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Cover Story, Restaurants, February 5, 2009



The dinner price of a typical entree is indicated by dollar signs:

$ less than $10

$$ $10-$15

$$$ $15-$20

$$$$ $20-$30

$$$$$ more than $30


African Harambee Harambee, the motto of Kenya, means "pulling together," and at this far-north-side pan-African restaurant, owner Sisay Abebe pulls together dishes from all over the continent. We started with African Summer Rolls (the only appetizer apart from soup or salad), cigar-shaped egg-roll skins stuffed with mildly spiced beef. From the meat portion of the menu (there are also seafood and vegetarian sections), we opted for the jollof rice, "spinach meat" (your choice of beef, lamb, or chicken with potatoes, carrots, and spinach in a tahini sauce), and the sleeper hit of the evening, a delicious dried fruit curry with lamb. Entrees come with your choice of rice, couscous, injera, chapati, or ugali, a cornmeal mush common in East Africa. There are African beers and wines on offer, and service couldn't have been more welcoming. a Lunch Fri-Sun, dinner daily, 7537 N. Clark, 773-764-2200. $$ —Kate Schmidt

Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant We had conspicuously overordered—an injera-lined platter each of yebeg alicha (lamb stew), lega tibs (a red beef stew), a veggie combo, and lamb tibis (sauteed chunks of lamb)—but at meal's end we couldn't stop rooting through the remains to pick out the toothy, caramelized whole cloves of garlic buried there. The buttery pureed red lentils in the veggie combo answered my call for spiciness; the lega tibs, oily and red, and yebeg alicha, greenish and creamier, were both cooked in kebe, butter simmered with onion, garlic, ginger, cardamom, turmeric, and cumin. As we packed up our comically high stack of leftovers boxes and settled the comically small bill, my friend and I caught each other eyeing the ruins of the lega tibs for a last undiscovered bit of garlic. a Lunch, dinner daily, 6118 N. Ravenswood, 773-465-6710. $$ —Tasneem Paghdiwala

Cafe Senegal Owned by brother and sister Boubacar and Diaw Sow, Cafe Senegal is tiny but tastefully done up in vibrant tropical colors with tablecloth designs echoing an African theme. When they owned the grocery a few doors down, the Sows started dishing out West African specialties along with hometown favorites like gyros and Italian beef. Now it's all about the cuisine of Senegal, where Diaw learned to cook from her mother and aunts. Food here is 100 percent zabiha halal. Ceebu jen is red snapper on tomato rice, delicately stewed with laid-back seasonings; sup kanja is described as an "okra sauce" but it's more complex than that sounds, with chunks of lamb, dried fish, and smoked turkey. Senegal is known as the peanut capital of the world, and the legume is prominent in mafe yapp, traditional peanut butter stew, and dakhine, lamb and beans in a peanut sauce. Served as dessert (though probably also an excellent breakfast), thiakhri is simply yogurt and couscous with raisins, a creamy puddinglike confection that cools the palate after hot sauces that are served with meat pasties Boubacar says are neighborhood faves. Diaw makes her own sugary sorrel and flu-season-appropriate ginger beverages, and soon she'll be serving omelets and baguettes on a Frenchified breakfast menu. a Lunch, dinner daily, cash only. $ —David Hammond

French African Restaurant le Conakry Before ordering at le Conakry, it's best to ask the chef what's available; the "temporary menu"—multinational and ambitious—is merely a rough guide to what's actually going on in the kitchen. On most nights offerings are limited, and less common preparations—such as dishes with atieke, an Ivory Coast couscous and manioc paste—require advance notice. Though the restaurant boasts a "natural and organic" menu, a Goya vegetable can sitting on the cutting board suggested the probable provenance of some produce, but no matter: this chow would surely qualify as West African comfort food. Conservatively seasoned, dense with stomach-satisfying carbs, it's soft and goes down easy. Chicken and fish yassa, Senegalese favorites, come drizzled with griddled onion and olives. A traditional Guinean stew of cassava leaves, probably the most veggie-heavy dish on the menu, is funked up with fermented shrimp paste. The folks here are genial and welcoming, mitigating the somewhat spartan surroundings of the restaurant, which seems to function as a kind of West African emigre community center, with Internet access provided. a Lunch, dinner daily, cash only, BYO, 2049 W. Howard, 773-262-6955. $$ —DH


Buffalo Joe's Sure, there are wings—mild, spicy, "suicide," and barbecue, but the Chicago location of this Evanston minichain also offers burgers, a range of chicken and fish sandwiches, fish dinners, fish-and-chips, and rib tips. Call ahead for takeout. a Lunch, dinner daily, open till 11 PM Fri-Sat, cash only, 1841 W. Howard, 773-764-7300, $

Capt'n Nemo's Original location of the small local sandwich chain, serving subs, soups, and chili since 1971. a Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat, cash only, 7367 N. Clark, 773-973-0570. $

Fulton's Chicken Last year the owner of East of Edens opened this Greek-diner-style quick-service restaurant specializing in rotisserie chicken; a half-order of dark with rice, potato wedges, and bread is just $3.99. Outdoor seating under Vienna Beef umbrellas offers a prime view of Touhy Avenue. a Lunch daily, dinner Mon-Sat, open till 11 PM Fri-Sat, cash only, BYO, 7140 N. Clark, 773-465-5544. $

GrillInn Clean, friendly Morse Avenue takeout and delivery place offering burgers, chicken, and ribs as well as Greek specialties like souvlaki. a Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat, open till midnight, 1422 W. Morse, 773-465-8080. $

Harold's Chicken Shack #44 A bright, spiffy storefront with green booths, chicken-printed curtains, a chicken clock, and a stuffed chicken mounted on a pedestal, Harold's Chicken Shack #44 is one of the better newer outlets of the venerable chain. The batter isn't as peppery as at some, and the fries are crinkle cut and on the soggy side, but who cares when the bird itself is so moist and meaty and the whole package—a couple slices of white bread serving as the foundation—is covered with vinegary orange hot sauce? At lunch you can bag four wings, a half order of white or dark, gizzards, or chicken livers with fries, bread, coleslaw, and a soda for $4.39. Harold's #44 also offers soul-food sides such as greens and mac 'n' cheese, but go early if you want a shot at them. a Lunch, dinner daily, open till 11:30 PM Fri-Sat, 6952 N. Clark, 773-465-2300. $ —KS

Misericordia Greenhouse Inn Casual cafe staffed by Misericordia's developmentally disabled residents, with desserts from the adjacent Hearts and Flour Bakery. a Lunch Tue-Fri, brunch Sun, 6300 N. Ridge, 773-273-4182, $

U Lucky Dawg It still stands on honorary Fluky's Way, but a few years ago the owners of this longtime Western Avenue hot dog joint detached themselves from other Fluky's licensees with a new name and a new sign. Little else has changed, from the jukeboxes at each booth to the lineup of dogs, Polishes, and char dogs to the surly help. In addition to the standards there's a full breakfast menu including a lox plate, and where else can you get hot dog gum? a Lunch, dinner daily, cash only, 6821 N. Western, 773-274-3652. $ —KS

Wolfy's Fronted by a Paul Bunyan-size hot dog speared on a 35-foot-tall two-tine serving fork, Wolfy's has been pleasing West Rogers Park residents, Mather High School students, and those in the know for five generations. A steamed poppy-seed bun cushions a natural-casing Vienna Beef hot dog and well-balanced array of traditional Chicago dog accompaniments: tomato, relish, chopped onion, mustard, and a pickle spear dusted with celery salt. Tasty as the dog may be, it's hard to resist the smoky seduction of a char-grilled all-beef Polish, caramelized onion lending a note of sweetness to the aggressively spiced sausage. Thin, crisp fries, burgers, gyros, and a nice representation of hot-dog-stand usual suspects round out the offerings, though I stick with the Polishes and dogs. Parking, plentiful seating, and efficient service are all bonuses. a Lunch, dinner daily, cash only, 2734 W. Peterson, 773-743-0207. $ —Gary Wiviott

american contemporary/regional

Century Public House A pricey, perfunctory brunch at this contemporary American gastropub had me procrastinating about going back, but in retrospect I should have known not to make judgments based on that meal: I really liked dinner here. The menu focuses on locally and sustainably grown ingredients, and as such is on the expensive side, with entrees from the high teens. But smoked trout Caesar salad is a brilliant innovation, and roast chicken was delectably moist and flavorful, as were the cubed root vegetables that accompanied it. House-made sausages and liverwurst are standout, and the beer selection's terrific, especially for the neighborhood. Clearly as much care as went into the rehab of this space and the theater above it—the venue is LEED certified—is going into the food. I just hope the neighborhood follows suit; the dining room often appears to be empty. a Lunch Tue-Sat; dinner Sun, Tue-Sat; brunch Sun; open till 2 AM Fri-Sat, midnight Sun, Tue-Sat; 1330 W. Morse, 773-654-5100. $$$ —KS

