Listen up, because I'm making your lunch plans for you right now: Drive over to Ella, just outside the Loop, and pull in to the Dr. Gleem car wash. Yes, the one with the palapas out front.
Get your car's oil changed, or get it detailed, or get your expired inspection sticker taken care of. Whatever you do, head inside to Facundo Cafe while you're being productive over your lunch hour and enjoy one of the tastiest burgers in the city.
The jovial Danny Harper will take your order at the grill, then cook it to order right in front of you. Yes, you could take your meal to one of the pub-level tables and watch your car go through the wash, but it's far more interesting to watch Chef Harper and his sous, Venicio Lopez, work the tiny kitchen like they're dancers in a well-choreographed musical, the sounds of the grill and the slamming refrigerator doors providing the soundtrack as they go.
The kitchen has only been open since February, but Harper already has plans for expansion. It's a good thing, too, because the grill is already doing a healthy business at lunch without any marketing and only one solitary review on Yelp. Word of mouth is keeping them busy instead.
It's even more reason to like Facundo.
If the idea of a burger at a car wash is odd, keep in mind that the Facundo family -- which owns Dr. Gleem -- are old hands at multitasking anyway. In addition to running the car wash and auto shop (which, by the way, also contains a hair salon and shoe shine station), the family also runs Facundo Home Builders and lives right down the street in Garden Oaks.
I was caught by the sight of a cafe inside the car wash as I drove down Ella last week on the way home from Petrol Station. The palapas and fountains outside were even more of a draw, as was a sign advertising fish tacos with mango slaw. It demanded a visit.
Once inside, with my car getting its oil changed and its interior scrubbed, I took a seat at the grill and asked Harper about his favorite item on the menu. To my surprise, he didn't say "fish tacos," but rather the turkey, Swiss and avocado sandwich or the spinach, bacon and avocado burger. The man likes his avocado, so I decided to go with the latter.
It was a surprisingly good combination, with plenty of baby spinach on the sourdough bun tasting far better than standard lettuce ever thought to. And I found myself wishing I hadn't ordered the burger with mayo; the avocado was so slick and buttery that the burger didn't need any condiments. Who needs cheese on a burger when you can have sweetly unctuous avocado? What I was most impressed with was the way the entire thing held together, though I could have gone for a rarer center to my patty and a bit more juice from it...but that well could have been the burger structure's undoing.
The sweet potato fries on the side were standard stuff, but you can get regular fries, onion rings, chips, mashed potatoes or a whole host of other starchy stuff on the side instead if sweet potato fries aren't your thing.
The daily dessert, however, was an outrageously good red velvet cupcake from Dessert Gallery. Harper said that if and when Facundo expands, he wants to start baking his own desserts. For now, though, I'd say that ordering from Dessert Gallery is a pretty good compromise (not to mention a great show of support for a fellow small business).
And while I'm counting the hours until I can get back to Facundo, I'm debating whether to make it a lunch visit or a breakfast visit. Yes, Facundo serves breakfast as well. And the croissant with bacon and the French toast are both calling my name today.
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