C. Manny’s Underlying Support System

Kelly Aarstad

Incredible, fresh food is not the only thing guaranteed at C. Manny’s. When you are treated like family at C. Manny’s, it’s no wonder that an entire neighborhood would petition against them from moving.  Long-standing employee María Elena Rodriguez remembers when the lease was up and they were forced to tell their customers the restaurant would be changing locations. The warm and friendly atmosphere accompanied by the authentic Mexican-Cuban fare was going to be missed by many.

What made you choose to work at C. Manny’s?

Well, I was working with Manuela’s brother [the owner] at the time and I had asked his wife how Manuela was, and she had told me that she had just opened up a restaurant [and] they had 99-cent margarita special on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 3 to 6, which drove in a great crowd. There were no Mexican restaurants in the area, whatsoever. It was just what the neighborhood was asking for. Our first customers were mostly families. Many of them actually became like family to me. From there, they recommended it to other people, and soon enough, people came from all over the neighborhood. The bond between C. Manny’s and the neighborhood was strong from the very beginning.

How much time would you say it took for the restaurant to draw in people from the neighborhood?

No time at all. Since day one, we were busy all the time. We had very specific rush hours. From 12-3 PM, it would be jam-packed for lunch. Then it would slow down for a while and, sure enough, we’d be running around again by 6 PM. Everyone wanted to come in because we had windows that surrounded the front of the building, so people could look in. At night, we would light all of the candles, and dim the lights. People passing by would be attracted to the nice, welcoming atmosphere.

It sounds like you had a really strong network of regular customers at C. Manny’s. What did you do to prepare them for the move to Irving Park Road?

We didn’t really have to do any advertising. The news was spread by word of mouth about a month before the move. We eventually put up a huge sign when it got closer to the move. Also, we’ve had the same phone number for the past 20 something years, so it wasn’t hard to find us. Besides, it’s not that far of a stretch, we’re just 2 blocks away from the [previous] location. There was actually a big meeting over at the community center because the patrons didn’t want us to move. We were looking for a place, the lease was due and they couldn’t find anything closer. Over 200 people from the neighborhood voted because there were no nice family restaurants in the area. They wanted our restaurant, a nice family restaurant. But the move ended up being a great opportunity for us, because on top of former customers we got a lot of new people on the other side of Irving Park to come to C. Manny’s.

An old newspaper article about C. Manny's

Were there any changes made to the restaurant, food etc. to draw in customers at the new location?

Our food recipes have been then same for years and years…while the waitresses, like myself, have also been the same for years and years! We’ve really kept everything the same, even the margarita recipe. I would have to say the décor is really different than the past location, though. We’ve hung up the zarapes (Mexican string puppets) instead of plants because we’ve received so many compliments on them. A lot of the time, it’s the first remark to come out of a customer’s mouth. Now we have white tablecloths instead of green and white striped ones. We also have glass table covers and vases filled with different flowers depending on the season. It gives the restaurant a really nice and refined look.

What do you think keeps people coming back to C. Manny’s?

Besides the food being absolutely fresh here, our customer service is [a] priority. Everyone is treated like family and ends up becoming like family. Personally, I like it when the server or bartender takes the time to talk to me and make me feel welcome. That’s exactly what all of us do here at C. Manny’s. Everyone is very welcoming and pleasant here, and I’d have to say that’s the biggest reason people keep coming back to us.

My family and I had started going to C. Manny’s around 15 years ago and we still do. We’ve always been treated like family and that’s why we’ve always come back. It happened to be a great thing that C. Manny’s did move because they have practically doubled their customer base without losing any of their former customers. The fact that that C. Manny’s customer service has highly contributed to its flourishing success is at the very least, remarkable.

Author, Kelly Aarstad and C. Manny's Employee, Maria Elena Rodriguez

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BYOB Suggestions From Gentile’s Wine Shop

Lindsey Arquilla

Ever wonder which wine would best pair with your dinner? Or which Chicago restaurants host BYOB (bring your own beverage) nights? Well, look no further, Foodies: you’ve come to the right place. Step right up and take a seat while I serve you a dish of Vino Delish.

Decades ago, on the corner of Taylor and Racine, you could find an Italian family owned pharmacy.  In 2007, the medicine man’s son, Flavio, turned the vacant spot into Gentile’s Wine Shop. I had the chance to speak with Don Cross, the shop’s first employee.

I have been coming here for a couple of years now. Who are your most frequent patrons, demographically?

There’s a mix, generally. We see a lot of UIC students, but at the same time there are many middle, to upper middle class people around here that come in.

