Morena's Kitchen: Pica pollo worth waiting in line for

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The tiny Morena's Kitchen in Belmont Cragin serves pica pollo worth waiting for. (WLS)

There are dozens of types of fried chicken in Chicago, but only one or two originated from the Dominican Republic.

One of the tiniest dining rooms in the city serves some of the most delicious fried chicken, but you have to be prepared to wait for it.

The regulars know what to order: pica pollo, and if you manage to find the miniscule Morena's Kitchen in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood, you should, too.

"Pica pollo is fried chicken. You cut it in little pieces. You season it with my seasoning I show you. You marinate it for two, three days, and you fry it," said owner Miriam Montes de Oca.

Montes de Oca won't share her marinade recipe and will only reveal that it involves imported oregano. The chicken spends a long time in that marinade, and cutting the chicken into smaller pieces gives more surface area for frying. You'll never get a dried-out breast.

"When you fry it, it comes out juicy inside but crispy outside," she said.

Side dishes of course include fried plantains, but Montes de Oca uses crispy, starchy tostones rather than sweet maduros. Don't ignore the fresh limes on the plate - squeeze them generously over the chicken and plantains.

The plantains are also the stars of her sancocho, a stew that's popular in Latin America. The stew involves chicken, beef and pork alongside plantains, yucca and squash.

"Regular, in my country, the sancocho go with seven meats. You can put some chivo, some pork, some ribs, everything you want," she said.

After the meat is cooked, sofrito, the magic seasoning with lots of garlic and onion, is added. Then those root vegetables go in the pot, and the whole thing is topped off with water. The starch from the vegetables thickens the broth, and after a few hours of simmering, it's ready to serve with a side of white rice.

Montes de Oca says even though she's only been in business three years, Dominican ex-pats have managed to find her.

"They say my food is like eat at home. It's homemade food. I cook with my heart. I love it," said Montes de Oca.

Morena's is small - just one table and two counters - and you will have to wait 15 minutes every time you go to get that chicken. But it is worth every minute of that wait.

Morena's Kitchen
5054 W. Armitage Ave.
773-622-7200

In Steve's Extra Course Video, he talks about the restaurant's homemade empanadas, which come in three flavors.

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In Steve's Extra Course video, he talks about the restaurant's homemade empanadas, which come in a trio of flavors.

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