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Street Level

What to do and where to do it in Logan Square


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Approximate price of a typical entree on the dinner menu, tax and tip not included:

$ $10 or less

$$ $10-15

$$$ $15-20

$$$$ $20-30

$$$$$ $30 and up


Is it too much to expect that a humble, prairie-locked shrimp shack land a fresh catch and sell it at working-stiff's prices? Apparently so. At ASH the critters are overbattered in an unseasoned glop that smothers any taste of the sea and require a heavy dose of heat or cocktail sauce to get them down. But if for some reason you find the call of the sea in Logan Square irresistible, the jumbo shrimp do keep a faint memory of sweetness under their battered armor. Cash only; BYO. | Lunch and dinner Mon-Sat | $ | 3054 W. Armitage | 773-486-1584


Comfy deli/coffee shop/ice cream parlor with mismatched chairs and a case of used library books. Standout sandwiches on house-made bread include the pastrami—salty, marbled meat and thick slices of good Swiss pressed between slices of buttered French. There's also a coffee bar, a case of mostly classic Breyer's ice cream flavors, fountain creations like the Coco Angel, a lovely coconut and pineapple shake served in a cutesy coconut shell bowl, a shifting menu of homey soups, and free WiFi. Fresh churros and homemade tamales return to the menu this month. Cash only. | Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily | $ | 2524 W. Fullerton | 773-235-8103


The brunch overflow from Lula Cafe often makes its way to this second location of Doug and Michael Dunlay's Clark Street bar and grill. In addition to eggs, omelets, and pancakes there's the cholesterol-enhancing Big Mike's Irish Breakfast: a fried egg, rasher of bacon, sausage, broiled tomato, potatoes, and a pint of Guinness. At other times the largish menu offers standard bar fare—burgers, sandwiches, salads—but also more upscale options, like a grilled artichoke with remoulade, pepper-encrusted seared ahi tuna, house-smoked salmon with toasts and a tarragon-chive sauce, and soy-glazed ruby red trout. There's also pizza, including one with eggplant, cremini mushrooms, artichokes, and goat cheese; and ribs (the Dunlays are also behind Smoke Daddy). To go you can get a smoked pig's ear for two bucks. | Dinner daily, brunch Sat & Sun; open till 3 AM Sat, 2 AM Mon-Fri, and 1 AM Sun | 3137 W. Logan Blvd. | 773-227-2400


This smart BYO spot started life as a casual deli and cafe and still does double duty as a catering kitchen, but owners Shin Thompson and Kurt Chenier hit their stride earlier this year when they introduced three-course prix fixe dinners. The contemporary American menu showcases clean, streamlined, seasonal flavors; the summer menu includes pan-roasted barramundi in a pink peppercorn sauce with a grilled asparagus risotto cake and plum chutney as well as a toothsome serving of braised pork shoulder in a burly bourbon sauce. On Saturdays the restaurant offers a five-course "underground" dinner for $55; to get invited sign up for the mailing list at | Dinner Tue-Fri and invite-only Sat, brunch Sun | $$ | 2728 W. Armitage | 773-486-7511


Lula Cafe may be the best neighborhood restaurant in Chicago. One side of the menu is dedicated to cheap, surprising, delicious entrees in the $6-$12 range, including a perfect roast chicken; a simple spaghetti with sweet, spicy salsa rossa, bacon, and mild queso fresco; and an excellent turkey sandwich. Then there's a more expensive specials menu ($12-$24, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner) that changes constantly but has included a scallops appetizer that makes vegetarians very sad to be vegetarians, a roast leg of lamb with sherry-braised mission figs and cippolini onions, and an ocean trout served with brandade-stuffed peppers. On one visit a friend who's a professional chef in New York stuck around for hours to order nearly everything on the menu, and then we came back the next night. No reservations. | Breakfast, lunch, and dinner Sun-Mon, Wed-Sat, brunch Sat-Sun; open till 11 PM Fri-Sat | $$ | 2537 N. Kedzie | 773-489-9554


