photo credit: Kim Kovacik
Of all the carryout and delivery-only places in Chicago, Cocoa Chili is one of our favorites. Not only is the food at this Afro-Carribean spot consistently great (which we’ll get to in a second), but we’re also big fans of its origin story.
The owner, Niquenya Collins, is a business development coach who decided to take her own advice and turn her love of cooking into an actual restaurant. So, she opened up a little spot in the Hatchery in East Garfield Park. Clearly, it was a great decision, because everything we’ve tried has been absolutely delicious.
The smoky jerk chicken is one of the best versions we’ve ever had, the Sengalese poulet yassa is tender and full of lemongrass, and the namesake cocoa chili will make you mad at every other chili you’ve ever met. This place also helped us to discover that fried plantains dusted in cinnamon sugar are an incredible palate cleanser.
And because all they do is carryout and delivery, everything is packaged carefully and arrives hot, even though they have a fairly large (within five miles) delivery radius. Another cool thing about Cocoa Chili (besides the food) is that for an extra $5 you can also order a meal for the Love Fridge, an organization that provides free food for those in need. Our only complaint about Cocoa Chili is they’re only open Wednesday through Friday, and damn it, we’d really like to order from here more often. But we forgive them - and if they ever end up opening a brick and mortar, you’ll know where to find us.
If you have to order one thing from here (and we hope this isn’t the case) make it the jerk chicken. It’s tender, spicy, and slathered in a smoky jerk sauce that we love. It comes with a generous serving of steamed cabbage and coconut rice with peas. Both are the perfect accompaniment - especially when you mix it all together with the jerk sauce.
Sengalese Poulet Yassa
For something flavorful but not as spicy as the jerk, order the Sengalese poulet yassa. The bone-in chicken is topped with a citrusy sauce that’s brimming with lemongrass. It’s served with roasted vegetables and basmati rice.
Look, we’ve made our fair share of chili, and some of it has been truly great. But saying that now feels like a lie after tasting this spicy chili con carne. This spot’s namesake dish includes their “cocoa chili” seasoning, which gives everything a spicy richness that our chili could only dream of having.
For the love of god, order this wrap. The curry is stewed with potatoes, taro root, peas, and spicy greens, then wrapped in a buttery tawa-baked roti. There’s also an option to fill it with tender pieces of chicken. This is also served with their excellent peppa sauce, which adds lots of heat and acidity.
Simple and delicious - the plantains are sliced, pan fried, and dusted with cinnamon. This is a must-order.