Morseland With its oak and slate bar and variety of nooks and crannies, the Morseland provides the perfect respite for those looking to drink a few hours away. The mojitos are marvelous: a handful of crushed mint, not too much sugar, and the right amount of soda. The antipasto, too, was great, a spread of salami, assorted cheeses, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, and artichokes that could easily have fed four people. From there you might do best to go with a sandwich, which include po'boys, both corned beef and turkey Reubens, a daunting burger you'll manage anyway, and an excellent Caribbean pork diablo sandwich. Eclectic entrees include a vegan Moroccan stew, but at $16-$20, others—rib eye, jambalaya, crab cakes—are pretty pricey for a place with a pool table. There's music nightly, and be warned: Morseland can get really loud later on in the evening. A more peaceful option is the Sunday brunch, which features a good eggs Benedict and caramelized bacon. (See also Music.) a Dinner daily, brunch Sun, open till 3 AM Sat, other nights till 2, 1218 W. Morse, 773-764-8900, $$$ —Chip Dudley

RoPa Restaurant & Wine Bar I miss Cafe Suron, the always pleasant Mediterranean spot that has been replaced by an unworthy successor in RoPa (short for "Rogers Park"). Appetizers like kashke bademjan, an irresistible warm eggplant spread, are no more, replaced with boringly generic starters like artichoke dip, a crab cake, and fried calamari, a lot more batter than squid and served with a cloying "Thai chile sauce." Where Cafe Suron was BYO, RoPa has a full liquor license, but I'd gladly trade the option of specialty martinis for the ability to bring my own bottle, particularly when the list here is long on marked-up critter wines. I did like the Aegean salad, chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, parsley, and red onions dressed with lemon and olive oil. But that was the sole highlight: wet noodle-y seafood linguine came with chewy scallops and an unopened mussel, a so-called Cajun tilapia had next to no heat and was served with bland sauteed spinach. Other entrees are no more interesting, unless you get excited about paying in the low $20s for grilled meat with sides a la carte. Service—with a 15-minute wait for bread and water—was well meaning but hopeless. a Dinner daily, open till 11 PM Fri-Sat, 1146 W. Pratt, 773-465-6500. $$$ —KS

Uncommon Ground It's on a flat stretch of Devon in the old Speakeasy space, but somehow the Rogers Park outpost of the Wrigleyville hangout Uncommon Ground has an Alpine feel—must be the fireplaces, upscale-rustic decor, and leather easy chairs. As at the original, the seasonal menu emphasizes locally produced, family farmed, and organic products including house-infused vodkas. (Order a "TreeTini," made with the pear vodka, and the restaurant pledges to plant a tree.) The menu's eclectic and surprisingly carnivore-centric given the crunchy mantras. I tried the Mediterranean Trio—hummus, eggplant salad, and tzatziki served with pita and marinated olives, the dips uniformly fresh with herbs. Current large plates include Duroc pork posole, a buffalo skirt steak, and a Gunthorp Farm chicken breast; pumpkin ravioli and three-cheese mac are among the pastas. Breakfast and brunch feature standards like huevos and a breakfast burrito but also chilaquiles with chorizo and a breakfast melt with Nueske peppercorn bacon served on Red Hen black bread—I am so there. Live entertainment most nights of the week; the rooftop garden is certified organic. (See also Music.) a Breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days, open till midnight Fri-Sat, 1401 W. Devon, 773-465-9801, $$$ —KS


Blue Elephant In addition to the standard curries, stir-fries, and fried rice dishes, this affordable Thai restaurant by Loyola offers several vegetarian-friendly options (spinach pot stickers, tofu satay, vegetarian noodle bowls) and a few curveballs like jerk catfish. a Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner daily, BYO, 1235 W. Devon, 773-262-5216. $

Grande Noodles and Sushi Bar This restaurant would easily blend into Lincoln or Logan Square but stands out amid the Mexican bakeries and taquerias on far North Clark. The stylish lavender and orange walls are hung with kitchen utensils and a black-and-white photo montage of flowers; the cuisine is a Japanese-Thai hybrid. Platters of fresh, generously cut sushi, maki combination plates, and bento boxes are reasonably priced, as are relatively standard but nicely prepared Thai specialties (all under $9) like the mildly seasoned Seafood Delight with shelled mussels, squid, shrimp, and krab tossed with vegetables. For lighter appetites there's a salad with warm ground chicken, beef, or pork served on greens; cold cabbage and shredded carrots topped with peanuts; close to 50 individual nigiri sushi; and some interesting maki like the sweet potato tempura roll (with green onion, cream cheese, and wasabi mayo). a Lunch, dinner daily, BYO, 6632 N. Clark, 773-761-6666, $ —LLS

Hai Woon Dae When it comes to late-night Korean barbecue, the small, sedate, and friendly Hai Woon Dae is a better bet than the vastly more popular San Soo Gap San. As at SSGS, live coal grilling is the focus, but there's a greater, more interesting, and lovingly prepared selection of table meats and kitchen-cooked dishes. I particularly like the yook hwe, beef tartare dressed with raw egg and julienned Asian pear (also available on bi bim bap), or panfried bacon with kimchi (sam gyeop sal kimchi bokum), steamed eggs (gyelan jjim), cold spicy buckweat noodles with raw fish (hwe naengmyeun), and a thick, tangy kimchi pancake. There are three kinds of grilled mackerel; a great selection of two-person "casseroles," hot pots bubbling with goat and vegetables or pig trotters and shank; and a plate of pungent preserved crabs (gye jang bak ban) you won't forget for weeks. a Lunch Sat-Sun, dinner daily, open till 4 AM nightly, 6240 N. California, 773-764-9018. $$ —Mike Sula

Katsu Katsu Imamura and his wife, Haruko, have long earned the loyalty of traveling Japanese businessmen and discerning locals with their friendly attention and superb high-quality fish. The best approach is to place your fate in Imamura's artist's hands and allow him to craft a sashimi combination of his choice. Long slabs of that day's most beautiful fish drape over each end of the rice, accented with fresh minty shiso leaf, tiny mounds of caviar, and flecks of gold leaf. Nigiri is generously portioned, and that's just one way in which Katsu, despite prices that can be steep, surpasses the still more exorbitant see-and-be-seen scenes. Don't overlook the cooked dishes and specials: a grilled yellowtail jaw, amazingly moist and tender, is armored with crispy caramelized bits. Nuggets of lightly fried flounder fillet crown the fish's equally delicious, delicate, extra-crispy skeleton. Even simple dishes like thin grilled slices of steaky beef tongue or a tender sectioned squid come off like they were born, raised, and sacrificed just for you. a Dinner Sun, Wed-Sat, 2651 W. Peterson, 773-784-3383. $$$ —MS

Mom's Bake Shop It's easy to drive right by this Filipino banquet hall and bakery, nestled behind a gas station on Peterson and Western. Menu items meld Asian and Spanish cuisine, and most are available on party trays for the frequent events held here (and at the $10.95 Sunday brunch buffet from 11:30 AM to 3:30 PM). The baked goods include bucchi, fried dough rounds filled with sweet red bean paste; puto, a rice flour cake; dutsinta, a brown sugar and butter confection; a creamy custard made from ube, the purple yam native to the Philippines; and bibingka, a luscious cake cooked in a large banana leaf. There are flaky empanadas to carry out, filled with either beef or pork. a Lunch daily, dinner Thu-Sat, brunch Sun, 2415 W. Peterson, 773-784-1318. $ —LLS

Pekin House Restaurant and Lounge Well past the half century mark, this Cantonese-American relic hasn't aged gracefully, its half-operative bulb-lit sign the only evidence of its former glory. Inside, the fluorescent-lit drop ceiling, stacks of unwashed dishes on a rear table, and the faint but pervasive odor of sour mop water make it seem like the loneliest, most desolate place in the world. There is something appealing about the fat, greasy, peanut buttery egg rolls, but otherwise be prepared to digest huge portions of gloppy, sloppily prepared Ameri-Chinese classics along with generous helpings of ineffable sadness. My best recommendation would be for the suicidal-but-not-fully-committed to consider the doughy, undercooked pot stickers, the watery ginger-spiced bok choi hearts, and the arid pressed almond duck for a final meal. The dolor is somehow compounded by the earnest, sweet service and the relative popularity of Usmania's zabiha halal Chinese spot down the block. aLunch, dinner daily, open till 11 PM Fri-Sat, 2311 W. Devon 773-465-1630. $ —MS