Chef Omar Rodriguez's Think Cafe has expanded in recent years to three airy, low-key dining rooms. The Italian-influenced contemporary menu covers a lot of ground: half a dozen appetizers, as many salads, and even more pasta and entree options. Try the white asparagus salad with tomatoes and Maytag blue cheese or a plate of arugula, dried apples, and goat cheese in a mango vinaigrette. Specials like grilled bass served over pearl couscous with mango chutney tend to be unfussy and satisfying, but the prices can come as a shock—$35 venison? BYO. | Dinner daily | $$$ | 2235 N. Western | 773-394-0537


Chef Alan Yuen returned to his family's decades-old establishment after a kitchen-hopping tour of Paris and Hong Kong several years ago, and its neighborhood Chinese style shows some French influence. Anything sweet-and-sour here is a good bet, as the sauce is made with a fruit-juice reduction instead of cane sugar. The hot-and-sour soup, made with seafood and julienned mushrooms, is especially good, and even dishes as simple as spicy Szechuan long beans (green beans with red pepper and garlic) stand out. A pot of oolong comes with dinner. | Lunch Mon-Sat, dinner daily | $ | 2830 N. Milwaukee | 773-227-0970


Jim Bee of Sai Cafe brought sushi to the hood with this restaurant just south of Logan Boulevard. Everything tastes superfresh, from basics like tuna and unagi to a "fashion" maki (tuna, shrimp, avocado, mayo, fish eggs, and cucumber) and more inventive options such as the excellent Spicy White Tuna Crunch. The mochi sampler offered tasty little domes of green tea, lychee, and red bean ice cream meant to be eaten with a toothpick spear. Hachi's also has a nice selection of wines available by the bottle and the glass and a very satisfying house sake. | Dinner daily; open till midnight Fri-Sat, 11 PM Mon-Thu | $$$$ | 2521 N. California | 773-276-8080


Sai Mai is a tiny spot with just eight or so tables. But the menu is extensive, offering appetizers, soups, salads, noodles in broth, fried rice and curry, rice plates, house specials, desserts, and beverages including Thai iced coffee and bubble tea lattes. The Sai Mai salad is a flavorful and refreshing mix of apples, white cabbage, carrots, green beans, and roasted peanuts with a tangy lime dressing; barbecue pork noodles come with perfectly cooked pork. Green tea ice cream is a perfect finish. Best of all, it's affordable—you'll leave with a full stomach and a full wallet. No reservations; BYO. | Lunch and dinner daily | $ | 2532 N. California | 773-276-8424


Pit master Calvin Woods tends the smoker at this pleasant little orange and yellow spot on a relatively bleak block of West Armitage. But his barbecue fails to deliver in one crucial respect: smoke. The pulled pork, moist and bland, was pretty good, albeit drowned in a ketchupy sweet sauce. Baby back ribs, on the other hand, were overcooked and dry. Brisket was better, though still mysteriously without smoke flavor. Somebody in the kitchen has a deft hand with a deep fryer, though: catfish fillets were flaky and juicy with a nice crisp cornmeal crust, as was the fried okra. Reservations for large groups only; BYO. | Lunch and dinner daily | $$ | 2540 W. Armitage | 773-342-5100


Right across the side street from the City North 14 cineplex, Fat Willy's is a fine place for a pre- or postmovie nosh. But the ribs fall short of the gold standard (though notably they're not quite fall-off-the-bone mushy). Caked with dry rub and cooking in a rotisserie that's short on the smoke, slabs are held until ordered. In fact, on one visit a cook admitted that his job was to sear grill marks on the meat, an approach that in Texas is referred to as "all hat and no cattle." Sides are made from scratch and include chili topped with cheese, sour cream, and smoked jalapeno salsa and a mac 'n' cheese with Gruyere, fontina, Parmesan, and cheddar. Staff is friendly and there's an outdoor patio. No reservations. | Lunch and dinner daily | $$ | 2416 W. Schubert | 773-782-1800


