November 10, 2006

Loitering—November 10, 2006

In the heart of Wicker Park, on North Avenue and Honore, sits a colorful little Mexican restaurant and lounge called Las Palmas. A family business, its focus is on the quality of the cuisine as well as on its contribution to the community. Patrons can come here to hold a celebration, request catering, drink at the bar, dine, or grab brunch with friends. The atmosphere is enchanting, and the service is charming.

Upon entering the restaurant, my mother and I were immediately faced with a large ebony counter, which was ornamented with a fireplace, gaudy Day of the Dead trinkets, plastic pastries, a portrait of Ché Guevara, tall candles, a bottle of Corona, and a bouquet of fluffy, orange marigolds. Amid this graceful chaos of Mexican paraphernalia, it took a moment to notice the small, smiling woman beckoning to us. She quietly offered us menus and a table next to the window.

Vines, Christmas lights, and worn pottery glowed above us, creating a cozy, classy ambience. Papel picados (festive, intricately cut tissue-paper banners) had been festooned in all directions in celebration of the Day of the Dead. Enormous posters of the Mexican Lotería cards “El Diablo” and “El Corazón” hung on the walls next to Frida Kahlo knock-offs. Everywhere we looked, something exotic and impressive caught our eyes. Even the air shaft was decorated to look like a massive stone Aztec dragon slinking across the ceiling, with its magnificent gray head emerging as a heat vent from the wall.

Next to the stunningly provisioned bar was a conspicuously installed shrine for the Virgin Mary. Behind the bar was a giant, elaborate mural covered with Incan and Aztec symbols and the faces of notable Latin Americans. At the center was a fetus below a molten burnt-sienna sun. Even the restroom was exquisitely bedecked with jeweled, satin tapestries, and a bare-breasted woman amongst tropical flowers painted onto the ceiling. The lush surroundings of Las Palmas certainly make up for the slightly over-priced food (the cost of a meal ranges from eight to thirteen dollars.)

Our delicious, creamy hot cocoas were served in tall glass mugs placed on little lace-covered platters. We were served complimentary palmiers (a.k.a. elephant ears) while we waited for our meal. The delicate and crispy texture of the puff pastries went well with the cinnamon-laden hot chocolate.

My chicken enchiladas were soaked in salsa tomatillo and mild sauce, and were served alongside rice with vegetables and a violet-black dollop of mashed black beans. While the proportions were perfect for my mother and me, they may not be enough for those with heartier appetites. As we gorged ourselves on the ambrosial meal, all conversation ended, leaving only the dazzling sound of the Franco-African music.

Las Palmas is a glittering island of contemporary Mexican indulgence that’s definitely worth a trip.