On the corner of Broadway and Roscoe in the vibrant East Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago is a family-owned restaurant named Esencia Urban Kitchen. It is small yet hard to miss with large windows that brighten up its quaint and colorful interior. Esencia has graced the Lakeview restaurant scene with delicious Mexican-inspired fare since first opening in 2013. On Esencia’s website they detail their way of cooking as, “very simple – homemade recipes, refined with classic techniques, using the freshest ingredients.” There description is spot on as the food in this lovely cafe feels and looks homemade and tastes extremely fresh. The music they play is always on point, the service is outstanding as my award for GWOAT (greatest waitress of all time) goes to one of the workers there, and the food is always consistently good, making it hard not to give five stars to this Lakeview gem.
The exterior of Esencia gives way into the interior as most of the restaurant is surrounded by large glass windows that allow sunlight to pour in and makes for great people watching. Esencia is good anytime, but it’s especially charming during a warm and sunny day when you can enjoy some bites on their small patio just outside the building. The inside is very small with only about six tables and a few seats at their counter making it a difficult place to eat at with a large party. It can be done though as the restaurant is on the nowait app, allowing someone to put their name and party size in advance to see what the wait will be. Yet, in the end Esencia is best enjoyed in a group of 2-4 people max.
I’m not a big coffee drinker but I’m a huge fan of the coffee at Esencia. Their coffee is infused with cinnamon, giving it unique sweet and floral notes with hints of heat. They offer many specialty drinks that feature this coffee or shots of espresso including an iced horchata latte and my personal favorite their cafe con leche.
Esencia has delicious options at anytime of the day, but I enjoy going their for breakfast the most because there are so many amazing dishes to choose from. One of their standout dishes is the Poblano Eggs, which includes Canadian bacon, sunnyside eggs, and poblano cream sauce on top of two buttermilk biscuits. It’s served with some crispy potatoes and a small side salad. The poblano cream sauce packs a nice mild heat that pairs excellently with the savory eggs, salty bacon, and buttery and flaky biscuits.
Any dish that includes Esencia’s perfectly seasoned chorizo is a winner in my book. One go-to option for me is the Chorizo Hash. The hash allows you to include two eggs any style and features a mixture of chorizo, potatoes, and peppers. It can be served with balsamic greens, rice, or toast. Another terrific breakfast entree that features chorizo is the Huevos Con Chorizo Torta which features a chorizo scramble, black beans, tomatoes, pickled onions, chihuahua cheese, and chipotle aioli on bolillo bread. With a mixture of savory and spicy flavors and different textures, including the crispy bread, it doesn’t disappoint. My favorite breakfast dish at Esencia is their Chilaquiles. For those who don’t know what Chilaquiles is think of it as breakfast nachos. At Esencia the plate includes tortilla chips in salsa verde or salsa roja sauce, onion, crema, queso fresco, and two eggs any style. I like to add on their chorizo or pork to make it an even more indulgent dish. I’ve yet to find a better chilaquiles in the city of Chicago.
Most of Esencia’s breakfast options lean on the savory side but they do have a selection of sugary dishes for all those folks with a sweet tooth. The cafe offers Whole Wheat Pancakes, a French Toast with caramelized bananas, and a rotating selection of fresh baked goods. Yet, the sweet dish to get is the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, served with jasmine syrup and ginger butter. The pancakes are soft inside – helped by the creamy ricotta – but have a bit of a crispy outside. Unlike some other flavored pancakes the flavoring here is not subtle, as they are bold in the flavors advertised.
If you aren’t feeling breakfast or can’t quite make it in time for brunch at Esencia Urban Cafe then fear not because the lunch there is just as good. Esencia offers a great lineup of traditionally Hispanic sandwiches like their Cubana and Milanesa. The Cubana is made with guajillo-braised pulled pork, ham, pickle, chipotle aioli, pickled onion, and manchego. While it isn’t my favorite cubano in the city it’s nonetheless a tasty sandwich made with quality ingredients that won’t let you down. The winner in terms of their tortas though is the Milanesa, a sandwich with breaded steak, lettuce, tomato, pickled onion, chipotle aioli, guac, and black beans. The juicy and tender breaded steak, bold chipotle aioli, and creamy gaucamole is what makes this sandwich stand out most.
Another terrific option at Esencia is their tacos. I’ve only had the pleasure of trying one of their Barbacoa Tacos (it was my dessert when I had it 😁) but it was incredible. Made with a juicy braised beef bursting with savory flavors and paired with guac, cilantro, onion, and a housemade hot sauce it is one of my favorite tacos I’ve had in Chicago so far.
Another tremendous dish that you should not pass up on is the Mole Poblano Enchiladas, made with braised chicken, queso fresco, onions, sour cream, arugula, and toasted sesame seed and served with rice and beans. The chicken is perfectly cooked and the homemade mole sauce is the perfect mix of bitter, sweet, smoky, and spicy. I may have drooled a bit on my computer keyboard while typing this 🤤
Esencia Urban Cafe also is serving dinner now which I believe is fairly new for them so I haven’t had the chance to grab a bite to eat there for dinner but I have no doubt that it is amazing. This cute little cafe in Lakeview excels with freshness, flavor, and overall consistency that make it a go-to spot for me. Even if you are a fairly long commute away I highly recommend trying out this outstanding cafe when craving some Mexican and Hispanic-inspired eats.
-Michael Averbook, Foodie Extraordinaire