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New Too

Eleven more recent openings

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Blue Ocean

4650 N. Clark | 773-334-6288

$$$

ASIAN, JAPANESE | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: MONDAY-SATURDAY TILL 1 | BYO

With the street appeal of a low-lit neighborhood lounge, Blue Ocean is a middling sushi joint that aspires to be an excellent bar, promising a range of Asian-influenced beverages and dozens of sake selections. At the moment, Blue Ocean is BYOB, and some of the more desirable menu options seem to be appetizers and salads engineered to work well with drinks. The Ocean Sampler is finely ground fish, octopus, and crab clusters served on crispy fried rice wafers drizzled with citrus mayo. Even the salads complement wine: the cucumber-mint combo with orange-miso vinaigrette had fine sweetness and acidity that paired nicely with a glass of white; shiitake mushrooms on mixed greens proved a simple snack that would suit a light red. Sashimi ain't all that, unpleasantly slippery on the outside though seemingly fresh enough, and our Citrus Rainbow roll had an unappealing mushy texture. Kitchen dishes seem to slip into a predicable flavor routine: both beef tenderloin and duck were set afloat in a similarly tart glaze, kind of boring after three bites. For dessert, unexpectedly, creme brulee, mousse, and key lime pie. —David Hammond

Ch'ava Cafe

4656 N. Clark | 773-942-6763

$

AMERICAN, COFFEE SHOP | BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS

Light-filled Ch'Ava Cafe, with its large tables, uberfriendly baristas, free Wi-Fi, and potted orchids (the owner's mother takes care of the plants), has a nice atmosphere for working or chatting with friends. And the food ain't bad either. The sandwiches, soups, and salads change seasonally, except for a favorite or two like the cashew butter, fig preserve, and melted Gruyere sandwich. Just slightly sweet with a lovely crunch, it's worth keeping around. Other current offerings include a braised brisket Sloppy Joe, mushroom ragout with a goat cheese whip, pork rib stew with white beans, and roasted pumpkin soup with thyme creme fraiche. Croissants come from Red Hen Bread, other pastries and doughnuts from M&A Bakery. Intelligentsia supplies the single-origin coffee, which you can get brewed on the cafe's Clover machine. —Julia Thiel

Ciao Amore Ristorante

1134 W. 18th | 312-432-9090

$$$

ITALIAN | LUNCH: TUESDAY-FRIDAY; DINNER: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED MONDAY | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11 | BYO | RESERVATIONS FOR LARGE GROUPS ONLY

Ciao Amore, a place with lots of ambition and space to grow, is still getting its act together, though it promises to be quite a show. Chef Cesar Pineda responded enthusiastically to our request to just bring whatever was looking good. A salad of green beans, fresh mozzarella, oregano, and garlic dressed in balsamic had marvelously simple flavors. Ciao Amore's zuppa Barese was a rich and substantial cream soup of hard-boiled egg, noodles, and potato. Ethereal house-made gnocchi with cheese and pesto were draped in a fantastically lush spinach cream sauce. Osso buco had delicate texture and sturdy taste and, laid on a bed of cavatelli splashed with a light vegetable-studded tomato sauce, was beautifully balanced. With most entrees between $16 and $22, Ciao Amore offers a high-value, high-quality dining experience, and is BYO with no corkage fee. —David Hammond

Dolce

4114 N. Kedzie | 773-866-1910

$$

ITALIAN, JAPANESE, ASIAN | DINNER: SUNDAY-MONDAY, THURSDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED TUESDAY, WEDNESDAY

Inheriting the slick interior of the Romanian nightclub it replaced, this weird mishmash of a restaurant is certainly a much more welcoming neighborhood spot, with artwork and flat-screen TVs softening the clubby edges. The menu, however—inexpensive though it be—is an imbalanced mix of Filipino, Italian, and Japanese dishes, with a hamburger thrown in for good measure. I found the Asian offerings most appealing: tightly rolled crispy pork and vegetable lumpia, homey eggy yakisoba noodles, and chewy sheets of tocino, sweetly glazed pork, to name a few. But that's not quite the kind of stuff that plays nice with eggplant Parmesan, vodka-sauced penne, or the undistinguished penne and salsiccia, dressed in what sure seemed like barely cooked underseasoned canned tomatoes. I'd like to see the Filipino third of the menu expanded, as Dolce would represent a departure from the usual quick-serve buffet-style establishments you normally find the cuisine in. —Mike Sula

Folklore

2100 W. Division | 773-292-1600

$$$

LATIN AMERICAN, SOUTH AMERICAN | LUNCH: SUNDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 1, OTHER NIGHTS TILL MIDNIGHT

A cozy, dimly lit place with exposed brick, tall candles on the tables, and Argentine paraphernalia like mate gourds decorating the walls, Folklore offers a steak-centric menu of authentic Argentine fare very similar to that of its sister restaurant, Tango Sur. The squeamish may not love the authenticity, though: sweetbreads and blood sausage make up half of the parrillada, a mixed grill that also includes steak and chorizo, and there are no substitutions allowed. But there are also plenty of other options on the large menu—even several vegetarian ones and a few fish dishes (listed as pez and otro pez, or "fish" and "other fish"). A creamy risotto with asparagus, spinach, and shrimp was slightly gummy, but baked eggplant layered with spinach and cheese and topped with tomato cream sauce turned out to be one of the highlights of the meal. Empanadas of moist ground beef in a flaky shell were even better with the excellent house-made chimichurri sauce. Still, steak is what Argentina's best known for, and Folklore offers several imported cuts of lean grass-fed beef as well as fattier domestic steaks; our bife de chorizo (strip steak) was perfectly cooked to medium rare as requested. The chorizo was also a real standout, one of the best renditions I've had. Because the portions were so big, it turned out that we'd accidentally ordered an overwhelming amount of food; this didn't escape the notice of our friendly server, who brought us a complimentary flan—rich, creamy, and topped with dulce de leche—for being the "customers of the day." We managed to find room for it. —Julia Thiel

Havana

412 N. Clark | 312-644-1900

$$$

CUBAN, LATIN AMERICAN | LUNCH, dinner: MONDAY-SATURDAY | closed Sunday | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11

The name is misleading, because at Havana, Cuba is just one of many Latin American countries jockeying for menu space. From Mexico come chiles en nogada (cheese-stuffed poblanos in pomegranate cream sauce); Peru throws down with lomo saltado (sirloin with sauteed onions and tomatoes), and the tiny republic of Tex-Mex represents with chimichangas. The torta Cubana seemed like what Khrushchev might have dictated that the Aeroflot crew serve aboard the flight carrying Fidel on his first panhandling junket to the USSR: it aims to please by including traditional ingredients, but this interpretation of the island's most famous sandwich loses much in translation. Sugar, once Cuba's major export, is the background flavor in many dishes, and there's a jarring sweetness even in entrees like grilled salmon doused with barbecuelike tamarind sauce and a rib eye. But though Havana is clearly making no attempts at authenticity, there are half-price mojitos on Friday, and if your evening's activities are basically bottle based, you may enjoy the tostaditos de platano (green plantains fresh fried in long strips with a tasty black bean dip) and a tart ceviche with generous chunks of whitefish and seafood. —David Hammond

Knew

2556 W. Fullerton | 773-772-7721

$$$

CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL, SMALL PLATES | DINNER: monday-saturday | closed sunday | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11 | BYO

"But chef, the food—it doesn't look nice!" "Stick a branch in it then." The preceding is a wholly imagined re-creation of a plating scenario in the kitchen of Knew, the gracelessly named and extortionately priced rebirth of chef Omar Rodriguez's popular but equally ill-denominated Western Avenue BYO Think. Based on the number of plates that sail through the dim dining room with tall masts of rosemary protruding over servers' heads, you wonder if the chef's fondness for forestry—like his employment of truffle oil—is based on a dream that the neighborhood will be enthralled by such dated and ostentatious gimmicks. Starters such as the piquillo peppers stuffed with a mushy crabmeat slurry and topped with a gritty gravel of odorless, bitter black truffle invite an early exit. But adequate if old-school smoked salmon with creme fraiche and caviar on a crispy latke kept me in my seat long enough to discover a consistent mismanagement of everything else that came to the table: a colorful stacked beet and goat cheese salad so thoroughly leached of flavor there had to be a curse in effect, a shrimp bisque with chunks of lobster (and more truffle oil) that left a thick residual cement of flour coating the spoon, a massive chumbucket of overcooked seafood and leathery coins of chorizo tossed with pappardelle deadened in a flavorless broth. Rodriguez's specials sounded more intriguing than set entrees divided evenly among red meats and pastas, but an overcooked brick of halibut on a mortar of dry mashed potato and a rubbery little poussin buried under a thicket of red and yellow pepper crushed any remaining hope for this crime scene of a restaurant. —Mike Sula

