As far back as the 50s, Roger Laguardia's little restaurant and grocery in Bainoa, Cuba, was famous for its stewed oxtails. "It made him very, very popular," says his son Jorge. "They still talk about them." But when his father opened Bucktown's Cafe Laguardia 13 years ago, they weren't a big seller and appeared only infrequently as a special. The oxtails found a permanent home at Laguardia's second outpost in Oak Park, where customers apparently had a more sophisticated appreciation for the odd bits. Marinated in bitter-orange mojo criollo and slowly braised for hours with peppers, onions, and tomatoes, the fist-size vertebrae are cloaked in the thick, clingy sauce that results. Sizable nubbins of tender, fatty flesh fall away at a touch of the fork, but precious bits still cling to cavities in the bone, and a certain degree of finger and tongue play—and suction power—is required to mine them. Luckily, when July floods shut it down, Jorge was in the process of opening LaGuardia's Cuban Bistro in the snug space formerly occupied by the Brown Sack (which has moved to Central Park and Belden). Serving virtually the same menu as the mothership—minus the Mexican dishes—the new spot has established oxtails as its signature dish—just like the old man's place on the island. But with the culinary zeitgeist showing a greater appreciation for extremities, Bucktown's getting a second chance: Jorge, who with his brother, Carlos, took over the business after Roger died six years ago, has taught the cooks there how to make them, and they're now offered regularly.
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