One of my favorite fried chicken places in Chicago is Harold’s Chicken.
The first time I ate at Harold’s was about twenty years ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. I don’t even remember which one I went to the first time. It was somewhere on the south side, perhaps around 71st and State. I ordered the 1/2 chicken dinner. They literally gave me half a chicken. When they asked me if I wanted hot or mild sauce, I asked for the mild sauce because I wasn’t sure how hot the hot sauce would be or if I would even like it. I watched as they prepared my order. I got my half chicken with French fries on a slice of white bread and a small Styrofoam cup of cole slaw that was warmed by the chicken–I’m used to eating my cole slaw cold. Then the cook put the mild sauce on the chicken, the fries, and the bread with a two-inch paintbrush. Yes, the kind you and I use to paint your house. I suppose it’s sanitary if they only use it for putting hot or mild sauce on chicken. I loved how well chicken tasted that I often went back to Harold’s Chicken to eat. I think the paintbrush added that je ne sais quoi.
The first time I ate at Harold’s, I thought the slice of bread was a rather peculiar addition to the meal. I mean, it was underneath the chicken and the fries, so the sauce dripped all over the white bread. But when I ate the slice of white bread, it was delicious! Now, I look forward to the slice of white bread.
Over the years, I have eaten at other Harold’s Chicken restaurants. And I always order the half-chicken dinner with fries, warm cole slaw, and the one slice of white bread. When I taught at Columbia College Chicago, I often ate at the Harold’s on Wabash and Balbo. You could actually sit down and eat there, but it was always so crowded and homeless people would always ask for money. After a while, they just ignored me–probably because I just ignored them. My only real complaint about this Harold’s Chicken was that they didn’t put the mild or hot sauce on the chicken with a paintbrush.
You can’t go to Taco Loco anymore. But I often do. If only in my mind. I remember it well. On the corner of the public parking lot at the northeast corner of Wabash and Balbo, in the shadow of the Conrad Hilton Hotel. Sacrificed to expand the parking lot and Chicago’s dwindling parking availability with four more parking spaces. I should post a picture to show you where it used to be. In the 1960s, we often drove past it. We, as Mexicans, always wondered who would name a Mexican restaurant Taco Loco. We never ate there because Mexicans didn’t eat at Mexican restaurants in the 1960s. They only worked there. In fact, I never even heard of any Mexicans ever eating in a restaurant. If we ate outside of the house it was at someone else’s home or we brought our own tortillas, bolillos, carnitas, peppers, and salsa. When my parents divorced, my father would pick us up for visitation in his flourescent-avocado-green 1971 Ford Maverick. Sometimes we would drive southbound on Wabash past Taco Loco. I was always curious about Taco Loco, a small, white brick building that didn’t look very well-maintained. In fact, it always looked like it was about to fall over until they knocked it down.
As an adult, when I could finally do everything that was prohibited by my parents, I finally went to Taco Loco. I loved their food. Let’s just say that forbidden fruit tastes the best! No one who worked there was a native English speaker, if you know what I mean. Luckily, I spoke Spanish. I ate there whenever I was downtown. The food was really cheap, too, especially if considered that this was a downtown restaurant. In 1992, during the World Cup semifinals, I was eating, sitting near the window. I saw some drunken soccer fans across the street, waving German flags and singing German songs. Suddenly, they ran out of songs to sing and they started shouting, “Baseball sucks!” They were scaring me. Luckily, they didn’t see me and their bus came right away.
When I taught Spanish at Columbia College Chicago, I often ate there after class. Then one day, the Spanish coördinator told me that I had to take my Spanish classes on a field trip. I wasn’t sure where to take them. When I tried to arrange a trip, we couldn’t agree on a time because every student was a full-time student. And many of them also worked. Talk about complications. So I’m sitting in Taco Loco eating enchiladas when it occurred to me that I could take them to Taco Loco! We were only a block away from our classroom and we could meet in Taco Loco instead of going to class. This actually worked out well for everyone. Since Taco Loco was open 24 hours, we met there for our 9:00 a.m. class. Everyone ordered their food in Spanish from the non-English-speaking waitress and they spoke Spanish as much as possible. Even the Spanish coördinator liked our destination for the field trip. No one else had ever thought of going to Taco Loco. I guess I’m just a trailblazer. I can’t help it. 🙂
Well, after thinking about the first entry for the College Spanish category for a long time, I guess I should tell you a little about myself. I have been teaching college Spanish since 1995 and I still haven’t decided if I would like to do this for a living. Don’t get me wrong. I truly enjoy teaching Spanish. In fact, I have taught at Morton College in Cicero, Illinois, Richard J. Daley College in Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, and now, at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). I could have taught at many other institutions, but they usually offered me Spanish classes to teach well after I already had a full-teaching schedule.
I enjoy interacting with the students and I chose to teach college-level Spanish because I would rather deal with adults who take responsibility for their own actions. What I enjoy most about teaching college students is that I often find myself learning just as much, if not more, as the students. Some Spanish grammar was never clear to me until I had to explain it to a class of baffled students who had so many questions about the grammar lesson before us. Once I figure out a way to explain a grammar point, it becomes clearer to me. Occasionally, not all students will understand my explanation, but at least one student in class who did will explain in his or her own words to the other students, usually quite successfully. Well, in some roundabout way I managed to teach the lesson, and I, too, learned something about Spanish and teaching.