Tampopo Daniel Choe named his place after Juzo Itami's noodle western, whose eponymous heroine is named for the Japanese word for dandelion. Like that woman's ramen shop, Choe's restaurant is bright and earnest; unlike her, he offers more than just three different kinds of noodles—there are 14 types of ramen, udon, and soba, plus donburi, bento boxes, sushi, and nearly two pages of traditional Japanese appetizers and entrees on the menu. Choe has a deft touch with the deep fryer, rendering delicate items like panko-fried oysters and halibut tempura light and greaseless. He handles artistic presentations—like a startling whole squid, sliced then reassembled, that looks capable of wrestling down a submarine, or steamed shrimp dumplings in wasabi-infused wrappers—just as easily as home-style dishes like good ol' sukiyaki, or agedashi tofu, fried bean curd with ginger in a minced radish sauce with tiny mushrooms and soybeans. a Lunch, dinner Sun, Tue-Sat; BYO Wed-Thu; 5665 N. Lincoln, 773-561-2277. $$ —MS

Viet Bistro For years Pasteur was a favorite for classy, upscale Vietnamese that avoided the ridiculous excesses of Asian fusion. Sadly, it's now closed, and Viet Bistro, chef-owner Daniel Nguyen's follow-up, may leave people even more disappointed. Tired appetizers of vegetable tempura and beef skewers and standard stir-fries predominate, less imaginative and more prissy than those at a half-dozen spots on Argyle Street. Even the more unusual items lacked excitement: a papaya salad with jellyfish, something that's usually searingly hot, here was practically unseasoned and required a healthy dollop of chile sauce to bring it to life. Nem, a sweet grilled chicken and pork meatball lollipopped on a stalk of lemongrass, was pretty but sort of pointless. a Dinner daily, 1346 W. Devon, 773-465-5720. $$$ —MS


Caribbean American Bakery Beef pies—flaky half-moons stuffed with mildly spiced ground beef—are the real draw at this Rogers Park bakery, and there's frequently a crowd of customers awaiting a fresh batch; flat, white coco bread is meant to accompany the pies. Most of the other island-inspired offerings here are sweet: bulla (spice cake), totoes (coconut buns), spice buns, and yellow cake. While the building at 1539 W. Howard undergoes renovation, the bakery is located in a temporary location just down the street and has cut down on its on-site baked goods. a 10 AM-7:30 PM Mon-Sat, 10 AM-5 PM Sun, 1547 W. Howard, 773-761-0700, $ —LLS

Good to Go Jamaican Jerk and Juice Bar Good? Damn straight. This budget-chic storefront across from the drab gray facade of an Evanston Police Department outpost serves moist, succulent jerk chicken and pork with some of the best smoke flavor you can get on the north side. My friend had a lip-smacking special of small, firm curry shrimp and, sharing a plastic spoon, we also tried the goat head soup with tender meat. There are all the Jamaican standards here—brown stew chicken, curry goat, oxtail, cow foot, and red snapper, served en escoveitch or steamed—and I just might hike up again to try the fish-tea or cow-skin soup ("very chewy," said the counterman). Juices and smoothies on offer include the Iron Man (carrots, beets, and ginger), the Lady Love (cucumber juice and ginger), and, inevitably, the One Love (carrot, apple, and ginger). a Lunch, dinner daily, open till 11 PM Fri-Sat, 1947 W. Howard, 773-381-7777. $ —KS

Jamaica Jerk It's a neighborhood standby, and god knows it's a bright spot on a skanky stretch of Howard, but the food is nothing to go out of the way for. Jerk chicken, not very hot or smoky, is dry; ditto rice and peas, though I do like the curried goat and a side of spinach and plantains. The menu has all the other Caribbean bases covered, from conch fritters to coconut shrimp, fish escoveitch, and festival, plus Jamaican beverages like sorrel, ginger, and fresh limeade. For dessert: house-made rum-raisin and Grape Nut ice cream. a Lunch, dinner daily, BYO, 1631 W. Howard, 773-764-1546, $ —KS

Tickie's Belizean Cuisine Cheery turquoise tables and walls brighten this tiny place across from the Howard el, and the menu melds Caribbean and Latin flavors. Offerings include dukunuisas, tamales made with fresh corn instead of corn flour, filled with pork and steamed in foil; panades, tiny fish-filled crescent-shaped pastries accompanied by a spicy habanero sauce and shredded cabbage; and soups full of ingredients like cow's feet, tripe, or conch. Stewed chicken, beef, and oxtail are the main entrees here, along with several whole deep-fried fish served with tomatoes and onions. Desserts—hot cross buns and lemon pie among them—are all homemade. a Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, 7605 N. Paulina, 773-973-3919. $ —LLS

coffee shops

The Common Cup This friendly cafe represents the upside of the slow but steady gentrification in Rogers Park: Intelligentsia coffee, Red Hen breads, quiche, and free WiFi just a block from the dollar store. aBreakfast, lunch daily, dinner Mon-Sat, 1501 W. Morse, 773-338-0256, $ —KS

Charmers Cafe/Dagel and Beli Ram on High ("numperpickel bagel, hoked money sham, swiss, tour yoice of choppings"). Fart Smella ("barlic gagel, boast reef, comato, tapers, and lomaine rettuce"). Spoonerisms are all very well in their way, I suppose, but this little deli and cafe goes so nuts with the verbal scramblings that deciphering the offerings just might drive you nuts. Thankfully the place does offer a "translation menu" in plain English. The other gimmick here is that the more-than-25 specialty bagel sandwiches all come steamed, which has an upside (who doesn't like melted cheese?) but also a slight downside—since the process takes about ten minutes, you'll wait a little while for your food. The bagels themselves are from New York Bagel & Bialy, and they come with a wide range of accompaniments, from spicy mayo to olive cream cheese. Whereas Dagel and Beli used to adjoin Charmers Cafe, it's now been merged with it, so Charmers' pastries from Bennison's, Homer's ice cream, teas, and superior Metropolis coffee are also available. a Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, 1500 W. Jarvis, 773-743-2233. $ —KS

Ennui Cafe Ennui Cafe has been sitting comfortably at the southeast corner of Sheridan and Lunt since sometime in the late 80s, imperturbable in the face of the constant car traffic whizzing by. Despite being below street level, it's bright and airy due to the huge windows. At the entrance—two sets of doors on either side of a lone corner table, creating what people call "the fishbowl"—three steep stairs pitch you into the cafe, where mismatched furniture scrapes against the checkerboard floors, ceiling fans whir, and a long narrow counter under chalkboard menus is everyone's first stop. The food is inexpensive and reliable: there are baked goods, eggs, sandwiches, paninis, salads, hummus, focaccia, soups. Desserts, both baked and blended (smoothies, shakes, malts), are also available, as is an endless variety of coffees, loose leaf teas, and sodas. a Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, 6981 N. Sheridan, 773-973-2233. $ —Elizabeth M. Tamny

Panini Panini Stylish coffee shop offering omelets, sandwiches, salads, and of course panini, plus eastern European specials like cevapi and goulash. The outdoor patio is popular in warm weather, when ice cream is also a draw. a Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, 6764 N. Sheridan, no phone number available at press time.


