It would be wrong to say that Puerto Rican food does not have a presence in Chicago. Home to a fairly large Puerto Rican population there are many places that serve up decent to great Puerto Rican fare. However, nearly all these restaurants are in a concentrated cluster of neighborhoods on Chicago’s north side.
There is nothing wrong with making the trip out that way for some good Caribbean cuisine; In fact, I used to live in the heart of one of these neighborhoods and I was spoiled with some great food (once I learned which places were worth my time.) But having moved to the south side a few years ago, I like to discover local places that can tackle various cravings as tehy hit me without having to brave through Chicago traffic to do it.
Kapeekoo is very clean and well maintained. These are qualities that many of the restaurants in my old neighborhood lacked. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were filthy, but Kapeekoo definitely set itself apart in just how clean the restaurant was kept in comparison.
It was spacious enough to provided plenty of seats and still allow room for movement, and the atmosphere was very laid back. Soft Caribbean music danced through the air and before long we were approached to have our orders taken.
Celia ordered the el weep (a skirt steak served smothered in a Puerto Rican tomato sauce & onions), some amarillos (fried sweet plantains), an alcapurria (a banana dumpling with beef filling) and some arroz con gandules (Puerto RIcan rice with pigeon peas.) I ordered the jibarito sandwich (a pork sandwich served between two flattened and fried plantains), some tostones (twice fried plantain chips) and two beef empanadas.
Both of us were very pleased with our orders. Celia’s steak was moist, tender and bursted with flavor. Her rice was slightly on the dry side but was very flavorful. The amarillos had a subtle sweetness and were very addictive. As for the alcapurrias, they have never rested well on my palate so my judgement does not bear much weight here. However, alcapurrias are one of Celia’s favorite puerto rican foods and she swears that these were the best she has ever had.
Everything on my plate was delicious. Jibaritos are common in Chicago, and the one served here could easily hold its own with any of the ones I used to get in my old neighborhood. The tostones were cooked perfectly, they were perfectly crisp on the outside while still leaving the inside soft and tender.
If there was one thing that stood out for me far and above everything else it was the empanadas. In general I find a good empanada to rank among one of the tastiest things you will find on this earth. And I have had many good empanadas from all sorts of restaurants in Chicago. Kapeekoo’s beef empanadas blows all the other ones I have eaten away. Completely fresh, these empanadas were perfectly flakey and delicate on the outside with a beef filling that had all the savoriness of the best beef stews out there.
Also worth noting is that most traditional empanadas have used vegetables amongst the beef as a filler, often successfully, though sometimes to merely take up space. The beef in these empanadas was as rich and full in flavor as any beef I have ever had even without there being any vegetables in the empanada. I could easily go back and just ask for a plateful of empanadas and make a meal out of it (if it wouldn’t seem so gluttonous.) But again, I would definitely rank this place as a must for empanada lovers.
I can easily find myself recommending this place to most people who like Puerto Rican food, especially to those who live on the south side. While it may not be the best at all the items that they serve, they are consistent in their delivery of a very good menu and in their use of fresh ingredients. I certainly will be going back, and suggest you do the same.