I have always been a huge fan of trying foods from all over the world, so I recently was invited to a dinner at an Argentinian/General South American eatery known as El Ñandú located at 2731 West Fullerton Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647. Therefore, I pretty much assumed that I would be just eating monstrous slabs of charred steak with bowl upon bowl of savory chimichurri to slather on the meat while the staff would be blaring constant Rioplatense tangos over the stereo system. However, I was pleasantly surprised.
Parking to begin with was quite difficult to find since it is only street parking, but upon walking into the restaurant, it had a very laid back vibe with a simple brick interior, soft lighting, and semi-surrealist portraits of various women on the walls. It would be a nice place for a date over a bottle of wine, and the dress code is casual. The staff was very helpful to our party starting us off with baskets of fresh bread and the ubiquitous Chimichurri that was not too runny and had a nice tangy/spicy aftertaste. Their drink selection was quite diverse with even local favorites that I indulged in with one of my favorite beers of all time, Quilmes. Other people at the table had pitchers of sangria which was a bit on the sweeter side just to warn those who prefer their sangría with a bit more wine/brandy in it or are just looking to get sloppy.
Drinking habits aside, we decided to start off with some empanadas (flaky savory pastries) for appetizers. The only downside is that one empanada is a bit smaller than a standard deck of cars, so it’s not something to satiate a raging appetite by any means (as I found out when I ordered mine). I ended up getting the Criolla (Creole) empanada which was stuffed with beef, eggs, raisins, onions, peppers, and various herbs. Now you might be thinking that raisins and any of that other stuff shouldn’t mix, but it gave the empanada a little something extra that made me even more adventurous for the main course.
The menu had the standard steak dishes like Milanesa (breaded steak), Churrasco (tenderloin), and asados (grilled steaks) or chicken dishes like pollo con limón (lemon chicken), pollo al queso (chicken with white cheese baked on it), or pollo chimichurri (chicken with the aforementioned sauce). I tried the Milanesa which was paper-thin, but the crisp, buttery breading made the juicy steak even better. However, I decided to really step outside my comfort zone, which is quite large in fact, and ordered the Mollejas (sweetbreads). Now, many may think that sweetbreads sound quite delicious, but in reality I would soon be feasting on beef thymus gland and pancreas. Personally, I was surprised when they brought it out to me because it was served on a mountain of fries, and it looked like a chicken breast. The first bite was interesting due to the slightly rubbery texture, but overall it was quite delicious. As cliché as it may seem, I would liken the taste to chicken that I enhanced with a squirt of lemon juice from the complimentary lemons that came with the dish. Though I highly recommend ordering them to anyone to say you´ve actually tried organ meats and lived to tell the tale.
Unfortunately, I did not have dessert because I was actually stuffed from the main course. Although the menu at first glance may seem a bit on the pricier side, you get generous portions for the main dishes which made the trip even more worth it. I would recommend this restaurant to anyone who wants a great steak, tasty but tiny empanadas, or even some sweetbreads for the truly daring.
Culinary Quote: “My favorite animal is steak”- Fran Lebowitz