Two years ago Robert Adams moved his celebrated west-side barbecue to this location. Adams learned his craft from his grandfather growing up in Arkansas: he smokes superslow in his gleaming eight-foot glass-and-steel aquarium-style pit, using a mixture of red oak, cherrywood, and only a bit of hickory, which if used in excess "poisons" the meat. Unlike most barbecue cooks, who think fat is essential to keep the meat from drying out, Adams favors his ribs lean: "A lot of people can't cook lean meat and make it real juicy," he says. "And I can. I guess that's my gift." BYO. | Lunch and dinner Sun, Tue-Sat; open till 11 PM Fri-Sat | $ | 2241 N. Western | 773-227-5130

Breakfast & LunchTHE BROWN SACK

Sunny, six-table destination for homey standards like a gooey grilled peanut butter, banana, and honey sandwich and beefarrific chili laced with head-clearing handfuls of cumin and chile (a vegan version is also available). The daunting Reuben, piled with thick folds of corned beef, subs grilled onions for the traditional sauerkraut. There's also a rich mac 'n' cheese, a meatball sub, a Goose Island root beer float, and daily soup, sandwich, and dessert specials. Cash only; BYO. | Breakfast and lunch Sun, Tue-Sat, dinner Tue-Fri | $ | 3706 W. Armitage | 773-661-0675


At this busy diner, run like a well-oiled machine, there's an Early Bird Special—a ham and cheese omelet for $2.99 from 5 to 9 AM—and a host of others served all day, like the Big Man (two eggs, two pancakes, and sausage, bacon, or boned ham) and the Hungry Man (three eggs, three pancakes, and meat). The food's what you expect from your corner diner, only better. | Breakfast and lunch daily | $ | 2294 N. Milwaukee | 773-276-2215


The booths at this breakfast-and-lunch spot look like the ones at McDonald's, except they're padded with vinyl cushions so they're way more comfortable, and the floor's decorated with big circles in primary colors. There's apple-smoked bacon in the ample breakfast burrito and peppery mushroom gravy on the homemade biscuits, and I'm still dreaming about the butter-topped lingonberry pancakes, loaded with berries. Lunch includes salads, burgers, and hot and cold sandwiches like a Mediterranean sub stuffed with prosciutto, roasted peppers and eggplant, pesto, and a smear of mashed olives and capers. Breakfast extends from 8 to 2:30 on Saturday and Sunday. | Breakfast Sun-Mon and Wed-Sat, lunch Mon, Wed-Fri | $ | 2824 W. Armitage | 773-770-3838


This Logan Square coffeehouse outperforms the nearby Starbucks with its tasty food and drinks and its pleasant atmosphere. Deli sandwiches are made from Boar's Head meats and cheeses, and there's a long list of breakfast creations like the Weird Sandwich—cream cheese, steamed egg, and cucumbers on a toasted bagel. Coffee drinks include a standout mocha, hot chocolate, and iced coffee; there are also smoothies, pastries from Bleeding Heart Bakery, and cupcakes from JR Bakery and Desserts. | Breakfast and lunch Sun, Tue-Sat | $ | 2023 N. California | 773-278-7170


At breakfast and lunch Vella, tucked neatly in a new storefront under the Blue Line stop at Western, sells what may be the finest panini in Chicago—among them a killer brisket version and a French toast a la bread pudding. And the frittata panini, which comes with sausage or in a vegetarian version with herbed cream cheese, cremini mushrooms, and roasted tomato, is one of the best egg sandwiches ever invented. The menu also includes crepes, soups, salads. Brunch is affordable for the greater Wicker Park area, and you can BYO liquor to customize the virgin Bloody Mary. The high-ceilinged space, spiffed up with the help of family and friends, is as cheery as a sunny-side-up egg. No reservations. | Breakfast and lunch Mon, Wed-Fri, brunch Sat-Sun | $ | 1912 N. Western | 773-489-7777


Don't overlook this remarkably unspoiled 16-year-old Puerto Rican joint. Guachitas, smashed fried plantain disks, come topped with guacamole and a slice of piquant red salchichon sausage—an inspired combination. The canoa, a large sweet plantain filled with cheese and beef, was also killer. Mofongo, plantain smooshed together with lots of garlic and chunks of pigskin and served with a side of golden consomme, was the best version I've ever had—and I've tried it all over Puerto Rico. Another guaranteed pleaser are the pasteles, plantain tamales with a core of lightly spiced pulled chicken. And upon tasting the cabrito en fricassee, tender chunks of steamed baby goat in a light wine sauce speckled with green olives, I knew I had found my paradigm for preparations of the horned beast. No reservations; BYO. | Lunch and dinner Sun-Mon, Wed-Sat | $ | 2420 W. Fullerton | 773-235-7377


Meals at this Puerto Rican place start with free bowls of thick, tomatoey noodle soup, and the pace is slow and friendly. Appetizers are heavy on starch and light on meat; mofongos need the garlicky dipping sauce they come with. Steaming, spicy empanadas, rellenos de papa—crisp potato-and-meat pastries—and tostones, thick, salty disks of fried plantain, are also meant to be dipped. Entrees include a simple, well-cooked skirt steak and the more complicated cabrito en fricassee, a bony, tangy dish of soft baby goat in a white-wine stew studded with big pieces of green olive, onion, and raisins. It's great mixed over arroz con gandules, mild yellow rice with pigeon peas. The jibarito is supposed to rival the one at Borinquen, where the sandwich was supposedly invented. Reservations for large groups only; BYO. | Lunch and dinner daily | $$ | 2420 W. Fullerton | 773-235-7377


At this neighborhood cafe, where regulars just about walk into the kitchen and staff sit at tables to chat, the food is simple, satisfying, and well prepared. Meals start with warm bread prespread with butter—an excellent Cuban custom. Crisp-crusted ham croquetas come splayed in a pool of thick yellow mayo; yuca comes as a fluffy mound splashed with pure white garlic sauce; and the delicate bacalao, salt cod, is outstanding in a light tomato sauce. The Cuban specialty ropa vieja is understandably very popular, but our favorite was a steak preparation called vaca frita (literally, "fried cow"), a tangle of crisp beef hash and onions complemented by the moist sweetness of ripe plantains. BYO. | Lunch and dinner daily | $$ | 3238 W. Fullerton | 773-489-4440


This Logan Square branch of a two-shop Puerto Rican chain seems to do more business in takeout than sit-down. Maybe that's because table service is so damn glacial. But at least the many fried appetizers that do time under the heat lamps in the window seem to have a high turnover—including alcapurrias (banana dumplings), bacalaitos (cod fritters), and pinchos and mofongo (fried and stuffed plantains). The menu is filled out by typical homey Boricuan plates: chicken and beef stew, steak and onions, fried pork chops, blood sausage, and a tender if salty lechon (roast pork) that'll come with a chewy bit of pigskin if you're lucky. A line of sandwiches is highlighted by a particularly good version of the jibarito (steak pressed between plantains). BYO. | Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily | $ | 3400 W. Fullerton | 773-276-3524


This spot serves a mix of Caribbean and American comfort food, but our charmer of a waitress persuaded us to dive directly into the island cuisine with sancocho, a hearty soup of plantain, yuca, corn, pork, and "Spanish spices." Jerk chicken was moist, aggressively spiced, and served with a side of yellow rice with pigeon peas; we also had the Chicago-born, Puerto Rican-inspired jibarito, crisp sheaves of pounded plantain encasing tender grilled beef and garlicky mayo. The meat loaf had a homespun flavor, and the terrific burgers were served perfectly medium rare. Sides include tostones with garlic sauce, curly fries, and sweet potato fries with honey for dipping. There's live music three nights a week (see Music). No reservations. | Lunch Sun, Wed-Sat, dinner daily, brunch Sun | $ | 2657 N. Kedzie | 773-489-7478

Global/Eclectic ATLAS CAFE

Atlas Cafe bills itself as an "international kitchen": the menu bops around madly from club sandwiches to dishes like charquican, a Chilean stew, with almost nothing over $10. The zalouk starter, a Mediterranean roast eggplant salad, was tangy and nicely spiced, with warm pita triangles on the side. Apio y avocado, a mound of celery stalks and creamy avocado with a light vinaigrette, was the size of an entree—and only $3.99. A veggie empanada was perfectly hot and crisp, and spinach ravioli had a blushing tomato sauce that begged to be sopped up (no bread basket here). The menu leans toward the vegetarian, and the kitchen can be spotty on meat dishes: grilled salmon was hopelessly dry, but another night's cheeseburger was just fine, served on a nice eggy challah bun. BYO. | Lunch and dinner Mon-Sat | $ | 3028 W. Armitage | 773-227-0022


