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Macondo Colombian Coffee and Empanadas

2965 N. Lincoln | 773-698-6867

$

south AMERICAN, COFFEE SHOP | 8 AM-8 PM SUNDAY-THURSDAY, 8 AM-9 PM FRIDAY-SATURDAY

This empanada joint from the owners of Las Tablas, just a few doors up the street from the original Lincoln Avenue location, offers simpler fare in a casual but elegant space filled with hardwood furnishings. A half-dozen varieties of empanadas range from tender, savory chicken with pepper sauce to sweet dulce de leche and banana; they're fried fresh with each order and arrive hot enough to burn your mouth even after several minutes, partly thanks to the thick corn-flour shells. Other offerings consist mostly of side dishes you could easily build a meal with, like red beans, rice, chorizo, fried yucca, arepas, and salad. Aborrajado, or fried plantain covered with guava and melted mozzarella, was on the sweet side for a main dish but could double as a good dessert. There's also a small store area with Colombian coffees, music, crafts, and specialty foods. —Julia Thiel

El Nandu

2731 W. Fullerton | 773-278-0900

$$

SOUTH AMERICAN | LUNCH: MONDAY-SATURDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: THURSDAY TILL 1, FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11:30

At El Nandu there are eight kinds of empanadas to choose from, including criollo (ground beef, bell pepper, yellow raisins), maiz (fresh corn, hard-boiled egg, cheese), and espinaca (fresh spinach, white and green onion). We enjoyed the molleja, charbroiled beef sweetbreads (actually the thymus gland), which were firm, remarkably crispy, and lightly meaty, not at all what you'd expect a gland to taste like. There's a simple grilled chicken breast zebra-striped with garlic, or pollo with chimichurri sauce, but meat's the thing here—just driving past the place could give a vegetarian the heebie-jeebies. Asada a la parilla is a platter of juicy and wonderfully crusty short ribs; steak Milanesa is a traditional Argentinean preparation, breaded and fried. There's a full bar where you might try Quilmes, a light Argentinean lager. For desserts there's quince membrillo (a firm Spanish jelly) with cheese, one of the blandest sweets ever, or a fantastic flan—tough choice. —David Hammond

Rapa Nui

4009 N. Elston | 773-478-0175

$

SOUTH AMERICAN | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | BYO, CARRYOUT, DINNER, SATURDAY LUNCH, SUNDAY LUNCH, OPEN SUNDAY, OPEN MONDAY

Billed as the "House of Empanadas," Rapa Nui (formerly the Latin Sandwich Cafe) is the place to go if you've got a hankering for Chilean chow. Authentic Chilean empanadas are made here of pino, a savory blend of ground beef, raisins, chopped egg, and olives, all baked in a wheat-flour shell. Rolls made fresh on the premises are used for the sandwiches, including the chacarero, a Chilean specialty featuring tender steak, tomato, and green beans. Humitas are Chile's version of tamales; "blind" (no filling, just sweet cornmeal), they benefit from a little salsa. The dish that captured my heart, though, was pastel de choclo, a baked bowl of masa with ground beef, onion, olives, egg, and a "corn cream": the cornmeal was caramelized and crisp around the edges, while in the center the casserole had the consistency of corn pudding. Pastel mil hojas, a cake of a "thousand layers" and dulce de leche, is so good you forgive the hyperbole. —David Hammond

Las Tablas

2942 N. Lincoln | 773-871-2414

$$$

south american | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11

Las Tablas offers a bulky menu of Colombian favorites: empanadas, plantains, grilled seafood, chicken, and lots of beef. Specialties include multiple varieties of churrasco, South America's staple grilled steak; melt-in-your-mouth grilled pollo al ajillo, chicken pounded flat and marinated in olive oil, garlic, and spices; and vegetarian paella. Las Tablas is not for the faint of stomach. Entrees are hefty and served on wooden cutting boards with sides of fried plantain, yuca, and potato. And although the menu does offer two vegetarian plates, the focus here is definitely on meat. The relaxed main dining room is outfitted with long picnic tables and haphazardly dotted with tall potted plants, South American handicrafts, and a stuffed parrot or two. —Martha Bayne

Tango Sur

3763 N. Southport | 773-477-5466

$$$

SOUTH AMERICAN, STEAKS | lunch: Sunday; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11:30, SUNDAY TILL 11 | BYO | RESERVATIONS FOR LARGE GROUPS ONLY

At dark, dreamy Tango Sur, an Argentinean steak house, one eats beef and not much else. And why would you want anything else? The top-notch steaks are ridiculously inexpensive for their quality and size. My perfectly grilled strip steak, for instance, cost $22; I nibbled on it at breakfast for three days after. My companion's strip steak was stuffed with cheese and spinach and served with a ladleful of chimichurri sauce that had us nodding our heads in appreciation. Our meal ended with chaja, a yellow cake made with vanilla and coconut, and an immense chunk of flan topped with dulce de leche—quite a topper to the meat fest. —Chip Dudley

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