I’ve always liked restaurant owners who bravely and whimsically serve items that don’t really go together, like Bento Cafe, the restaurant at Central and Ridge that serves sushi and Mexican food, or Fusa at Kellogg and Greenwich, whose menu includes Italian pastas, sushi, Chinese dishes, burritos and burgers.
Now, there’s Chiquita’s Corner, a charming little to-go spot tucked in the Riverside neighborhood that’s mixing it up even more. It offers a small menu of Mexican favorites, Asian egg rolls and barbecue. “An eclectic mix with a Chicano twist,” says a chalkboard sign posted outside.
Oddly, it works.
Stephanie Sandoval opened the tiny restaurant in the former Squeezer’s Palace spot at 828 W. 11th St. in May 2015. Since then, she’s developed a neighborhood following and has decorated the large patio outside the 144-square-foot building with vibrant furniture, planters and knickknacks that make it as bright and inviting as the colorful R Coffee House and Songbird Juice Co. spaces next door. These days, 11th and Bitting is a pretty sweet little hangout corner.
The restaurant has unusual hours, and I had one off-putting service experience there. But the food is outstanding, and I’ll definitely give it another chance.
ON THE MENU: The menu is small enough to fit on a single chalkboard. Its Mexican offerings are fried beef tacos, cheese enchiladas and rice and beans. The Asian offering is a homemade egg roll. Barbecue fans can choose from a pulled pork sandwich or a spicy hot link. Chiquita’s Corner also has a few sweet treats, including a sopapilla sundae, ice cream cones, fudge bars and floats. That’s it.
DON’T-MISS DISHES: Everything I tried at Chiquita’s Corner was good – and that was nearly everything on the menu – but the Mexican dishes were standouts. I really loved the enchilada, which reminded me of the enchiladas the ladies at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Dodge City, where I grew up, made and sold as a fundraiser every year. The tortilla had been soaked in a deep red ancho sauce before it was stuffed with potatoes, cheese and onions. It was the most decadent vegetarian dish I’ve had in a while, and the potato added a nice texture surprise. The taco also had potatoes in it, as well as peas, and it was filled with ground beef before it was pinned, deep-fried, then topped with lettuce, cheese and a squirt of salsa. I tried to eat only half of it, but that was simply not possible.
Chiquita’s Corner offers a taco and an enchilada as part of a combo meal that also includes an egg roll. The egg rolls are neatly wrapped, and when you bite in, the filling has a surprising purple color. Sandoval uses purple cabbage in the filling, which she mixes with ground pork, carrots and rice noodles. Customers are offered the choice of a sweet or spicy dipping sauce on the side, though I would have preferred soy sauce. I liked the egg roll, though I thought the filling was a bit bland. Still, I appreciated that they were hand-made and fresh and not dropped in the fryer straight from the freezer bag.
I also ordered the jalapeno pulled pork sandwich, which was like a barbecue-filled Mexican torta. The pork was sweet and dripping with sauce, and it was topped with onions, mustard and slaw. The torta bread made it unique, and although it was a good barbecue sandwich, it was a little sweet for my taste. I ate only a little because I wanted to save more room for the taco and enchilada.
One bit of advice: Don’t skip the beans and rice. Though a serving is $3 extra unless you order a dinner, they were some of the best beans and rice I’ve had: churro beans with just the right amount of bite and a fresh rice that was full of flavor but not tomato-y. They were served together in a small to-go container and were even better all stirred up.
AMBIENCE: Sandoval has turned the corner that her bright blue building occupies into a charming little oasis. She’s furnished it with mismatched patio furniture pieces – some more stable and comfortable than others – and creative and colorful plantings. There’s even a small shrine decorated with prayer candles and skull art. The patio has plenty of shade during the lunch hour.
PRICE RANGE: Tacos and hot links are $3 apiece; enchiladas and egg rolls are $2.50 apiece. The pulled pork sandwich is $6, and a combo with a taco, enchilada and egg roll is $7. For $8, customers can get a full dinner with choice of two tacos, two enchiladas or one taco and one enchilada with rice and beans. Sopapilla sundaes are $5, and other ice cream treats are $1.50.
SERVICE: I went by Chiquita’s Corner on a recent blazing hot day with the intention of bringing lunch back for myself and a co-worker. I didn’t have cash, and when I made a mistake with my credit card and needed to start over, the credit card machine seized, making the cashier visibly aggravated, and she repeatedly informed me that now her credit card machine would be inoperable for the rest of the day. I offered to leave and get cash, which aggravated her more. I eventually got cash from a nearby convenience store and returned, but if I hadn’t been buying the food for review purposes, I would have just left and not gone back. (The heat made me a little grumpy, too.)
☆☆☆ out of four
Where: 828 W. 11th St., 316-259-7079
Type of food: Mexican, Asian, barbecue
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays