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New Too

Abuelo's Mexican Grill

2007 S. Damen | 312-733-0329

$

MEXICAN/SOUTHWESTERN | BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: MONDAY-SATURDAY | BYO

Brothers Angel and Hugo Gomez have transformed a grungy storefront across from the Damen Pink Line stop into a sparkling sandwich shop wallpapered with Latin American record jackets and National Geographic covers. Sopes, tacos, burritos and tortas are well conceived and delicious, demonstrating fine attention to detail. The chorizo sope is a beautiful construction, a soft masa platform topped with piquant meat and artfully mounded with colorful cabbage; shrimp in tacos are fried to tempura laciness, splashed with crema, and dabbed with not-too-hot-but-flavorful salsa (imported from Canada!). The menu is pan-Mexican: the Gomezes are from Cuernavaca, in central Mexico, and they serve cecina from their native Morelos as well as burritos in the flour tortillas of northern Mexico, dressed with the pickled red onions of southern Mexico. Entrees, served with griddled vegetables, have a lot of personality. A torta of marinated steak is griddled medium rare and juicy with sweet chile morron, and cochinita pibil yields cinnamon hints and more dimension than you'd expect. Do drink the water: it's infused with basil and lime. Afterward, tequila mousse and red velvet cupcakes. Cash only for now. —David Hammond

Division Ale House

1942 W. Division | 773-384-6886

$

BAR/LOUNGE, ENGLISH/IRISH/SCOTTISH | LUNCH: FRIDAY-SUNDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 2

Division Ale House in Wicker Park serves a good selection of Irish booze, from beer to whiskey—plus some well-chosen domestics and the inevitable Bud Light and PBR—and bar food with an Irish bent. Or at least it's pretty much all identified as Irish on the menu, regardless of whether the "Irish nachos," "leprechaun wings," or "Celtic wontons" have any connection to that country (they don't, as our waitress cheerfully admitted when questioned). Which isn't to say there's nothing Irish: bangers and mash, Irish stew, fish-and-chips, and steak and Guinness pie all appear on the menu. Many dishes are cooked with Irish beer, presumably to up the authenticity factor, but the Harp in the mussels didn't cover up their fishy lack of freshness, nor did the Guinness in the steak pie make up for the tough crust and meat—in fact, I couldn't taste the beer in either dish. And "black and tan" mac 'n' cheese was saved from mediocrity not by the Bass and Guinness in it (also undetectable) but by the bacon. The one place I could actually taste the stout was in a fudgy brownie, where it added a touch of bitterness that balanced well with the caramel sauce on top. Still, next time I might just take my beer in a glass. —Julia Thiel

Felony Franks

229 S. Western | 312-243-0505

$

AMERICAN, BURGERS | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

Owner Jim Andrews struck a rich vein of publicity when community members—including his alderman—objected to his irreverent approach of employing ex-offenders serving Chain Gang Chili Dogs, Paroled Pizza Puffs, and Probation Burgers. Still, how can you talk smack on a hot dog stand that exists to put ex-cons back to meaningful work and turn their lives around? Well, here goes: the skinless Chicago's Finest brand beef Misdemeanor Wieners are insipid, and the jokes about incarceration that festoon the walls and menu are offensive only in their criminal corniness. Andrews may set high standards for his employees, but his sorry tube steaks, dense industrial-grade burger pucks, and underseasoned meatball subs are every bit as institutional as Nutraloaf. Even the hand-cut fries—which looked great but were clearly underfried and held until soggy—are a sad case of wasted potential. But among the wide array of fast-food standards, there are some redeeming items: the superthin-cut Petty Pork Chop Sandwich, heavily seasoned with pepper and oregano, distinguishes itself, and the $2.25 Alias Chili Tamale is immersed in a generous cup of beany, beefy chili that would only requires a dash or two of hot sauce to make make it a high-value target for a west-side lunch deal. And again, there's no such thing as bad publicity—not even when Bill O'Reilly names you his "Wednesday Patriot"—Felony Franks seems likely to thrive and multiply. —Mike Sula

Istanbul Restaurant

3613 N. Broadway | 773-895-7144

$$

MEDITERRANEAN | BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: EVERY NIGHT TILL 11 | BYO

