Unique Mexican food in unexpected Korea Town spot

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Hungry Hound: Rojo Gusano (WLS)

If you wanted Korean food, you'd probably head to Lawrence Avenue on the city's North Side. But what Mexican? Absolutely.

In a neighborhood lined with kimchi options, there is Rojo Gusano -- a Mexican restaurant with an ambitious Mezcal program, not to mention a menu featuring tortillas made from scratch.

The sight of a Mexican woman, methodically, rhythmically forming soft masa - or corn dough - into balls, then pressing them flat, and finally, cooking them on a flat-top griddle, is nothing new in Chicago; especially among the better Mexican restaurants.

At Rojo Gusano, it shouldn't come as a surprise since Dudley Nieto, a chef-journeyman of sorts over the past 20 years, is running the kitchen.

"What we wanted to do was something that stayed unique, for the sense of the cultures that we have," said Nieto.

Unique here means that for every steak or al pastor taco with griddled pineapple, there's a shrimp curry. For every standard guacamole with pico de gallo, there are two others, featuring a spicy-sweet mango-habanero, as well as a spicy chipotle pumpkin seeds and caramelized pineapple.

Even ceviche is re-interpreted. The octopus and shrimp are recognizable, but the garnishes of dried corn and sweet potato are Peruvian.

"So there you see the difference. Now you see two different cultures that evoke something. The avocado that is pretty Mexican, right? And then the ceviche that is Peruvian in a sense," said Nieto.

Sure, there's tequila behind the bar, but they're much more excited about their mezcal lineup.

"Mezcal used to be the mother of all tequilas," he said.

Here, they're utilized in a number of creative drinks.

"They're smoky, they're more earthy. They're more real, more natural and a great spirit to start with."

So don't think of Rojo Gusano as 100 percent Mexican. Because even though they have mezcal and guacamole and tacos, each of those components has ingredients and influences from other parts of the world.

Rojo Gusano

3830 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago

EXTRA COURSE: Steve Dolinsky and Rojo Gusano co-owner talk about unique Mezcals drinks
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