La Mediterranee

941 W. Randolph | 312-243-1818

$$$

MEDITERRANEAN, FRENCH, ITALIAN | LUNCH: MONDAY-FRIDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: EVERY NIGHT TILL 11

It seems inconceivable that anyone who's actually trying to succeed would open this lame a restaurant anywhere—let alone on Randolph row. I had an $18 prix fixe meal of penne arrabiata, a very salty pork chop, and overcooked, greasy roasted potatoes—utterly unremarkable hotel food. My date had grilled scallops with julienned vegetables that particularly screamed Hilton Garden Suites dining room and an order of spaghetti carbonara that he said was about on par with what his mother, an unenthusiastic cook, would make in the 70s. Our waiter was very nice—and seemed to know we were weirded out. —Martha Bayne

Mercadito Chicago

108 W. Kinzie | 312-329-9555

$$

MEXICAN/SOUTHWESTERN | LUNCH: MONDAY-FRIDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SUNDAY BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, FRIDAY TILL 2, TUESDAY-THURSDAY TILL 1, SUNDAY-MONDAY TILL MIDNIGHT

Could chef Patricio Sandoval possibly have anything to teach Chicagoans about Mexican food? By moving in just blocks away from Bayless central, he blatantly invites comparison, and by comparison his loud, clubby shared-plates restaurant is a carpetbagger. The tacos, which made this minichain's reputation back in New York, are for the most part merely competently executed, though the battered mahimahi tacos deserve notice—light crispy fish bits with slaw and chipotle aioli. The Ben & Jerry's-style guacamoles are successful, chunky with add-ins like pumpkin, pomegranate, and plantains; salsas are unusually refined, silky smooth and distinctive—a grilled tomato and peanut number was memorable. But I can see fights breaking out among hungry friends confronted with the stingy portion sizes. And not even Rick Bayless can justify $4.50 for corn on a stick. —Mike Sula

Rustico Grill

2515 N. California | 773-235-0002

$$$

MEXICAN/SOUTHWESTERN | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11

Riding the success of Lakeview's Mixteco Grill, chef Raul Arreola has installed Rustico Grill in the oddly designed void left when the Logan Square comfort-food joint Rustik tanked. Maybe Arreola (a Frontera vet) is uninspired by the new surroundings, since he duplicates a great number of dishes from Mixteco and adds only a few twists to others. Signatures such as the creamy uchepos gratinados (tamales with poblano sauce) are here, as is the wonderfully dark and complex lamb in mole negro and plenty more. But among the handful of brand-new dishes I tried were two of the best I've eaten all year. Leaves practically started to fall in the dining room when grilled slices of tender, juicy chicken breast arrived fanned across a plate of warm-spiced pumpkin mole with a spaghetti-squash-stuffed baby pumpkin on the side. And a chile relleno en escabeche—filled with potato, chorizo, and poblanos and served with pickled vegetables—was a dark, smoky-sweet flavor bomb that blew every other dish off the table. There is one important difference from Mixteco: Rustico has a liquor license. —Mike Sula

Xoco

449 N. Clark | 312-334-3688

$$

MEXICAN/SOUTHWESTERN | BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: TUESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED SUNDAY, MONDAY | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

There's a certain variety of grump who no matter what is going to stand in line at Rick Bayless's "quick-serve" Mexican street-food joint, arms folded, and ask himself, dammit, is there nowhere else in town to turn for a comparable ham-and-cheese torta under $11.50? The answer is no. There is nothing like Xoco's jamon torta, griddled flat and layered with La Quercia prosciutto, seasonally variable organic Wisconsin cheddar, black beans, avocado, and chipotle mustard. Caldos, served only after 3 PM, are all more than meals in themselves, deep and substantial soups brimming with the same sort of meats available on the tortas but also vegetables, chile, avocado, and lime and maybe noodles or dumplings to boot. The brick-red short rib chile soup is filled with potatoes and chayote, and the tender chunks of braised beef just hold their integrity in the ballsy, well-balanced broth. The pork belly fideos, nutty vermicelli with thick squares of fatty pork, are too rich to slurp down in one sitting. The third wave in Xoco's attack are the freshly fried churros, best accompanied by bean-to-cup hot chocolate lightly spiced with chile or spiked with cow or almond milk. Though these are available all day long, they're the reason I still haven't gotten too deep into the breakfast menu, which may be the most varied set of offerings all day—empanadas, pastries, breakfast tortas, savory bread pudding. The dining area is cramped and awkwardly arranged, and a good number of seats face directly into a wall. But if you want to eat in, mid-to-late afternoon is an expeditious window. —Mike Sula

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