This oddly arranged, snug three-room Lakeview BYOB is the latest Anatolian effort from Yasar Demir, whose resumé stretches back to Cafe Demir, A La Turka, and Cousins. Among them all it might be the most comfortable and satisfying across its lengthy menu of home-style kebabs, hot and cold mezes, and meaty and vegetarian entrees. Be warned that even appetizer portions are pasha size: a trio of vibrant red ezme (chopped pepper, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, and walnuts), patlican salata (grilled eggplant, tomatoes, and onion), and a nearly insurmountable mountain of fried liver and potatoes is enough to subdue three eaters, and would leave you powerless in face of larger, commendable entrees like cheesy lamb moussaka or perhaps the most delicate and delicious manti in town, stuffed with mushrooms and swimming in marinara-dabbed yogurt. But Demir really excels at house-baked items, such as the black-and-white-sesame-studded flatbread that comes to each table and the remarkable calzonelike pide, oval shaped, crosshatched, and stuffed to bursting with lamb and beef, vegetables, or cheese. —Mike Sula

Lan's Old Town

1507 N. Sedgwick | 312-255-9888

$$

CHINESE | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: EVERY NIGHT TILL MIDNIGHT | BYO | RESERVATIONS FOR LARGE GROUPS ONLY

Nostalgic for the Szechuan and Mandarin cuisine of the pre-Lao Sze Chuan era? Lan's Old Town may be the restaurant for you, especially if you live in the neighborhood and have a taste for takeout, which accounts for a lot of its business. In fact, the kitchen's takeout tasks slow service to the stylish dining room, which is mostly held over from Heat: plush gray chairs, curvilinear wall sconces, black stones artily embedded in the wall behind the low sushi bar. The little paper takeout menu concentrates on standards—moo shu this, kung pao that, Mongolian beef, ma-po bean curd—and on my visit zucchini seemed to sneak into almost every dish. The kung pao chicken, normally prepared with diced bamboo, dried red chiles, and toasted peanuts, had zucchini, carrots, and bok choy in addition to mushrooms—practically a garden's worth of vegetables. On the other hand, tender moo shu pork with julienned zucchini and egg lacked the cloud ear fungus necessary for its distinctive character. And forget about cloud ear, wood ear, or tiger lily buds in the hot-and-sour soup, though it did benefit from a good hit of vinegar. A variation on pot stickers, tasty panfried fish dumplings irregularly shaped enough to have been made by a home cook, were the most unusual of the 11 openers listed as "dim dum." Shrimp with pea pods and asparagus stood out among our entrees, thanks to the generous quantity and high quality of the lightly cooked crustaceans. Ma-po bean curd needed something, despite being ordered spicy and arriving laced with whole dried red chiles. Service was friendly and considerate, but wasn't enough to keep me from concluding that the takeout customers had the right idea. —Anne Spiselman

Roof

201 N. State | 312-239-9501

$$

BAR/LOUNGE, SMALL PLATES, PIZZA | LUNCH: FRIDAY-SUNDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, MONDAY-FRIDAY TILL 2, SUNDAY TILL MIDNIGHT | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

It's hard to know exactly why SRO crowds have been lining up to get onto the glass-walled patio of Roof, the industrial-sleek black-and-gray lounge on the 27th floor of the new Wit Hotel. But safe to say it's more for the scene than the food. And what a scene! Soul music pulsates insistently as pretty waitresses in short black outfits navigate among booths, living room-like areas, and long communal stone tables (with fires down the center) bearing cocktails like the Londoner in Bangkok (Beefeater gin, mango, basil) and the cucumber ginger mojito (a perfumy-medicinal mix of Bacardi rum, ginger, lime, and mint). There's also a decent selection of bottled beers and mostly European wines by the glass or bottle. Truth to tell, chef Todd Stein's 20 small plates ($5-$16) are more enticing than they need to be. I loved the salmon crudo, five slices of buttery fish set off by a subtle lemon emulsion, pine nuts, and cured Calabrian chiles. The salad of oven-roasted baby red and golden beets, chopped marcona almonds, and ricotta salata would have been delicious if it hadn't been ruined by inedibly salty frisee. Lamb chops "scottadito" likewise should have been called "saltadito" given their salty crust, but the meat was rare as ordered, juicy though chewy, and complemented by minted yogurt and fried parsley. Anyway, three thick little chops for $16 seemed like a better deal than the best-selling trio of mini lamb burgers for $15. Salsicia, one of three pizzas, was a bad buy at $16 for a smallish oval that was more like a flatbread; the house-made sausage was bland, the cured tomato tasted canned, and the ribbons of raw fennel on top were just plain odd. I also wish I'd passed on a special of grainy duck paté that looked like a messy-minimalist child had smeared it on the crostini, but mini whoopee pies were a fun finish. Two tips: arrive around the 3 PM opening time if you want to eat in relative quiet, and if it's not reserved for a private party, check out "the hangover," a table for eight on a smaller patio that has the best views in the whole place. —Anne Spiselman

Rootstock Wine & Beer Bar

954 N. California | 773-292-1616

$

Bar/Lounge, Small Plates | Dinner: seven days | open late: saturday till 3, other nights till 2