A & T Restaurant Every time I've eaten at the A & T (for "Abundant and Tasty") I've asked what the soups were, only to choose the chicken, and it's never failed me. It's always slightly different—sometimes cloudier, sometimes more golden, sometimes brinier, sometimes more oniony, sometimes with a little more fat floating on top. On a cold winter afternoon, divested of some of its abundant noodles and with a few squishy rolls and butter on the side, it is manna. The rest of the fare at this neighborhood place covers the classics, with no real weak spots. Among the best bets are the all-day breakfasts—a gargantuan demilune omelet with feta, olives, and tomatoes, off-the-bone grilled ham with buttery scrambled eggs. Frankly, I've never had anything bad at the A & T. Just ask for your hash browns crispy. a Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, 7036 N. Clark, 773-274-0036. $ —EMT

Deluxe Diner Red vinyl booths and shiny chrome fixtures freshen up this coffee shop from the people behind Leona's. The counter doubles as an ice cream fountain, offering sundaes, banana splits, and milk shakes in flavors like Oreo cookie, Butterfinger, and chocolate banana. Breakfast, served throughout the day, features individual cast-iron skillets filled with hash browns and your choice of regionally themed eggs—the Mexicano comes with rice, beans, spicy ground beef, and cheese, the Mediterranean with tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and feta, and so on. There are pancakes, waffles, and French toast to suit those with a sweet tooth, and everything's served in huge portions. Lunch and dinner offerings stay in the same over-the-top vein: wings, onion rings, messy nachos, pizza, and a half-pound burger, plus sides like waffle fries or mashed potatoes and gravy. Monster slices of desserts like apple pie and chocolate cake fill a display case near the counter. a Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, open 24 hours Fri-Sat, 6349 N. Clark, 773-743-8244. $ —LLS

Noon Hour Grill A trip to Noon Hour Grill is like a visit to grandma's—if, unlike mine, your grandma was serene and a good cook. A small breakfast-and-lunch spot manned single-handedly by grill veteran Susie Lee, it offers a mix of Korean standards and American breakfast fare. Omelets range from bulgogi and kimchi to bologna and cheese to ginger, garlic, and carrot, a new favorite of ours; all come with toast and golden hash browns (you can substitute rice). We can never resist the pajun (Korean pancake), light, savory, and served with a homemade jalapeño soy sauce. Susie's bi bim bop is famous in the neighborhood (she ran a restaurant in Rogers Park before relocating to Irving Park Road for a number of years), and while the rice isn't as crispy as the very best I've had, it's satisfying, down-home comfort food. Other entrees include kalbi, chap chae, and fried rice, and there are daily specials both in-house and to go. It may be a hole-in-the-wall, but this is one of my favorite restaurants in town. a Breakfast, lunch Sun-Mon, Wed-Sat, cash only, BYO, 6930 N. Glenwood, 773-338-9494. $ —KS


Deta's Pita and More "Pita" is actually burek, here a delicious coil of phyllo dough enclosing cheese or meat. Deta, as she's universally known, is a motherly Montenegran native likely to invite you into her tiny kitchen to watch her make it. A changing selection of other eastern European specialties—salads, soups, stews, hearty meat dishes—is available; in fact, Deta recommends calling ahead with requests. This used to be a contender for Chicago's smallest restaurant, but Deta says she's now expanded—there's seating for 20. a Lunch, dinner daily, cash only, BYO, 7555 N. Ridge, 773-973-1505. $ —KS

Fondue Stube Be prepared to work: this isn't a full-service meal but an interactive experience in which you do your own dipping and cooking. This, combined with the dated decor and the smell of oil that clings to one's clothes, detracts from the romantic potential that some Raters seek in a fondue experience. a Dinner daily, 2717 W. Peterson, 773-784-2200, —LLS

Gruppo di Amici The menu at Gruppo di Amici is rather daring in its spareness: no scads of pasta dishes here. To begin there are antipasti and insalata such as mussels, calamari, and a generous salad of mixed greens. Entrees include meat lasagna, rack of lamb in red-wine sauce, and chicken Amici, a breast stuffed with mushroom, goat cheese, spinach, and prosciutto and served with linguine. But as at so many places these days, the wood-burning Italian pizza oven is where the real action is meant to be. We went with the Capricciosa: mushrooms, prosciutto, artichoke, hard-boiled eggs, and olives with fresh mozzarella and a tomato sauce seemingly free of garlic. Quite chewy, it was styled so rustically that we wound up bartering the inequitably distributed ingredients ("Trade you the artichoke for a hard-boiled egg and a bit more prosciutto"). There's a nicely chosen global wine list, with some suggestions by the glass indicated on the menu. a Dinner Sun, Tue-Sat, open till 11 PM Fri-Sat, 1508 W. Jarvis, 773-508-5565, $$ —KS


Arya Bhavan Cheerful pink napkins decorate the tables and colorful Rajasthani crafts brighten the walls at Arya Bhavan, which means "our home." But the main room is dominated by a 20-foot buffet, which on the weekends is laden with all-vegetarian curries, sweets, appetizers, rice, salad, and cooling raita. Along with traditional favorites like chana masala and mutter paneer are original creations by chef Jay Shef. One of his best is the addictive undhia, a complex curry of eggplant, sweet potatoes, and plantains. Appetizers include the always popular samosas and spicy veggie cutlets. The satisfying uthappam, pancakes topped with tomatoes, onions, and cilantro, are made to order at one end of the buffet and disappear quickly. Ordering from the lengthy menu allows one to try Indian specialties ranging from a delightful south Indian avial (vegetables cooked with coconut, yogurt, and chiles) to Kashmiri curry and rice. There are also 15 types of bread, including vegan varieties. a Lunch, dinner Sun, Tue-Sat, 2508 W. Devon, 773-274-5800, $ —Cara Jepsen

Bhabi's Kitchen Once a humble storefront, Bhabi's Kitchen has been swanked up to become one of the more pleasantly appointed Indo-Pak restaurants around Devon (prices have risen accordingly). Mr. Syed, the owner, is a genial presence; ask him what's good and he'll passionately regale you with a stream of talk for as long as you'll listen. This time around he recommended haleem, beef simmered for many hours with wheat and lentils and sprinkled with fried onions, an intriguing combination of flavors and textures. Butter chicken comes bathed in a mild tomato broth, toned down for less adventurous palates. There are a good number of vegetarian offerings here, among them biryani (also available in fish or meat renditions) and sarsoo ka sang, a puree of broccoli rabe sparkling with explosive ginger chunks. Two of Bhabi's signature dishes, naan with onion, garlic, and green pepper or with pistachio and mixed fruit (almost a dessert), could make a meal all by themselves. a Lunch, dinner daily, BYO, 6352 N. Oakley 773-764-7007. $$ —DH

Bismillah The decor is bare-bones, and most of the cooking's done on the grill, but this far-north-side cabbie haven serves above-average food from a menu of about ten items that changes daily. Standouts include frontier chicken, dal, and chapli kebabs, fired in a tandoor, as is the excellent naan. Alcohol prohibited. a Lunch, dinner Sun-Tue, Thu-Sat; open till midnight Fri-Sat, 11 PM Sun-Tue, Thu; cash only, 6301 N. Ridge, 773-973-5602. $ —KS

Chopal Kabab and Steak The exceedingly friendly Ali Khawaja appears to have sunk a lot of naan into his restaurant on the sleepy eastern end of Devon Avenue's Indo-Pak strip. The room is crammed with elaborately carved and painted tables and high-backed chairs, and the walls are bedecked with Pakistani handicrafts Khawaja traveled the homeland to procure. Khawaja, who owns another restaurant in Los Angeles, grills zabiha halal meats, and he's not afraid to see what sort of guts you're made of. Intestinal armor comes in a bowl of raita and (in an odd nod to an altogether different cuisine) a velvety egg-drop soup, meant to be spiked with soy and Louisiana hot sauces. The standards—lamb, goat, beef, chicken, and seafood—are aggressively seasoned and marinated, grilled or stewed, then served beside a pile of rice to stanch the flames; critters found less frequently on Devon include yogurt-marinated quail and veal steaks. There are only a few concessions to plant eaters—dal, okra, mixed vegetables, and a buttery and luscious pureed rapini. a Lunch Sun-Mon, Wed-Sat; dinner daily; open till 11:30 PM nightly, 2242 W. Devon, 773-338-4080. $ —MS

Daata Darbar Indo-Pak restaurant open 'round the clock; all the standards are available at rock-bottom prices. a Breakfast, lunch, dinner daily, open 24 hours daily, 2306 W. Devon, 773-262-7330. $

Gandhi India Gandhi India is one of the older eateries along Devon, and the wood-paneled interior certainly shows the corner spot's age. The menu features standard fare, and while I've had some adequate meals here in the past, my last visit suggests the food has slipped into mediocrity. The white meat in the grilled chicken tikka was exceptionally dry, and a piece of dark meat was rubbery; the entire dish was underseasoned. While the chunks of meat in the bhuna gosht, a lamb curry, were wonderfully tender, the thick, tasty gravy carried unseemly puddles of oil. Both entrees were stingier with the meat than you'll find at local competitors. Why bother when there are better options only doors away? a Lunch Sun-Mon, Wed-Sat; dinner daily, open till 11 PM Fri-Sat, 2601 W. Devon, 773-761-8714. $$ —Peter Margasak

