Elena Quinones will be the first to tell you how everything coming out of the kitchen at El Fogon de Elena in Albany Park is made from scratch. From her hearty sandwiches to her filling breakfasts, a hallmark of the Colombian culture.
"So for breakfast, the most traditional is a calentado," she said.
The calentado is like any Colombian breakfast - full of protein and carbs. In this case, not only sausage, but also beans, rice, eggs and fresh avocado.
"Chorizo, chicharron, eggs...whatever you want," Quinones said.
Unlike most local Colombian restaurants, where they might rely on powdered masa, Quinones makes her own masa for her stellar arepas.
"In Colombia, we have different types of arepa," she said. "We use white corn. We cool the corn, we grind the corn and we make the masa."
The masa, or dough, is formed by hand, rolled out to a thickness of about an inch, then cut into a circle and cooked on both sides until slightly charred. She then slices the disc from the side, forming a pocket that can be filled with just about anything.
"You can have chicken, meat, vegetarian arepa," said Quinones.
Just don't forget the grated cheese for a bit of extra richness for this two-fisted sandwich.
A few miles away, in Jefferson Park, look for the chicken giving the thumbs up at the corner of Lawrence and Central. That's where pollo al carbon is the specialty at El Asadero Colombiano.
"Asadero is a grill, a Colombian grill," said Sebastian Ronces, the General Manager.
And over the course of a weekend, they'll cook about 350 whole chickens on theirs. It's a two-pronged approach: both the marination and the cooking are crucial.
"We marinate the chicken for two days and then when we cook it. We cook it for three hours, slowly, with charcoal," he said.
The marinade contains predictable ingredients like peppers, celery and scallions, but also a few Asian inspirations like garlic, ginger and soy sauce. They also use Mexican beer.
Blended until smooth, the whole chickens are first salted, then get a bath in the marinade, where it's rubbed into every possible crevice. After two days, they spend about three hours on the rotisserie, spinning constantly, directly over charcoal. Orders come with rice and beans or potatoes with soft, sweet plantains. Ronces says finishing the birds over
charcoal - just like they do in Bogotá, makes all the difference.
"The flavor is kind of smoky, instead of the gas that just cooks and it doesn't taste the same," said Ronces.
So from those hearty breakfasts to those corn-based arepas for lunch and then a Bogota-inspired rotisserie chicken for dinner, you can find homemade Colombian food all day long.
El Fogón de Elena
3149 W. Lawrence Ave.
El Asadero Colombiano
4800 N. Central Ave.