Four Years Later, Day-of-the-Dead BYOB Still Spellbinds
For all the surplus of great Mexican restaurants in Chicago, Estrella Negra is one that has flown under the radar.
The Day-of-the-Dead-themed BYOB joint has churned out innovative twists on traditional Mexican food for almost five years. It’s time to take a closer look at the magical cooking of this affordable, family-run restaurant.
Thirty-one-year-old owner Otoniel Michel has expanded his small menu, adding more vegetarian and brunch options.
Waltz into Estrella Negra on a Saturday morning and you’ll find goat cheese chilaquiles and tostadas, chorizo and egg burritos and tacos, huevos rancheros topped with warm mango salsa and goat cheese, and chocolate chip banana organic oatmeal (Michel has a thing for goat cheese.)
The menu reflects Michel’s constant reinvention of traditional Mexican fare—tweaking family recipes with pomegranate guacamole, goat cheese enchiladas, chocolate chips tamales—all of which kick the beans out of Chicago’s dime-a-dozen “Burrito King” huts.
“There’s a million Mexican restaurants [where] you can get a burrito,” Michel said. “I like my quality to be high. I don’t like frozen foods, I try to be as healthy as possible and keep up that traditional family taste. I’m just trying to spice up Mexican food.”
Michel was born in Durango, Mexico, smack dab in the middle of the country. He remembers his grandma’s pomegranate tree he would eat from in the summer, and decided to pluck a few seeds for his El Mundo Guacamole ($6).
His pozole, taken from his mom, also scores, with chicken, cabbage, guacamole, oregano and lime.
Those two dishes are mere preludes to the starring show (and my personal fave): Michel’s La Luna Chicken Goat Cheese Quesadilla ($11). Although on the appetizer menu, it’s more than filling for dinner. I’ve ordered this dish every time I go.
For dessert, Michel makes inspired chocolate chip tamales with a side of sweet vanilla ice cream dusted with cinnamon powder ($7).
“I get funky with the food. It’s awesome!” Michel said.
Funk it up at Estrella Negra. This one deserves to be on the map.