Sazón De Illinois: La Casa de Samuel

CHICAGO – Little Village, “La Villita,” is a vibrant and diverse neighborhood on the southwest side of Chicago. With a solid Mexican-American heritage, this community is known for its rich culture, tight-knit community spirit, and delicious cuisine.

If you’re looking for authentic Mexican cuisine in this neighborhood, look no further than La Casa de Samuel. This beloved restaurant has been serving delicious dishes inspired by traditional Mexican recipes for decades.

Founded in 1989 by acclaimed chef Samuel Linares, La Casa de Samuel offers a warm and inviting atmosphere that makes diners feel right at home. The walls are adorned with colorful murals and artwork, creating a festive ambiance that perfectly complements the flavorful dishes on the menu.

Illinois Latino News had the opportunity to speak with two members of the Linares family, Arturo and Maribel.

Arturo and Maribel Linares on what sets La Casa de Samuel apart from other eateries…

Samuel Linares, an immigrant from Mexico, and his wife, Alicia, arrived in Chicago in 1986. Drawing from his experience working in some of the finest restaurants in Mexico, Linares dove into the city’s restaurant scene. He first worked at El Chile restaurant and the Columbia Yacht Club before deciding to open La Casa de Samuel.

“He (Samuel) noticed that they (restaurants) don’t have the traditional dishes from Mexico,” said Maribel Linares. The daughter of the late chef explained how her father introduced diners to regional specialties like Cabrito Estilo Monterrey (roasted goat kid) instead of the typical simple Mexican dishes catering to U.S. tastes.

The restaurant has an extensive menu selection of classic Mexican dishes that are sure to satisfy any craving, such as quesadillas de huitlacoche and charales empanizados. It also entertains more exotic pursuits, like iguana en salsa de ajillo and cecina de venado. (something about the kitchen)

Platanos flameados cooked at your table

“Mi Papa fue un chef de la vieja escuela,” said Arturo Linares of his father, who insisted on following recipes exactly as written. That discipline has been a fundamental part of La Casa de Samuel’s success for more than 30 years.

Originally from San Francisco in the state of Guerrero, Linares grew up in a farming community. Seeking to support his family economically, he left home at a young age and headed to Acapulco, a popular tourism destination in the 1950s. That is where his culinary training began, from dishwasher to learning how quality ingredients and expert preparation were key to success.

Photo Credit: Linares family.

Since opening its doors, La Casa de Samuel has operated from the same spot at 2834 W. Cermak Rd. According to his children, the Linares family feels proud of having helped launch more than a dozen Chicago-area Mexican businesses and restaurants started by people Chef Linares trained.

“We live here, all of us,” says Maribel Linares about the familial relationship between the restaurant and its customers that her father nurtured. “They met here, they started dating here,” she says remembering one couple. “They married, they bring their kids, and now those kids bring their kids.”

Sadly, Samuel Linares, beloved chef and patriarch, died from COVID-19 in December 2020. He was 76.

Still photos: Esteban Balta, video: Isabella Balta

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