HUMBOLDT PARK — A cafe specializing in a special kind of baked empanada known as a paste, popular in Mexico’s Hidalgo state, has opened in Humboldt Park.
Café Pachuca, located on the ground floor of the Vista on the Park apartment building at 2635 W. North Ave., is inspired by the Luna family’s roots in Pachuca, Mexico, where pastes reign supreme.
The cafe opened last month with the whole family in on the effort. Jorge Emilio Luna runs the business; his wife, Irma, who has perfected the family recipe, is helping out in the kitchen; their daughter, Melissa, is handling marketing; and their son, George, is managing the cafe.
“This is a little piece of home in Chicago,” Melissa Luna said.
Pastes have a long history in Mexico.
In the 1820s, a British company bought silver mining settlements in Pachuca and Real del Monte after they were destroyed in the Mexican War of Independence, bringing Cornish miners to Mexico. For lunch, the miners would munch on pasties: baked pastries filled with beef, diced potato, turnip and onion.
The baked treat stuck and Mexico created its own version, called pastes. Today you can find pastes on nearly every street corner in Hidalgo.
Café Pachuca is serving five versions: classic English, chicken tinga, chorizo with potatoes, Hawaiian and black bean. All of the pastes are made from scratch using a family recipe that honors the tradition of the baked pastry, Jorge Emilio Luna said.
In addition to pastes, Café Pachuca serves coffee drinks from the Italian roaster Guglielmo. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there is no indoor seating, but there is seating outside.
The Luna family was drawn to the Humboldt Park location, away from their home in suburban Oak Brook, because of the neighborhood’s Latino population and because the area doesn’t have many coffee shops, Melissa Luna said.
Humboldt Park “is changing. Businesses are growing. Hopefully we can help bring more businesses to the area,” she said.
But Café Pachuca isn’t Jorge Emilio Luna’s first restaurant.
Jorge Emilio Luna ran a restaurant in Mexico City before moving to the United States in the mid-80s and teaming up with a cousin to open a Mexican restaurant in Cicero.
Not long into the stint, he struck out on his own to open a Mexican restaurant in Lyons, called Ay Caramba. That restaurant lasted about three years.
It wasn’t until 2012 that Jorge Emilio Luna opened his first restaurant in Chicago, at 47th Street and Pulaski Road. But the restaurant, called La Huasteca, was destroyed in an electrical fire just three months after opening.
Café Pachuca is the culmination of years of planning — and baking flaky, meat- and vegetable-filled pastries.
“Every time we go to Mexico, if we don’t come back with at least one dozen pastes, we’re in trouble with the family,” Jorge Emilio Luna said.
After just a few weeks of business, the cafe is already attracting regulars. One man who said his parents are from Pachuca has come in several times for the signature pastes, the family said.
“We have a lot of clients who say, ‘Wow, I haven’t had a paste from Pachuca in years because I haven’t been back to Mexico,'” Melissa Luna said. “There’s clients like him that keep coming back, clients who weren’t familiar and now are.
“We always give the story. They’re amazed: ‘I just came in for a cup of coffee and now I know the whole story of the paste.’ They come in for a coffee and they leave with two pastes.”
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