First encountering Old El Paso tacos in my teens, I figured tacos were probably the best Mexico had to offer. Years later, I learned that Mexico’s different regions offered an incredible range of culinary traditions, including Sonoran hot dogs in the north, seafood on either side of the country, and the wonderful mole sauces in southern Mexico.
Strolling by the newly opened Suburrito (1053 Lake), I glanced at the menu and spotted morisqueta, billed as a specialty of Michoacán, a Mexican state to the west of Mexico City.
Morisqueta. Hmmm. If I don’t recognize a menu item, I want to eat it. So I had to have the morisqueta for lunch.
A very simple dish, morisqueta is white rice, black beans, salsa ranchera, sour cream, Chihuahua cheese, tomato and onions, served in a bowl, kind of a deconstructed burrito. Many of the dishes on the Suburrito menu – tacos, tortas, salads, etc. – are variations on this theme, mostly the same ingredients in different configurations.
I had the morisqueta with scrambled eggs and chorizo, a usually piquant Mexican sausage that turned out to be quite mild. In fact, this whole dish was mild. Almost all the sauces offered at the counter were labeled “medium,” though even the one labeled “hot” was much less incendiary than I’d expected. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
If you’re trying to expand taste buds – either your own or your kids’ – with Mexican flavors, Suburrito is a good place to start, and tacos are probably the most commonly used training wheels on the road to understanding the depth and complexity of Mexican food. Suburrito, unsurprisingly, is not offering Mexican food that challenges the palate: you’re not going to be served chapulines (the fried grasshoppers of Oaxaca), super spicy chow for heat-seeking chili heads (jalapeno, si; habanero, no) or complex sauces. Of course, you can’t really expect that kind of thing in Oak Park, which is not to say that Subarrito’s food is dumbed down, though some of the traditional spiciness of Mexican food is definitely modified a little to appeal to local villagers. That’s just business and totally understandable.
Suburrito is brought to us by the same folks who own Chameleon in Cicero (6150 W. Cermak), which offers a much greater range of Mexican dishes, including a good amount of seafood and grilled items. Suburrito, on the other hand, is more like a lunch or light-dinner spot, a place to grab a torta on lunch hour or a quick bite before a movie at the Lake Theater (or even after: Suburrito is open until 2am on Saturday and Sunday mornings). This new Oak Park restaurant itself is also a kind of chameleon in that the more intense flavors of traditional Mexican food are adjusted to match the preferences of the local audience.
My morisqueta came in under $8 (prices vary based on whether you want, for instance, chicken or steak in your burrito, taco, salad or morisqueta). For lunch, Suburrito’s menu offers fresh, simple and economical veggie alternatives to some of the fried and fattier options available at many other local lunch spots. And my guess is that with time, and some success, Suburrito may test market Mexican foods that are perhaps a bit more exciting. When that happens, I’ll hurry back.