Sampling Mexican soup

January 4, 2008 10:07:50 AM PST
January is a perfect time of year to tuck into a hearty bowl of hot soup. And so every Friday this month, our Hungry Hound is going to do just that, sampling a different bowl from a different country each week. The tour begins in Mexico.

When you think of Mexico, you think warm weather, not hot soup. There are some traditional bowls of comfort, such as posole and menudo, but one local restaurateur has created a loyal following on the Southwest Side, offering his customers a hearty bowl of soup that was created by accident.

Some of the best dishes are a result of experiments, or even mistakes. At Los Gallos, which has three locations in Chicago, including one in Brighton Park on the Southwest Side, their delicious mistake is called carne en su jugo, literally, "beef in juice," an inspiration from the streets of Jalisco and Guadalajara.

"And then I say one day, let me try this way, put everything in there and call it a crazy soup; and the people start to like it, and I said wait a minute, I made a mistake and the people liked it, that's how we started this thing," said Salvador Hernandez, Los Gallos.

It is now by far, the most popular dish at all three of his restaurants. It begins with pinto beans, cooked and held in steaming water. Then, finely-chopped skirt steak, the same stuff they use for tacos, plus, a handful of cooked and roughly chopped bacon. Once all of the protein is in the bowl, it's time to add seasoning and texture. A handful of cilantro and white onion is thrown on top, plus, some sliced radishes. Fresh avocado slices are placed on top, giving the dish both color and texture. Then the main event: a rich, hearty beef broth is ladled over the top. It is complex and satisfying.

While the soup is being assembled, a few corn tortillas are heated up on the grill. They arrive alongside, as does some fresh lime, which gives the soup a bright note of citrus. As you slurp, tear off some tortilla and dip it into the soup. It has to be one of the most delicious mistakes ever to grace a taqueria's menu.

"You made a mistake, and come out with something good...people like it. You know what, this is real good for hangover, better than menudo," said Hernandez.

Unlike menudo and posole, which are typically offered only on weekends, the carne en su jugo is available everyday at all three Los Gallos locations.

Los Gallos
4252 S. Archer Ave.

4211 W. 26th St.

6222 S. Archer Ave.