Well, now it can be told. First, you must admit that you have a problem before you can solve it. My problem? I like to retrace my steps all the way back to my youth.
So tonight, I went to El Gallo de Oro, bought a steak burrito, and parked in Marquette Park by the Rose Garden to eat it, as I am wont to do. I used to do it all the time, but tonight I compared scenarios.
The first time I bought a burrito at El Gallo de Oro, I lived down the block at 3006 W. 64th Street and I only paid $2.25 with tax. But that was twenty-seven years ago. Today, I paid $6.06 with tax. Today, I barely finished my burrito, but twenty-seven years ago, I would also order two or three tacos or tostadas on the side. I would practically inhale all this food and I ony weighed 140 pounds, compared to my 180 or so today.
And Marquette Park isn’t the same, either. No one cruises through the park like in days of old. This used to be the place to hang out, to see and be seen by everyone. I don’t think anyone even noticed I was there tonight. Not even the police car that drove past me driving the wrong way.
On the plus side? I felt very safe there in my solitude reminiscing about my days of old when I was young and naïve and wouldn’t realize that the grease from the burrito had dripped on my shirt until the person I was trying to impress would point out the grease stain. Okay, I don’t miss the dripping grease all that much. I’m much older and wiser now.
When I lived at 3006 W. 64th Street, I always used to eat at this great Mexican restaurant that was exactly one block away. El Gallo de Oro, 2952 W. 63rd Street, 773.737.8101, has been there since at least 1981 when I moved back to Marquette Park after being honorably discharged from the Marines. This Mexican restaurant serves real Mexican food cooked by real Mexicans to other Mexicans who patronize the restaurant. That’s how you can tell if a Mexican restaurant is really good: by how many Mexicans eat there. I remember once going to Milwaukee and my girlfriend suggested that we eat at a Mexican restaurant, either La Perla or La Fuente, but she didn’t know which one was better. We ate at the one where all the Mexicans ate! And it was great Mexican food! So are you wondering which restaurant was better? Well, I honestly can’t remember because I drank a few too many bottles of Negra Modelo. Anyway, El Gallo de Oro has great Mexican food, and I say this after having come back from having eaten Mexican food in many Mexican restaurants and Mexican homes in Mexico. Well, lately, I’ve been going to different Mexican restaurants in the Chicagoland area, or Chicagolandia as I like to call it since we have so many Spanish speakers here, and I’ve been ordering the enchiladas de pollo. Today, I tasted the enchiladas at El Gallo de Oro and they were ¡sabrosísimas! This is a great Mexican restaurant.
When I still lived in the neighborhood, I ate there several times a week. Of course, everything I needed in the neighborhood was within a two-block radius. The cleaners, the gas station, the locksmith, the used bookstore, Aldo of Italy my barber, and of course, El Gallo de Oro. I went to the locksmith exactly once, but it was nice to know that he was always available even though I dreaded the day that I would actually need him. Aldo of Italy cut my hair once a month before I ate at El Gallo de Oro. Aldo always loved speaking to me in Spanish while he cut my hair until I fell asleep. Anyway, again, I loved the attitude of the Mexicans at El Gallo de Oro. They were typical Mexicans who loved to brag about their food and service. I especially loved their sign in the window: “La competencia es buena, pero nosotros somos … ¡más chingones!” In English, The competition is good, but we are … ” Okay, I’m not sure how to translate the last two words, but you could tell who was Mexican and who wasn’t by how they reacted to the sign. Of course, at that time the FCC let a lot of profanity get aired on all the Mexican radio stations. So the sign remained in the front window for many years until about two years ago. I rather miss that sign. That’s the thing about Mexicans. They have chutzpah!
One time, I told my father, brothers, and sister that I had a special surprise for them for our Thanksgiving dinner that year. They were so curious, that I caved in to all their questions and told them my surprise beforehand. “We are eating Thanksgiving dinner at … ” and I paused for dramatic effect … “El Gallo de Oro!” “But we want turkey,” my sister shouted. “Yo quiere guajolote,” said my father. “Un momento,” I said. “El Gallo de Oro is serving turkey burritos on Thanksgiving Day!” After a little grumbling, they finally agreed to my Thanksgiving dinner plans! Everyone got to eat turkey, I got to eat at El Gallo de Oro, and my father got to eat so many jalapeño peppers that sweat poured from his forehead profusely and he had to keep asking for more and more water. Well, El Gallo de Oro managed to satisfy yet another finicky Mexican family–again!