Ghareeb Nawaz Named for a benefactor of the poor, Ghareeb Nawaz has a reputation as an oasis for cheap and freshly made home-style Indo-Pakistani food. One of the few spots on Devon open for breakfast, it offers inexpensive paratha (griddled wheat flatbread) filled with egg or aloo (seasoned potato) and halwa puri, the traditional Pakistani breakfast, three crisp, puffy fried breads served with lightly sweetened sooji halwa (a semolina pudding) and aloo chole (curried potato and chickpeas); for $3, it beats the hell out of McStyrofoam. Biryanis here are among the best in town, and the thali is an amazing deal: $4 gets you a veggie combo with a choice of bread (chapati, paratha, or naan), a generous portion of rice, an achar (pickle) of some kind, and servings of four or five dishes such as chana masala, dal, aloo palak, and bhindi masala; meat thali are just a buck more. Veggie kebabs are deliciously dense disks of potato, chickpeas, egg, and spices, though the beef shish kebab suffers from too much filler. Samosas, meat- or potato-filled triangles of pure snacking pleasure, are, at 50 cents each, an addiction I'm prepared to indulge. a Breakfast, lunch, dinner daily, open till 2 AM nightly, cash only, 2032 W. Devon, 773-761-5300. $ —GW

Hema's Kitchen For years Hema's Kitchen, Hema Potla's homey Indian restaurant, drew flocks of fans to a tiny, cramped storefront where food was often hustled out of the kitchen by the beaming proprietor herself. Now the original spot is shuttered and she's gone upscale, around the corner, in full Devon Avenue style—tables in the spacious, gleaming dining room are loaded with wineglasses and white tablecloths, plastic flowers and laminated numbers. I'd be lying if I said the new space has the raw charm of the old, but the food is as solid and satisfying as ever. Flaky lamb samosas were lightly seasoned and piping hot, veggie dishes like aloo baigan matar—eggplant, potatoes, and peas in a tomato-coconut sauce heavily stocked with aromatic curry leaves—imparted a powerful burn, and chicken vindaloo, while heavy on the ghee, evinced an equally bold hand with the red chiles and curry leaves. The happy addition of a tandoor oven means the kitchen now turns out tender tandoori chicken and chewy naan as well. a Lunch, dinner daily, open till 11 PM nightly, BYO, 2439 W. Devon, 773-338-1627, $$ —Martha Bayne

Hyderabad House Home away from home for cabbies who want to shoot pool, watch Bollywood musicals, and grab some grub before beating it back to the beaded seat. Even if you don't drive for hire you'll enjoy the subcontinental food, all halal and prepared for hard-to-con customers. Lush mutton in a thick sauce is frequently on the changing menu board, as is chicken lagan in a fluorescent magenta-colored sauce. Dhai ki kadi, a delicious veggie dish, is wheat gluten in a blindingly yellow curry. Along with generous helpings of fresh griddled naan you get a lot of rice here—the better to sop up the spicy sauces. Sometimes there's a man offering paan—a potent mix of fennel, betel leaf, and herbs—which makes a pleasing, stomach-settling wrap to a meal. aBreakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, open 24 hours, cash only, 2225 W. Devon, 773-381-1230, $ —DH

Indian Garden Raters like this chain location's extensive menu, cooking, and ambience, which they find a notch above the neighborhood norm. "I would gladly abandon all other foods in my life and subsist solely on the garlic naan," says one. Many praise the food's freshness and the masterful use of spices—the kitchen doesn't shy from heat. There's a nice selection of drinks, including Flying Horse and Kingfisher beers, and a lunch buffet offered daily ($10.95, $11.95 on weekends). aLunch, dinner daily, 2546 W. Devon, 773-338-2929, $$ —LLS

Khan B.B.Q. After a devastating fire in 2006, fans of Khan B.B.Q. heaved a collective sigh when it reopened a few blocks west with an open kitchen; well-spaced, comfortable seating; and, courtesy of the previous occupant, a multitiered crystal chandelier. The chicken boti remains essential: chunks of tender, moist chicken lightly charred in a charcoal-fired tandoor and seasoned with cilantro and chile, delicious scooped up with a bit of onion naan and a drizzle of raita. There's a full range of Indo-Pak offerings, from tandoori chicken to a flavorful lamb shish kebab. Buttery, clove-scented white rice is the perfect accompaniment to saucy dishes such as palak gosht (spinach with goat), dal palak (spiced lentils with spinach), and chana masala. Biryani is always a good choice, especially one with mutton, though if you're burdened with a foggy head from the previous night, frontier chicken, spicy and slightly oily, will cure what ails you. a Lunch, dinner daily, open till 2 AM Fri, 11 PM other nights, 2401 W. Devon 773-274-8600. —GW

Luzzat Restaurant This humble mom-and-pop Indian restaurant in Jarvis Square offers well-made home-style versions of all the Indian standards: biryanis, curries (the lamb is especially good), masalas, plus plenty of vegetable dishes. The food can take a while; bring a bottle from Taste Food & Wine across the street and relax. a Lunch, dinner daily, BYO, 1505 W. Jarvis, 773-764-1065. $ —KS

Moti Mahal It's one of the older establishments along this busy stretch of sari stores and Indian groceries, and unfortunately little effort has been made to hide the age; the carpeting is matted, the furniture weathered, and the lighting dim. The food is standard—nothing too different from its neighbors and not a lot to get excited about. Service is extremely attentive, since the dining room is rarely full. a Lunch, dinner daily, 2525 W. Devon, 773-262-2080. $$ —LLS

Mysore Woodland At Mysore Woodland, which is named after well-known restaurants in India, there are no fewer than 14 types of the house specialty, dosa (thin light rice crepes), including a masala dosa, stuffed with potatoes, onions and spicy chutney, and a massive paper dosa. Other specialties such as pongal, a sweet rice dish, and uppuma (savory cream of wheat with nuts and vegetables) are right on the money. But the best deal is the Mysore Royal Thali, a complete meal served on a large round stainless steel platter dominated by a pile of aromatic basmati rice, the staple of south Indian cuisine. The accompanying army of small dishes includes dal, sambar, vegetable curries, spicy pickled mango or lime, dessert, pappadam, chappati, and thick, creamy curd, which is traditionally eaten last. The dinner portion comes with soup (try the spicy lentil mulligatawny) and a trio of deep-fried appetizers. The Woodland's signature dessert is paysam, a comforting pudding made of vermicelli noodles, milk, honey, raisins, and cashews; there are also spicy masala chai and creamy Mysore-style coffee for after the meal. a Lunch, dinner daily, BYO, 2548 W. Devon, 773-338-8160. —CJ

Ravi Kabob House In the sea of Indo-Pakistani restaurants along Devon, Ravi Kabob House sinks under the surface without fanfare. The menu has the usual subcontinental offerings—dals, tikka and tandoori preparations as well as biryanis with vegetables, lamb, chicken, or goat—but execution is lacking. The chapli kebab, a ground beef patty heavily flecked with coarse, dry coriander seeds, tasted oddly like a veggie burger; vegetable biryani, chile chicken, and a beef kebab were all grossly overseasoned. Dal masala was both mealy and swimming in ghee; the naan (plain, sesame, garlic, or cheese stuffed) were respectable without being inspirational. Ravi Kabob House does have its fans. The best I can say about it, though, is that the mango lassi makes a good palate cleanser. Alcohol prohibited. a Lunch, dinner Sun-Mon, Wed-Sat; open till 11 PM Sun-Mon, Wed-Sat. $ —Rob Lopata

Sabri Nehari Whether served atop fragrant rice or scooped up with lightly blistered naan or griddled whole-wheat paratha, nehari—drop-dead tender beef in a rich, velvety smooth gravy—is fully deserving of its namesake status here. Marinated and grilled chicken boti, aggressively spiced frontier chicken, and ghee-enhanced butter chicken also tantalize with their lushness. Genial manager Hanif Lala suggests trying the pasanda kebab, described on the menu as beef marinated overnight and "masterfully agitated and barbecued over charcoal." Well-made vegetarian offerings include dal palak (lentils and spinach) and aloo palak (spinach and potatoes), though both are a bit heavy on the ghee. But good as the foregoing may be, what draws me back time after time is charga chicken—marinated, coated in chickpea flour seasoned with garam masala, deep-fried till crisp, then doused in a vinegary hot sauce, topped with cilantro, slivered ginger, and onions, and served in a tent of aluminum foil with a knife sticking out of it. One word of advice: it takes about 35 minutes to prepare, so order it as you are seated. a Lunch, dinner daily, open till midnight nightly, 2502 W. Devon, 773-465-0899, $ —GW

