Nohea CaféAddress: 2142 W Roscoe
Phone: (773) 935-7448
As one half of a mixed marriage (I’m a vegetarian, he’s a carnivore), I’m always on the lookout for restaurants that will satisfy us both.
Nohea Café (2142 W. Roscoe Ave., a few blocks west of Damen) fits the bill. The brainchild of the mother-daughter team of Shirley Garcia and Michelle Mochoruk, the café-deli opened in December 2009. With more than 15 years of experience in the catering and restaurant business, Garcia has a clear vision of what she wants to offer customers: top-notch, fresh ingredients paired in interesting flavor combinations, with a slight Latin influence.
The 15 or so sandwiches on Nohea’s menu include the Sweet Cubano (maple honey glazed ham, carnitas, pickles, swiss, and mustard) and the Sassy Roast Beef (roast beef, tomato, sautéed mushrooms, spinach, red onion, provolone, and horseradish). I was cheered to see three completely vegetarian offerings and a note that any of the others can be prepared sans meat.
I went with the Spanish Verde ($7.95), largely because I’d never seen anything like it: mixed greens, avocado, tomato, beans, corn, pico de gallo, and tortilla chips, with pepper jack cheese and chipotle mayo on a pretzel roll. (Can we take a moment to pay homage to whoever started the current pretzel roll craze?) My husband opted for the Spicy Sausalito ($8.25), which was similar to my choice, only with the addition of turkey and ciabatta as the bread.
After ordering at the counter, we took possession of one of the half-dozen booths and waited for our sandwiches. It’s clear that Garcia and Mochoruk put as much thought into the décor as the menu. The booths are fitted with leather padding cushy enough to sink into. The walls—shades of blue and yellow—are lined with paintings and photographs by local artists. A large table provides seating for groups, and a kiddie table comes equipped with games and puzzles to keep the little ones occupied. Comfy armchairs set near the front window all but beg patrons to get lost in a book for an hour or two while sipping their coffee or tea (supplied by Julius Meinl). Mellow music (Motown, Coldplay) plays gently in the background, adding to the relaxed ambiance.
When our food arrived, my husband was disappointed to see that his sandwich was accompanied by a handful of tortilla chips, as opposed to something more substantial such as fries, especially for the prices Nohea charges (sandwiches range from $7.95 to $8.50). Later he conceded a side would have been overkill, since the sandwiches are so hefty (we estimated four to five inches tall) and filling. He was thrilled not only with the generous portion of meat (“not skimpy like other places!”) but also with its high quality—moist and well seasoned—and the complex flavor of the sandwich as a whole. He’s already plotting his next visit to sample the roast beef. (Nohea uses Boar’s Head meats, also available by the pound, and Labriola bread.)
For my part, this was a rare occasion when I was as excited by my food as my husband. The sandwich was bursting with creamy avocado, which served as a sort of glue for the corn, beans, and tortilla chips. The cheese and mayo added just the right amount of spice (a few bites boasted some real heat), and the soft, salty pretzel provided sturdy support. I had picked up a fork to catch stray ingredients, just in case, but the sandwich held together. I could order this again and again.
Nohea is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (closed on Sundays), and in addition to sandwiches, it offers salads, hand-scooped ice cream (Ashby’s), and assorted breakfast and dessert pastries. The deli side of the café, located in the rear of the shop, is stocked with gourmet goodies such as crackers, Italian meats, cheeses, mustards, sauces, (etc.), perfect for a gift basket.
Garcia and Mochoruk were inspired to open Nohea after visiting a similar café in Oahu and named their shop after the Hawaiian word for “lovely” or “loveliness,” which it’s fair to say the duo has achieved.