A restaurant in Crest Hill had opened just two or three months ago. A little free standing building along Route 30. Coqui To Go Café is it’s name, and it is rather easy to find if you look for a Puerto Rican flag waving beside the road. As you approach the entrance, you are first met with Latin music playing through the speakers both inside and outside of the restaurant. Inside, there is a counter that overlooks the kitchen, and opposite the counter, a single row of chairs and tables, complete with napkin dispensers and bottles of hot sauce, all of which overlooks Route 30. Once inside, there is this emotional and mental transformation: I step outside of Crest Hill, the Midwest, the continental United States, and enter a little food stand in San Juan, or Ponce.
I enjoy trying different restaurants. Coqui To Go Café is one of my regular spots now, since they’ve opened. Everything on the menu is homemade. Without a shred of doubt, my favorite item on the menu is the lechon asado (roasted pork). I order a whole pound of it when I go there, and eat every bit of it. Another usual order for me is the maduros (fried sweet plantains), alcapurrias (plantain dumplings), and I have only begun naming off all of the appetizers they offer. Today, I ordered a pound of the lechon, maduros, morcilla (blood sausage), a pastele, and washed it all down with two cans of Coco Rico coconut soda. Back in the kitchen, an elderly woman, possibly the proprietor’s mother, sits at a table with a large pan, and makes the pasteles one after another, by hand. And the proprietor is a good guy. He slow cooks the lechon asado at five a.m. every morning. I’ve met very few restaurant owners who are as passionate about their cooking as he is. The first time I ate there, he gave me a little cup of coconut shaved ice for the road. After trying a piece of the pork while in the restaurant, and then the coconut ice, I had plenty of reason to return, and I did three days later. Today, I also tried a bowl of beans cooked with pigs feet. Again, more and more intentions to return. The portions are plentiful and the prices are reasonable. Coqui To Go Café is a hidden gem in Crest Hill. So authentic and so delicious. Their website is www.coqui-cafe.com if you’re interested in trying this restaurant. Places like Coqui are needed, and more importantly, they need to be supported by their community. It’s immensely superior to any franchise for more reasons than I care to get into. It’s genuine homemade cuisine. It’s culture, and a little culture can do anybody a lot of good.