Sher-a-Punjab The buffet (lunch is $6.95, dinner $8.95) at this otherwise nondescript Indian restaurant continues to bring in the fans. One Rater comments, "The famous Indian buffet at this Devon storefront isn't the prettiest, but the spread is delicious and the piping hot bread and tandoori chicken brought straight to the table are worth the price alone." Aside from the well-seasoned, juicy tandoori dishes, the karhai gosht (huge, tender chunks of lamb in a thick tomato, garlic, and ginger puree) and the shrimp biryani are well worth a try. Flatbreads like paratha and naan come with a variety of fillings: garlic, minced lamb, and broccoli and cheese. To wash it all down, masala tea is warm and soothing. a Lunch, dinner daily, BYO, 2510 W. Devon, 773-973-4000. $ —LLS

Tiffin Raters find Tiffin cleaner and more refined than many of its neighbors on Devon. Service is a little more attentive, and the dining room is spacious and attractive, with wood-paneled walls and windows onto the kitchen. Tandoori menu selections such as chicken and lamb are tops. The $9.95 lunch buffet ($10.95 on weekends) maintains high quality with frequent hot refills. Says one Rater, "Consistently terrific food, excellent service, and even a nice wine list round out a great dining experience." a Lunch, dinner daily, 2536 W. Devon, 773-338-2143, $$ —LLS

Udupi Palace From the outside, Udupi Palace is bright, spacious, and friendly, which is why the famously bad service inside is so puzzling. Ignore it: you'll get your food soon enough and it'll make you happy. (And the service isn't always bad: on a recent visit, the waitstaff thoughtfully moved us and our dozen bottles of booze to a larger table.) Udupi's menu is all-vegetarian and south Indian. Dig deep into the appetizer menu: the chaat papri, fried dough dosed with yogurt and tamarind chutney, is addictive, and the vadas, or lentil doughnuts, are great doused with chutney or sambar. The paper masala dosai could double as plumbing pipe: three feet long, the wafer-thin dough is rolled and filled with potatoes and onions. And remember those dozen bottles? Bring a good wheat beer or a sparkling wine. a Lunch, dinner daily, BYO, 2543 W. Devon, 773-338-2152, $ —Nicholas Day

Usmania Looking to reinvent Usmania as a place for Pakistani fine dining, the owners shuttered the divey former location and recently reemerged across the street in new digs with exposed brick columns, copper bas-relief, and leather-bound menus. Apparently the chichi environs appeal to the locals—when I visited at lunch the huge dining room was packed. The Indo-Pak menu features the standard offerings, but the execution is far above average. The meats in the creamy butter chicken and mutton biryani were unexpectedly tender and moist; the beef boti, a dish often served at weddings and other celebrations, was like a better, bolder version of gyros; the spicy chana dal was a clear standout. Breads—we tried the naan and an onion kulcha—were the only disappointment. Where were the third-degree char burns one comes to expect? a Lunch, dinner daily, open till 11:30 PM nightly, 2244 W. Devon, 773-262-1900. $$ —Kristina Meyer

Viceroy of India "The food is consistently not greasy, unlike some of the other Indian restaurants on Devon," says one Rater. "Prices are more expensive than most, but worth it based on the texture and flavor of the dishes." With its neon lights and huge crown-shaped sign, this place is easy to find, and Raters agree it's also pretty easy to get a seat here. They praise the food, though they have their gripes: the small size of the naan portions, difficulty communicating about levels of spiciness. a Lunch, dinner daily, 2520 W. Devon, 773-743-4100, $$ —LLS

Zam Zam Indian restaurant offering breakfast, chaat, and Hyderabadi dishes in addition to all the standards. Alcohol prohibited. a Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, 2500 W. Devon, 773-274-4959. $


Good Morgan Kosher Fish Up to now part fish market, part small sit-down restaurant, Good Morgan Kosher Fish is in the process of expanding its dining area. In addition to fish (including sushi) and items for takeout it offers kosher soups, sandwiches, pastas, and grilled seafood, plus omelets. A liquor license, credit cards, and brunch are in the works. a Breakfast, lunch: Sun-Fri, dinner Sun-Thu, cash only, BYO, 2948 W. Devon, 773-764-8115. $$

Taami Restaurant I had one excellent Moroccan eggplant salad at this relatively new kosher establishment on a sleepy stretch of Touhy. But these soft chunks of cumin-spiced vegetable were in violent contrast with what followed: hummus with an overabundance of tahini; a stingily-sized, stringy schnitzel; dry, overworked grilled meats; limp underfried fries; and a molded pile of corn and peppers that looked like it was dumped perfectly formed from the can. This place might of some use to its immediate, largely Orthodox neighborhood but I can't imagine anyone more than a few blocks away preferring it to the vastly superior Taboun Grill. As at Taboun, prices are steep compared to non-Kosher Middle Eastern joints. There it's understandable; here it's a slap in the face. a Lunch Sun-Thu, dinner daily, open till 2 AM Friday, 1 AM Sat, other nights till 11, BYO, 2931 W. Touhy, 773-465-6600. $$ —MS

Taboun Grill This bustling Israeli spot shows a breadth and attention to detail not found in comparable nonkosher Middle Eastern restaurants around town. A nest of frizzled onion may top the rice of the day mixed with lentils, the plump kibbe carries a waft of baking spice, and the equally chubby kefta are juicy and ground with bits of bright green chopped parsley. Pita sandwiches and skillfully grilled meat plates are huge, but the prices, due to the costs of kosher certification, are daunting. The heady aroma of frying falafel that perfumes the tight parking lot is, however, free. Look for a second location to open in Skokie in a few months. BYOB beer or kosher wine only. a Lunch Sun-Fri, dinner Sun-Thu, BYO, 6339 N. California, 773-381-2606. $$$ —MS

Tel-Aviv Kosher Bakery Devon Street bakery offering challah and potato kugel along with doughnuts, rugelach, babkas, and other sweets. a 6 AM-6 PM Sun-Wed, 6 AM-8 PM Thu, 6 AM-5 PM Fri, cash only, 2944 W. Devon, 773-764-8877. $

Tel Aviv Kosher Pizza Dairy restaurant with a vast menu ranging from Mexican to Asian to Italian food in addition to pizza. a Lunch, dinner daily, BYO, cash only, 6349 N. California, 773-764-3776.

mexican/latin american

La Cazuela Mariscos This apricot-walled Mexican seafood place along a strip of taquerias on North Clark has a menu that goes beyond standard tacos and burritos. To start there are mejillones al mojo de ajo y vino (mussels in garlic and wine sauce) and tostadas de pulpo (octopus tostadas). The seven seas soup comes chock-full of shrimp, crab, clams, octopus, fish, calamari, and snails. There's also a variety of shrimp preparations, including an addictively garlicky diablo. Whole fish offerings include deep-fried catfish and red snapper, which come with salad, rice, and plenty of lime wedges. Tacos, burritos, and tostadas are served with a variety of fillings: marinated skirt steak, barbecued pork, chorizo, chicken, lengua. Though you can BYO, there's a limit of six beers or a bottle of wine per table. There's also alfresco dining in a homey backyard garden. a Lunch, dinner daily, 6922 N. Clark, 773-338-5425. $$ —LLS

Las Islas Marias There are enough different shrimp preparations on the menu at Las Islas Marias to dazzle Forrest Gump's army buddy. Shrimp empanadas are simple and good, with a cornmeal crust and fresh green salsa, and there are several shrimp-heavy seafood cocktails, hot and cold, as well as a paté. Langostinos a la plancha (grilled shrimp) are meaty little bastards griddled in salsa Huichol to a piquant crustiness. Our order of parilla levanta muertos—a grilled platter to "raise the dead"—was fresh and spicy, full of shrimp, mussels, scallops, and crab. My dining partner rapidly slurped down a bowl of caldo sieto mares ("soup of the seven seas"), an overflowing cornucopia of crustaceans and fish more stew than soup. We ordered tilapia and were pleased to receive a whole fish. This is not fancy seafood, just good stuff prepared straightforwardly and perked up with avocado and fresh lime. Most dishes are cooked in the tradition of the islands off the coast of the Mexican state of Nayarit, so don't come a-looking for refried beans and tortillas. aLunch, dinner daily, BYO, 6635 N. Clark, 773-973-4752. $$ —DH

