a late night snack or for breakfast in the morning that is super satisfying.

Neither of us has any Southern roots to speak of, so when it comes to biscuits, our standards may not be the high standards of people who might live in Georgia, or something. (Obviously, I mean, we love that Red Lobster mix.) But, we will say that found these biscuits to be absolutely delicious. Even better than the Red Lobster mix, if you can believe it. (Okay, you can. I know.)

Almost every weekend breakfast has something to do with eggs, and as delicious as eggs are, that sometimes gets old. So, when we looked through some Alton Brown recipes to try for the weekend, we decided that it was time to take a break and try some genuine Southern biscuits.

20151212_103508

How did we get such perfectly circular biscuits? Andrew used a rocks glass, which worked surprisingly well.

20151212_112011.jpg
The finished product — with butter, of course

Andrew thinks we might have rolled our dough a little too thin, and I’d personally like to see if using a cutter instead of a whiskey tumbler would improve them somehow, but this is definitely a recipe we’re going to come back to when we have time to make these from scratch instead of just a mix.

Want the recipe? Find it on Alton Brown’s website!

Movie Review – Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman The Secret ServiceDirector: Matthew Vaughn
Running Time: 2 h 9 min
Rating: R
Source: Chicago Public Library
 

 

 

 

 

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Ever since the commercials for this came out, I’ve been dying to see this movie — Colin Firth as a secret agent spy guy? Yes. Absolutely yes. I mean, I’ll see him in basically anything, but this looked particularly good. So, when we came across it during our weekly library browsing, Andrew and I decided to spend our Friday night hanging out and watching Kingsman.

Alyssa

I didn’t have the highest of expectations going in, but I expected to enjoy myself watching this movie. What I didn’t expect was to absolutely love it. For a couple of days afterward, I would see it by the TV and turn to Andrew to say, “That was actually such a good movie.” For me, it had everything: great acting, a solid story line with a few twists that were unexpected for the most part, and lovely cinematography. My favorite part about comic books turned movies are those beautiful shots that are reminiscent of a comic panel, and Kingsman certainly used those to its advantage, along with heavily stylized fight scenes. I at first thought that the fight scenes were going to bother me, since I’m incredibly squeamish about blood and gore, but I found that it was done in such a way that it really was like reading a comic, and I didn’t have to turn away when things turned violent– which is rare for me.

In terms of story itself, it’s wonderful. The movie makes me want to read the comics, because I fell in love with characters. The villain is a hilarious foil to the agents, and I hope he’s portrayed as well in the comics.

Andrew

Like Alyssa, I didn’t have very high expectations for this movie. Even the opening scene didn’t do much to improve my expectations. And I love Colin Firth, but I thought it was a bit far-fetched for him to play a secret agent. Luckily, I was quickly proven wrong in that belief.

I enjoy watching plot-heavy scenes more than I do action sequences, but Kingsman did a good job in balancing the two, to the point where the action sequences even contributed to the plot of the film, rather than having it seem like two separate movies: one with plot, and one with mayhem and fighting. (*cough* Captain America 2 *cough*) Also, a lot of movies coming from comic books try to make themselves more “realistic” for the “real world,” but this really stays true to some of its comic book roots in terms of not holding back on some of the goofy elements — like the characterization of Samuel Jackson’s character, and the over-dramatic stylized fight scenes — and staying true to the stylistic comic book elements for the way it was shot.

Overall, this is a surprisingly good movie and we highly recommend it.