Do you mainly get “middle class-ers” in here for the weekly wine tastings?

No, we still see plenty of UIC kids. There’s a misconception that our wine tastings cost something, but they are actually free every Friday evening.

Oh, really? Walk me through a typical wine tasting at your shop.

Well, sometimes we set them up and other times the wine reps set them up for us. It really just depends on the week, and the wine.

Are they generally very educational, in respect to the wine itself and which wines go with which types of foods?

They can be. But they’re also just a chance for the tasters to try different wines and learn which is their new favorite. We used to have cheese and chocolate and crackers for sale all the time, but now the vendors will usually set them out at their tastings. We’re probably going to start selling munchies again soon.

Gentile’s is part of Printers Row Wine Shop, correct?

Yes, when Flavio’s father owned the pharmacies, Dearborn was one of them. Then, when the spaces opened up, Flavio saw the opportunity to make them into wine shops. Printers Row opened in 2004; Gentiles in 2007.

Flavio—that sounds Italian—are most of your wines from Europe?

No, we definitely have a variety from all over the world. We just got this Savon Blanc in from South Africa today!

Wow! So, the majority of your products are obviously wine. But what else do you sell?

We have different liquors and liqueurs, but the biggest seller is beer. We have a very popular line of craft beer from independent brews. Stone is a huge seller right now, along with Great Lakes and Two Brothers from Warrenville. But, you know, the UIC guys like their PBR. It’s refreshing. Gotta give it that.

Yeah, PBR seems to be a cheap Chicago favorite. So, since our site is about Chicago restaurants, I have to ask: how often do you get customers asking about different wines to bring to BYOB spots?

It happens all the time. Seriously, just tell them to come in here and ask and we’ll hook them up with whatever they need! There’s a wine for every meal.

What would you pair with a spicy dish?

For something like Thai, I would go with a white Rhiesling. That’ll cut right through the spice with its sweetness. Sushi would go great with it, too.

Ah, I see. So for foods with a kick, go with a white.

Yes, they tend to offer a nice balance and contrast. So Mexican, Indian—well, actually, Indian foods are great with beer!

Is that right? I love Indian!

Yes! Me, too! When I first moved here I lived on Devon, and there are tons of Indian restaurants around there. Sometimes, you just gotta have a good beer with a meal. Like, when I have Mexican food—I just want a crisp, light beer to cut through it. Or a margarita!

Haha, yeah, who doesn’t always want a margarita?! Really, though, for a more obvious question, what would be the best pairing with French or Italian food?

French or Italian wine! It’s a no brainer there. There are just so many!

That makes sense. So Don, what is your favorite wine in the shop?

That’s a tough one…there’s so many. I would have to say…Sweet Bru…or Belle Glos…or Gotim Bru…hell, any of my picks.

Your picks?

Yeah, we have tags below wines that we here at the shop choose as our favorites.

I can’t believe I never noticed that about this place—that is really cool! What would you say are the major differences between this shop and Printers Row?

Printers Row has more of the higher end wines, mostly because of their area. We here at Gentile’s sell great products but certainly not as high up on the tier as downtown where people are looking for a higher end bottle.

No matter the area of Chicago, running a wine shop has to be different from working at a liquor store or other beverage retail spot.

No doubt. The major difference is the clientele. Our customers come here for a purpose: to learn. That’s what we’re here for.

There you have it, fellow wine enthusiasts. Gentile’s Wine Shop on Taylor and Printers Row Wine Shop on Dearborn are there for the taking. Stop by either one on your way to your favorite BYOB restaurants (we have taken the liberty of listing several of our favorites below) for your appetizing pleasures. Salute!

Sushi: “Shiso” – North Ave

Thai: “Thai Classic”: – Clark

Mexican: “Cosina Grill”- W Foster

Chinese: “Tao Ran Ju” – Wentworth

Turkish: “Café Orchid” – Addison

Morocan: “Tagine” – Rockwell …Rhiesling (all above)

American BBQ: “Smoque” – Pulaski … Savon Blanc

Vegan: “Earwax” – Milwaukee …Pinot Grigio

Italian: “Trattoria Caterina” – Dearborn…Italian Vino

French: “Crepe Town” – Sheridan…French  Vin

Greek: “Greek Corner” – Damen…Greek Krasi

*Footnote: the meatier the meat, the heartier the red

C. Manny’s Mexican Cuisine II & Cocktail Bar

Kelly Aarstad

Located on the corner of Elston Avenue and Irving Park Road, you will find C. Manny’s, a charming Mexican restaurant and bar. In addition to conventional Mexican cuisine, the quaint eatery offers Cuban and Tex-Mex fare. The restaurant’s modest exterior may be misleading. This is not a stop-and-go style restaurant. On the contrary, inside you will find un restaurante muy elegante, famoso por su comida del mar, or in other words, “a very elegant restaurant famous for its seafood.”

