Atlanta’s outskirts, particularly around Buford Highway, are covered by Mexican grocery markets that double as quick hit taquerias. I’ve visited a number of them and little excites me as much as a walk through an instantaneous culture shock. Supermercado Chicago, known to us gringos as Chicago Supermarket, is one such window into Mexican culture and to date is one of my more trustworthy spots for that type of experience.
A bit larger than some of the other Mexican grocery stores in town, Chicago has always struck me as the “CVS” of these shopping sites. With piñatas hanging from the ceiling and a handful of knickknacks scattered throughout the isles, I would not be surprised if Chicago had supplanted Richard’s Five & Dime in my childhood databanks had my parents been of Mexican lineage. Still, I’ve never walked out of Chicago with anything more than what I arrived with. No, the true reason for every single visit to CS is the little taco counter in the back and I don’t leave scraps!
Tony Bourdain has this thing about bathrooms. I don’t remember his exact quote, but it goes a little something like this: “If a restaurant doesn’t take care of its bathrooms, I won’t eat there.” Bourdain would most likely point out that this doesn’t count when your eating habits include gorilla warfare food raids in a place that might as well be in another country; little English is spoken at Chicago. But truth be told, I suggest that the squeamish avoid walking through the back kitchen on the way to el baño. You might as well be walking down a causeway; Chicago’s backroom is not a place for the feint of heart. However, it does add a little rush of danger: “What are the chances I get food poisoning here?” Those of you with enough street smarts to remain undeterred will be rewarded with a great experience, a nice bargain, and a meal that is as rewarding as they come.
If you do happen to catch a glimpse of the menu, you’re likely to see a full offering of traditional tacos, gorditas, relleños, quesadillas, and a smattering of other traditional Mexican bites. It’s worthy of a double take as every item, except the soup, is roughly $2.00. The lone exception is that menudo, a beef stomach soup, which tips the scale at a paltry $7.
Truth be told, the menu is usually turned around or not on display at all and the full selection is a weekend only thing. Unless something has changed over the years, during the weekdays, you have your choice of tacos, tamales and quesadillas. Worthy of a trip regardless, those looking to really dive in might want to wait until your weekly vacation days turn up. Sunday being the prime example of Chicago’s full arsenal.
Some of you more meticulous readers will probably wonder why this review is stationed in the “First Impressions” category. Well this single visit recap tells the tale of my first visit in about 3 1/2 years; a shameful admission of guilt no doubt. Still, despite my all too long of an absence, I recognized Socorro, a friendly as can be Mexican as unfamiliar with the English language as I am to the game of Gibberish. [Check that – a quick wiki lookup just uncovered years of mystery for me! Still, you get the point]
Able to explain that my understanding of Spanish was good but that my capabilities with speech were crap, I got out my four taco one quesadilla order sans problem. Those of you not comfortable with any aspect of Spanish can point to a steamer tray and simply say taco or quesadilla or whatever you’d like it put in.
Socorro will then proceed to breakout two handmade tortillas per taco, coat them and flattop them right in front of you. Made from freshly ground masa, these tortillas kick ass, take names, and leave you wondering why our in-town and high-dollar answer to the taqueria can’t put out something half as good. As she finish off the tacos, Socorro might subject you to a little interrogative statement. Even if the inflection is the only thing that hints that she’s asking you something, I suggest you respond in the affirmative. You’re being asked if you want cilantro and chopped onions.
All in, my order for the day included four tacos, one quesadilla and a anti-diabetic coke (the type with real sugar in it). Presented with a cabeza (beef head), al pastor (marinated pork), carne asada (beef) and barbacoa (slow cooked beef or goat – in this case beef), and a single quesadilla frita, I dove the fudge in.
Wisely stationed within a forearms reach of the salsa bar, I continued to navigate my taco basket as if I were in a cash grab contest. I went back and forth between each of my tacos without rhyme or reason, only unabashed American consumerism was on my mind. Get it in as fast as possible; intermittently splash on one of the various salsas; sit back, unbutton and reap the benefits of shoving about a pound of food into my stomach in what must have been no more than three minutes.
The salsas are straight off a Mexican street corner … and that my friends is a very good thing. The meats went down without much of a fight; though in all honesty, there was a gigantic “parts” piece in my al pastor and the carne asada was defiantly too salty. Still, it’s hard to complain about the overall experience.
Mixed in with this was a quesadilla, which might catch a few of you off-guard as it is technically a quesadilla frita. Filled with either Oaxaca or Chihuahua cheese (I think the former but possibly the latter … just not sure), the quesadillas at Chicago are dumped into a fryer; hence the amended name and hot pocket like appearance. Consumption of this Mexican wannabe pastry left my body warm as if wrapped in a fresh out of the dryer towel.
I spent the remainder of my time watching Socorro chop up some tripe and scoot off to the back in order to stir whichever protein she currently had on the massive burners. This is food, this is fun, this is what you need.
Located in Pinetree Plaza alongside Chinese stalwarts Bo Bo Garden and Chef Liu, and across the street from the befuddling popular Taqueria El Rey Del Taco, it’s easy to see why Chicago Supermarket gets lost in the mix. Sure, in the heart of Mexico I’ve had better tacos. I may have even had some better here in ATL; but I’ve had a lot of bad food in my day and this is certainly a rewarding departure for that. My meals, in the absence of company, are about value. Supermercado Chicago destroys most every single Mexican restaurant in and around the city’s heart and leaves its more nearby neighbors at a distinct disadvantage. Hard to complain when your food tastes as good as it looks and you walk out having consumed enough for two people at a tad over $10.
Supermercado Chicago Address & Information
5263 Buford Highway, Doraville, GA 30340 // 770.452.1361