Good food is easy to find in a major city like Chicago, but finding great food is still akin to finding a diamond in the rough. And in a city full of neighborhoods, the best place to eat, drink, and spend your hard earned money might just be at the end of the block. Such in the case for the recently opened neighborhood Cuban joint 90 Miles Cuban CafÃ©. The cafÃ©, located at 2540 W. Armitage Ave, is situated at the crossover of Logan Square, Bucktown, and Humboldt Park, just a short walk from the Western stop on the blue line.
I’d never have found this place if it wasn’t located literally at the end of my street. I could crawl from my front door and still be there in less than 10 minutes. Which is either a blessing or curse, depending if you ask my stomach or wallet. 90 Miles is small, but bright and colorful, Cuban music blasting from the sound system, and a person waiting at the door with a smile to greet you. The staff is friendly and funny, and good looking to boot, so even before you taste the amazing food, things are going great. Place your order (if you don’t know something on the menu, just ask), and then grab a seat and wait to dive in.
90 Miles is BYOB, so I’d suggest bringing some rum (I’d recommend my favorite, Sailor Jerry, a high quality but affordable spiced rum), and mixing it with one of their tropical shakes for a refreshing start to your meal. Don’t get the normal strawberry or mango, be adventurous and get a mamey (a fruit similar in taste to pumpkin or sweet potato) or my favorite the platano, a plantain shake that taste like a banana shake on steroids, with the added kick of saltiness and a sweet caramel twist. Order up some marquitas, plantain chips, for your table. The crisp fried strips of plantains come dusted with oil and minced garlic, and are fresh and light. Or share some maduros, the traditional fried thick sweet plantains, with a nice outer crisp and a sweet chewy center.
For your meal, at least for the first visit, get the guajirito sandwich. Seriously, order this sandwich. It’s tender steak and Swiss cheese, topped with grilled onions and chimichurri sauce, served on two thin large pieces of green friend plantains instead of bread. It’s messy, but they won’t mind if you lick your hand clean after devouring this phenomenal sandwich, a perfect blend of sweet and savory flavors with a touch of acidity. This is the type of sandwich you fondly remember later, sigh and smile, and dream of eating it again.
If you’ve got room for dessert (or plan on taking home half your guajirito for later), grab a guava and cream cheese pastelitos, a sweet fried pastry dough pocket of perfection, and a cafÃ© con leche. Then stumble back out into the street, clearly in the haze of a food coma, as the faint sounds of Cuban music trickle out the door, making you feel even closer to Cuba than 90 miles.