“C. Manny’s food isn’t just from one region from Mexico, or even just Mexico for that matter. Manuela is Cuban and Carlos [her husband] is from Mexico [co-owners of C. Manny’s].” said María Elena Rodriguez, who has been working at C. Manny’s since it opened in 1987.

C. Manny’s specialty is the Guachinango al Mojo de Ajo, a red snapper entrée served with a savory sauce made from garlic, lemon, oranges and onions. It is one of the many favorites offered on the wide-ranging menu. The Guachinango al Mojo de Ajo is actually a Cuban dish.

Along with Cuban food, C. Manny’s features Tex-Mex fare, mixture American and Mexican cuisines. Nachos are a popular Tex-Mex indulgence. In C. Manny’s version, each individual corn tortilla chip is covered in a choice of meat topped off with fresh cheese, guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and sour cream. “I still can remember when we didn’t even serve our nachos with meat. That happened due to popular demand,” says longtime employee María Elena Rodriguez.

C. Manny's Fiesta appetizer and their freshly baked chips and salsa

C. Manny’s staff is gracious and charming. During its 22 years of operation, C. Manny’s has changed locations once. For nearly 14 years, the establishment was located at 4152 N. Elston Avenue. But C. Manny’s loyal staff has preserved the restaurant’s distinctive cuisine and personal flare.

A distinguishing feature of C. Manny’s is the delivery of freshly baked tortilla chips and homemade salsa the moment you are seated. Along with the outstanding service and creative entrées, the salsa is surely worth noting. Not only is it delicious, it also provides just enough kick to give your taste buds a wake-up call before the meal to come.

A popular appetizer is the C. Manny’s Fiesta. This is includes two mouth-watering nachos, two cheesy quesadillas, and two delectable chimichangas and This is a favorite among many patrons, including frequent-diner, Ann Galligan. “Being able to have all three of my favorite starters on one plate doesn’t make it difficult when it comes to deciding on what to begin with,” Galligan said.

C. Manny's Fishbowl Sized Margarita

Another favorite on the  C. Manny’s menu, that happens to be a liquid treat, is the fish bowl-sized margarita. This specialty margarita is perfect for two and comes in a variety of fruity flavors, which makes it hard to resist. These frozen delights are available in banana, pineapple, or strawberry and garnished with a lime and salt, if desired.

The décor at C. Manny’s is like no other Mexican restaurant that I have ever been to. C. Manny’s interior décor is a reflection of the fusion of Mexican, Cuban, and American cultures.

Upon walking into C. Manny’s an invigorating aroma that tempts your senses and lingers in the air. The dining area is dimly lit, but this is off-set nicely by the bold brightly colored walls. This design is a popular Mexican-style of interior décor. Another style can be seen on its walls and ceiling textured with rough adobe and stucco. The primarily Mexican-influenced décor is accompanied by furnishings and decorations that incorporate both Mexican and American cultures.

An Interior Shot of C. Manny's

There are numerous Mexican-themed relics such as stoned carvings and a large tonalpohualli (the Aztec calendar) just above a digital juke box filled with Latin Hits. Currently, Mexican marionettes hang from the ceiling alongside dangling shamrocks for the upcoming St. Paddy’s Day holiday. Mexican beer advertisements like Bohemia, Carta Blanca and Sol sit side-by-side Miller, Bud, and Michelob Ultra advertisements. The fusion of C. Manny’s Mexican, Cuban and American influences has been a contributing factor to the restaurant’s continuous success.

There are countless Mexican restaurants throughout Chicago’s Northwest side, but few  can compare to the delectable entrées and gracious customer service offered at C. Manny’s. If you haven’t  discovered what C. Manny’s has to offer, you’re missing out not only a great meal but a culturally enriching experience. With prices ranging from $6 to $15 and weekly food and drink specials, this neighborhood-oriented restaurant won’t break the bank.

If you are unable to dine-in and experience C. Manny’s atmosphere and cuisine, pick-up and carryout services are available. I absolutely recommend that you try out what C. Manny’s has to offer: Incredible food, captivating scenery, and vivacious personalities.

“When there’s trouble deciding between the hundreds of Mexican restaurants available in the city, C. Manny’s is the ‘no-brainer’ choice,” said regular customer Anna Sterczek.

Check It Out: C. Manny’s

3641 West Irving Park Road

(773) 583-1590