Pupuseria y Restaurante Cascatleco Second branch of an Albany Park pupuseria with an identical menu to that at the mother ship, meaning stuffed corn cakes hand formed and slapped with a delicacy that renders the masa a crisp, delicate shell, encasing copious amounts of filling, such as bean and cheese, pork rinds and cheese, aromatic loroco (an edible flower), or just cheese. Thin red and green salsas dress these lovely pucks along with a generous big bowl of shredded, lightly pickled cabbage (curtido) fragrant with oregano. Other tasty Salvadoran specialties include empanadas rellenitos, sugared deep-fried footballs of mashed plantains stuffed with sweet milk custard or mashed black beans, and an amazing, murky horchata, made with ground sesame, peanuts, and calabash seeds (morro) brought north from El Salvador. On weekends dive into bowls of sopa de pata, or more poetically "foot soup"—made with cow's feet, tripe, yucca, chayote, sweet corn, string beans, zucchini, cabbage, and sometimes plantains—or hen, beef, or chicken and rice soups. a Lunch, dinner daily, open till 12:30 AM nightly, 7109 N. Clark, 773-465-9338. $ —MS

Quesadillas y Mariscos Doña Lolis In the winter champurrado is mixed up daily at this Rogers Park storefront, the warm mixture of masa, chocolate or cocoa, cinammon, and other seasonings stirred for up to two hours. The result—velvety and not too sweet—pairs well with the plate-size quesadillas that along with mariscos and masa preparations like gorditas are the restaurant's specialty. In addition to the standard fillings (chicken, cheese) there are flor de calabaza (squash blossoms) and earthy huitlacoche (corn fungus). I was less impressed with the posole—best here to stick to Doña Lolis's strengths while you take in the telenovelas on TV. a Lunch, dinner daily, cash only, BYO, 6924 N. Clark, 773-761-5677. $ —KS

Sabor Michoacan The vast menu at this standout North Clark Street taqueria covers a lot of ground—from breakfast huevos to tacos, burritos, tortas, sopes, and gorditas to the namesake Michoacan dishes—but I've yet to find anything I didn't like. Even a standard like guacamole was exceptional, and the ceviche tostada was the equal of those I've had at places devoted to seafood. To my mind particularly notable dishes include the cecina ala Michoacana, but then I'm a sucker for the salted and dried grilled beef; other regional specialties include preparations of skirt steak and grilled chicken in ranchero sauce. You'll also find platillos you don't often see—liver and onions, a breaded chicken breast topped with creamy corn—but I can't say I've been tempted. Service and decor are a cut above the norm for this strip. a Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, open till 11 PM nightly, BYO, 7021 N. Clark, 773-465-1122. $ —KS

Supermercado and Taqueria Chapala There's no shortage of tacos, tortas, and burritos on this stretch of Clark Street, but this taqueria wedged in the corner of Supermercado Chapala does a brisk business with shoppers, proffering roast chicken and a handsome range of tacos fillings, as befits a well-stocked, bustling carniceria. Though asada, cabeza, carnitas, suadero, cecina, chorizo, pollo, pastor, and lengua on corn tortillas are all generously seasoned with onion, cilantro, and fat lime wedges, some—such as the pastor and chorizo—can be quite dry and require liberal dressing with the smoky red salsa or a tangy salsa verde that registers on the tongue like the slow stroke of a razor. But the carnitas are just about perfect, well integrated with crispy and fatty bits. All orders arrive with a few roasted serranos and green onions, and on the weekends pozole, menudo, consomme, and barbacoa are doled out. a Breakfast, lunch, dinner daily, 7117 N. Clark, Chicago, 773-465-3907. $ —MS

Tamales lo Mejor de Guerrero Señora Bustamante's superior, fat corn-husk tamales—chicken or pork, with salsa verde or rojo, plus heavier bean with cheese or cheese and serrano and raisin-studded pineapple and strawberry—rule the weekdays, alongside champurrado, arroz on leche, and enchiladas for lunch. These fluffy wonders are a different species from most leaden bricks pulled from coolers across the city, and maintain their airy integrity admirably upon resteaming. On weekends the operation goes into high gear, ladling out pozole, menudo, mole with rice, and a selection of less common banana-leaf-wrapped tamales such as the flat, ash-water-boiled tamales de nejos served with mole, tamales Oaxaquenos, sweet tamales de elote, and the pyramidal corundas. a Breakfast, lunch, and dinner Sun, Tue-Sat; 7024 N. Clark, 773-338-6350. $ —MS

Taste of Peru My first visit to this Peruvian strip-mall storefront was enjoyable—and has set my expectations high for future trips. Of special note: it's BYO, ambience is spartan, service is sloooow, portions are huuuuge, and the neighborhood dinner rush seems to peak at 6 PM on Saturday. That said, the food is pleasant and a tremendous bargain—be prepared to take leftovers with you (or order one entree for two diners). We especially enjoyed the pollo en salsa de mani (chicken with Peruvian peanut sauce), the shrimp picante (served in a creamy, savory sauce), and the mixed ceviche. There was a superb jalapeño-chile-onion dipping sauce served with simple, tasty bread. Be sure to try an Inca Kola soft drink! There's a grocery store a few doors south on Clark that has a decent selection of wine and beer. Live music on weekends. a Lunch, dinner daily, open till 11 PM Fri-Sat, BYO, 6545 N. Clark 773-381-4540, $$ —Patrick Brown, Rater

La Unica Foods & Cafeteria Tucked in the back of a Cuban market, this counter-service joint caters to a mostly male and incredibly jovial crowd. A few Colombian specialties like arepas (corn pancakes with cheese) and tamales are regular offerings, along with a pork-and-garbanzo-bean soup. The Cuban sandwiches (pressed ham, cheese, marinated roast pork, and pickles on a hard roll) are famous; plain roast pork sandwiches are another favorite, as are the rice and black beans. There's also bacalao—Spanish salt cod—served with potatoes and boiled yuca. Plantains come in several preparations, from a fried green version to a roasted sweet version. Drinks include juices, shakes, and sweet, milky Cuban coffee. a Breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Mon-Sat till 9 PM, 1515 W. Devon, 773-274-7785. $ —LLS

middle eastern

Habibi Don't be put off by the shabby-unchic decor: the food at this BYO double storefront outclasses the setting. Besides well-balanced hummus, lightly smoky baba ghanoush, and grape leaves stuffed with nicely seasoned rice, cold appetizers included thick, smooth labenah, sour cream available plain, with green onions, or dotted with black olives and enriched with olive oil. Of the warm choices, we preferred maklouba, a melange of sauteed eggplant, smoky-brown cauliflower, thin potato slices, carrots, and beef (or chicken), with rice that soaked up all the juices. I'd return to try musakhan, a variation on a chicken wrap, and the lamb shanks, which were unavailable when I visited. They'd also run out of hareca, but another unusual dessert, spherical coconut-dusted kakaw, was a satisfying, not-too-sweet cross between candy and moist cake. Perfumy cinnamon-scented tea, offered when we arrived, was a blend of Lipton's and herbal, according to a friendly server. A lunch special offers a choice of three shawarma plates served with rice, salad, and hummus for $7.99. a Lunch, dinner daily, open till midnight Fri-Sat, BYO, 1225-27 W. Devon, 773-465-9318, $ —Anne Spiselman

Hashalom "Best falafel in town" is a claim plastered on signboards worldwide. But often it's the quiet, less boastful places that really own the title. For more than two decades Hashalom has been serving up perfectly crisp chickpea falafel on a stretch of Devon just slightly off the beaten path. Beyond what may be the city's tastiest falafel is a hybrid Moroccan-Israeli menu that should please carnivores and vegetarians alike. Meats like the tender lamb kebabs have a nice fire-grilled flavor; kefta, patties of lamb and beef served over rice in a spicy tomato sauce, make a hearty entree. Braised lamb shank, stuffed Cornish hen, and beef goulash round out the meat selections. On the veggie side appetizer samplers, available in both Israeli and Moroccan versions, can easily make a whole meal with warm pita. Or try the bourekas—crispy sesame-seed phyllo triangles stuffed with potato, spinach, cheese, or beef—with a bowl of one of the delicious house-made soups. Friday and Saturday nights there's a couscous special. a Lunch, dinner Sun, Wed-Sat, cash only, BYO, 2905 W. Devon, 773-465-5675. $ —Michael Morowitz