The main attraction at Humboldt Park's Rootstock Wine & Beer Bar, not surprisingly, is the intriguing list of small-batch beverages put together by a trio of Webster's Wine Bar vets. There are a good many interesting selections—including a passel of wines from Greece, Austria, and unusual spots like Slovenia—among the more than 60 bottles and 15 available by the glass. But the tight, well-curated menu of small and midsize plates, cheese, and charcuterie, from consulting chef Mark Steur (Hot Chocolate) and executive chef Remy Ayesh, is no afterthought, peppered with items engineered to trigger Pavlovian gushes of saliva: bar plates include a few sweet and savory duos, including bacon toffee with spiced mixed nuts and skewers of watermelon and salty halloumi cheese, both grilled smoky and accompanied by a dollop of tangy labne. Deep-fried items—particularly the frites—are less well executed, and a trio of "crusts" were flimsy disks of topped naan, though the bourbon-glazed mushroom version, blanketed with gooey Vivace cheese, transcended the delivery system. Among the generally solid larger plates, the loosely packed Tallgrass burger with bacon-chive aioli is super, and the cognac-lamb sausage with braised chard and fresh celery hearts was a beautiful plate of complementary textures. Yet the $8 half-size pork-belly banh mi just demonstrated this near perfect street food's resistance to upscaling. Still, overall this is a fine spot to take sip or two, dark and comfy with an outdoor patio that brightens an otherwise stark intersection. —Mike Sula

Royal Coffee

6764 N. Sheridan | 773-761-8100

$

coffee shop, ice cream | breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days

I, along with a lot of Rogers Parkers, was sad to lose Panini Panini, the budget-chic coffeehouse that used to occupy this space, but Royal Coffee takes its place and then some. There's still umbrellaed outdoor seating, still ice cream, still a few eastern European items like pita, phyllo-like pastry coiled around rich cheese or spinach. And this coffee—made exclusively with an Ethiopian blend—is flat-out fantastic, bright, deep, and chocolatey all at once. The menu currently offers mostly omelets (nice and light), sandwiches including panini, and salads, but owner Dawit Bekele says he'll add entrees and more vegetarian dishes beginning September 5. —Kate Schmidt

Sarks in the Park

444 W. Fullerton | 773-404-9000

$

American | breakfast, lunch: seven days; dinner: monday-saturday

Sarks in the Park, the Lincoln Park outpost of Evanston breakfast institution Sarkis Cafe, has lost an i in transition but stayed true to the original menu of artery-hardening fare. Eggs, cheese, bacon, and "disaster" sausage—a quarter-pound house-made hunk of meat—are the main attractions, some combination thereof (often with mayo, tomato, green peppers, and onions) constituting almost the whole menu. A highlight was the "special grilled cheese," with the American and "white" cheese (a combination of mozzarella and provolone that comes prepackaged in one big block, according to our server), a fried egg, and crispy bacon, all on white bread fried in plenty of grease. I'm generally pretty contemptuous of highly processed cheese, but everything has its place, and here the texture provided by the melty cheese worked so well I wouldn't substitute an aged cheddar if I could. Hash browns, though, were soggy and greasy, and even the tomatoes, green peppers, onions, and cheese on the "special" hash browns didn't add much flavor. Still, there's a large, dog-friendly patio and cheerfully attentive servers, and as long as you're not actually expecting the advertised "world's best breakfast," the no-frills food will probably be perfectly adequate—especially if you're nursing a hangover. —Julia Thiel

Wings O' Flavor

3109 N. Halsted | 773-697-7032

$

AMERICAN | LUNCH, DINNER: MONDAY-SATURDAY | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL MIDNIGHT | BYO | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

I've never quite seen the appeal of chicken wings—the New Yorker cartoon of a flock of wingless yard birds comes to mind—but with its goofy promise of "flavors to eternity," this Lakeview storefront turned my head. Yes, there are buffalo wings, but added to that are six flavors ranging from Louisiana Cajun to Thai Sweet Chili to Caribbean Lemon Pepper. Sadly, you can't easily mix and match: wings are prepared to order, so unless you're getting 15 pieces or more, you're confined to choosing one. Both the Texas Chipotle BBQ and the Jamaican Jerk showed a hand that doesn't shy from the spices—and that should bottle this spicy, outstandingly balanced jerk sauce. The wings themselves are meaty and definitely benefit from their lack of exposure to a heat lamp. Sides are limited to french fries and hand-cut sweet potato fries, but you'll get no complaints from me on that latter score. Wings o' Flavor is open on Sunday game days. —Kate Schmidt

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