Masouleh Masouleh specializes in home-style Persian food—stews, soups, and small sides, many based more on vegetables than meat. While Goly Nassiri-Masouleh works the front of this equally homey Rogers Park restaurant, her husband, Azim, works the kitchen, laboring over regional dishes such as mirza ghasemi, roasted eggplant stewed with tomato and garlic. Gilan, the northern Iranian province where Azim hails from, is noted for its heavy use of garlic, eggs, vegetables, and green herbs that infuse dishes with fresh, grassy flavors. Torshe tareh, for example, is minced sour spinach textured by a small amount of cracked rice and flavored with garlic, cilantro, parsley, and a minty dried herb called khol wash. Other specialties include zaytoon parvardeh, a side dish of olives marinated in a mixture of garlic, chopped walnuts, pomegranate syrup, and a touch of golpar, a spice that comes from the giant hogweed and is sometimes called Persian marjoram. Then there's the mirza ghasemi, the region's most famous food, which is similar to the northern Indian baigan bharta but for the addition of scrambled egg. The menu also includes a triumvirate of three classic Iranian khoureshte, or stews: vegetable beef with green herbs (ghormeh sabzi), eggplant, beef, and yellow split peas (gheimeh bademjan), and chicken in a thick walnut-pomegranate sauce (fesenjan). And every weekend Azim prepares a more labor-intensive northern dish as a special, for example, morghe torsh, chicken and yellow split peas seasoned with garlic, lemon juice, cilantro, dill, parsley, mint, and khol wash and finished off with scrambled egg. There are kebabs as well, but why bother with the ordinary when you can eat like an Iranian? a Lunch Sat-Sun, dinner Tue-Sat, BYO, 6653 N. Clark, 773-262-2227. $ —MS

Sahara Kabob A storefront plastered with standard-issue gyro and pizza puff signage gives little hint that an accomplished Assyrian restaurant might lie within. But this Rogers Park spot (formerly called Big Buns and Pita) has been praised by the likes of chef Graham Elliot Bowles. Tasty starters include smoky baba ghanoush; falafel made from a flavorful blend of chickpeas and fava beans; lahim beajin—think Middle Eastern pizza on a pita; and kubbat Mosul, a delicious cracked wheat pancake stuffed with beef and onion. Entrees are equally impressive. Tashreeb, a signature dish, is a meltingly tender lamb shank set atop a slightly spicy sour tomato broth and samon, a fluffy bread that soaks up the juices. Cornish hen, marinated and charcoal grilled, is likewise terrific. Each plate is insanely generous for the price (there's nothing here over $10), accompanied by a savory lentil soup, salad, torshi (pickle), and rice. a Lunch, dinner daily, open till 11 PM Fri-Sat, BYO, 6649 N. Clark, 773-262-2000. $ —GW


Candlelite Chicago For decades the green martini glass on this neighborhood saloon's neon sign was a beacon for wonderful cracker-thin-crust pizza—and still is. That's even after a group of regulars took it over—including a culinary school grad—and installed flat-screen TVs in practically every sight line. Rest assured you won't miss the big play while sitting on the can, but somehow all those plasma teats don't seem so intrusive bordered by exposed brick, red pleather, and shiny dark wood. The thickish, well-blistered cheese on the pies almost negates the matzolike crust, but this is optimal boozing pizza and can be heartily demolished with minimal residual loginess. There's a wide range of gussied-up and largely forgettable bar food, with a few standouts like a boat of intensely aromatic garlic fries dressed in red wine vinegar—order those extra crispy. Pizzas are two for one on Tuesdays. a Lunch Sat-Sun, dinner daily, open till 2 AM nightly, 7452 N. Western, 773-465-0087. $ —MS

Carmen's This Loyola University campus pizzeria draws mostly students for the cheesy, semi-thick-crusted pies. The decor is simple and service is good enough. It's popular for carryout and the lunch buffet—all-you-can-eat pizza and salad for $5.95, with soup an additional $1.50. a Lunch, dinner daily, open till 11 PM nightly, 6568 N. Sheridan, 773-465-1700. $LLS

Devon Pizza Takeout and delivery joint offering a choice of thin- or thick-crust, deep dish, or whole-wheat crust and a broad range of ingredients, plus specialty pies like tandoori chicken pizza. Pasta dishes and standard sides, mostly deep-fried, round out the menu. a Lunch, dinner daily, cash only, 2916 1/2 W. Devon, 773-338-4940. $$

Eastern Style Pizza Well, actually, no, the medium-crust pizza here isn't really an east-coast-type slice or coal-fired pie, not to mention that the stuffed pizza on offer is eastern style's antithesis. But the vast array of Philly-style grinders and hoagies counts for something, and the large menu covers lots of other bases—Italian beef, burgers, pasta, stromboli, even some Greek specialties. In addition to daily specials, the restaurant offers an ongoing "super special": two slices of pan pizza and a 32-ounce soda for $5.99. a Lunch, dinner daily, 2911 W. Touhy, 773-761-4070. $ —KS

Giordano's The progenitor of this just-left-of-a-fern-bar chain was the birthplace of stuffed pizza, back when a brick of bland yellow cheese was considered appetizing. The stuffed spinach and mushroom number is still a decent choice, but don't stray too far from pizza when ordering. a Lunch, dinner daily, open till 1 AM Fri-Sat, other nights till midnight, 6836 N. Sheridan, 773-262-1313, $ —LLS

Gulliver's The building itself is bright, cheery, and packed with kitsch, with lots of ornate stained glass, and Gulliver's pizza is a must, especially if you're fortunate enough to live within their delivery area, but even if you have to trek to the far-north-side location. Their recipe suits my preferences: breadlike but crispy thin crust, moderate cheese and toppings, and spicy sauce with lots of garlic. a Lunch, dinner daily, open till 1 AM Fri-Sat, other nights till 11 PM, 2727 W. Howard, 773-338-2166. $$ —Stephanie Holinka, Rater

J.B. Alberto's "Pizza and so much more" is the slogan of this Morse Avenue magnet for hungry cops, and it's true: in addition to thin- and thick-crust pies there are shrimp and perch dinners, ribs and rib tips, and a host of sandwiches available. But perhaps what this takeout and delivery joint is best known for is its thick, cheesy slices, a steal at $2.50 for a large wedge of cheese pizza, $2.75 for sausage. a Dinner daily, open till 2 AM Fri-Sat, 1 AM Sun-Thu, 1324 W. Morse, 773-338-7117. $ —KS


The Balanced Kitchen All the buzzwords for "green" cuisine apply to this place—vegan, organic, local, eco-friendly, seasonal, sustainable—and it's gluten free, too. Eileen Alper, who owns the restaurant with her daughter Betty (also the pastry chef), says it's their effort to be "part of the solution rather than the problem." So the furniture is recycled, the faucets are solar powered, and rather than printing lots of new menus every day, they display the constantly changing selection on high-definition monitors. Among the choices there are usually pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and soups, as well as hot entrees like curry and lasagna and a few raw options. So how do they make a vegan bacon-ranch sandwich? They don't. They do, however, make some pretty tasty food that may be unlike anything you've tried before. Thinly sliced radish filled with cashew cheese doesn't sound like ravioli to me—nor does it taste like it. But everything I tasted was not just unexpected, but also unexpectedly good. If you want a bacon sandwich that tastes like—well—bacon, though, it's probably best to go someplace else. On Sundays at noon there's a six-course brunch by reservation only. a Dinner Sun, Tue-Sat; brunch Sun, 6263 N. McCormick, 773-463-1085. $$ —Julia Thiel

Heartland Cafe "Unfortunately there are not many places to get a really good buffalo burger," quips one Rater. The Heartland, however, serves up a mean one, plus salads, sandwiches, and enough hearty vegetarian entrees to satisfy the pickiest eater, from veggie chili to tofu scrambles, barbecue seitan, and a macrobiotic plate. Fine dining it's not (though specials like steamed artichokes show some aspiration), but it is a north-side sanctuary for hungry bohemians of all stripes, with live music (funk, folk, and jazz) and a Wednesday-night poetry open mike. While service can be erratic, most who frequent the Heartland know what they're getting into. It also has a left-leaning general store and an often-bustling outdoor patio. (See also Music.) a Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, open till 11 PM Fri-Sat, 7000 N. Glenwood, 773-465-8005, $ —Martha Bayne

Lake Side Cafe It's not likely Hot Doug's will ever pitch a sausage that tastes like brussels sprouts, but many of the dishes at vegetarian joint Lake Side Cafe seem to point to a case of meat envy. A gyro is made out of seitan, sliced to ragged thinness and dyed to give it the color of meat. A thin-crust pizza can be prepared vegan style, with soy cheeze and seitan; there's also a Chicago-style Polish made of wheat gluten and soy protein. Lake Side also offers changing weekly specials, soups and salads, and vegan desserts, and despite its tie to yoga and meditation school Inner Metamorphosis University, the wall of windows, comfortable seating, and recycling bin right next to the trash can give it a relaxing neighborhood feel that attracts customers beyond the mystic set. a Lunch Sat; dinner Sun, Tue-Sat, 1418 W. Howard, 773-262-9503, —Edward McClelland


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