The legendary ice cream parlor at the intersection of Western and Armitage dishes up sundaes with enough embellishments to satisfy the most demanding sweet tooth: bananas, cherries, nuts, fluffs of whipped cream, cookies, and hot fudge in a pitcher on the side. A Chicago institution since 1921, the cozy room, stuffed with dolls and other knickknacks has transported more than one Rater right back to grandma's house. Margie's also serves a limited menu of diner standards—burgers, fries, grilled cheese—but skip the real food and have another dessert. | Lunch and dinner daily; open till 1 AM Fri and Sat | $ | 1960 N. Western | 773-384-1035


This Italian ice window, sister to the Miko's in Bucktown, serves 12 flavors, including peach, coconut, and blueberry as well as the standard lemon, in sizes ranging from $2 cups to $7.50 quarts. If you're driving you might pull up in the alley behind it—or double park, at some risk—but be forewarned the place will probably be busy. There are a couple of benches outside if you want to eat on the spot. | Noon to 10 PM daily | $ | 2236 N. Sacramento | 773-988-9664


At this Logan Square institution owner Tony Zarcone dispenses plenty of the soft-serve ice cream (vanilla, chocolate, twist) that he touts as 96 percent fat free—and it might be a good idea to cut some calories considering the rest of the fare: quarter-pound burgers, cheese fries, funnel cakes, and a deep-fried Polish that Zarcone is particularly proud of. Friendly kids staff the counter, there are a variety of flavored dips if you fancy your ice cream coated, and a baby cone goes for just 55 cents. | Lunch and dinner daily; open till 11 PM | $ | 2815 W. Armitage | 773-507-7477


For a neighborhood Italian joint, Buona Terra does a decent job. To start there's fresh escarole sauteed with garlic to just the right level of crispness, and carpaccio topped with shaved Parmesan, porcini mushrooms, and capers is similarly refreshing and satisfying in its simplicity. Pastas can be disappointing: the tomato sauce in the linguini al pescatore was bland, and aside from some fresh and tender scallops the "pescatore" portion of the dish all tasted suspiciously similar. Freshly made cannoli was as tooth-achingly sweet as any this side of Sicily, and if there's another Italian restaurant at this price point with as wide a list of after-dinner amari and other digestivi, I haven't been there yet. | Dinner daily; open till 11 PM Fri-Sat | $$$ | 2535 N. California | 773-289-3800


"Sorry, we don't have anything," we mumbled to the panhandler. But a glance at the table said we had too much. Margaritas here come in goblets sized for Henry VIII, and we'd ordered platters of fajitas and Veracruz-style whole red snapper. Open round the clock, this brightly lit corner storefront draws Anglo and Latino locals—twentysomethings sopping up the night's drink with the Tex-Mex standards (tacos, tortas, fat burritos) and workmen huddled over cups of coffee at the counter. | Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily; open 24 hours | $ | 2001 N. Western | 773-772-4944


Despite the name, Cafe Con Leche makes only a shortish list of coffee drinks; the menu's standard Mexican and heavy on breakfast stuff like huevos rancheros. I assumed a coffee shop would serve lots of cold takeout options, but the menu listed just a couple, including a Cuban sandwich: ham and cheese with steak, butter, pickle, and best of all a side of amber-colored homemade hot sauce, all for four bucks. If you're looking for dinner, get here early: closing time is 8 PM. Cash only. | Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily | $ | 2714 N. Milwaukee | 773-289-4274


The Logan Square location of the Lakeview cafe has location, style, and a genuinely friendly staff, but it desperately needs higher-quality raw materials and someone in the kitchen who knows how to use them. There's no way a restaurant with upscale pretensions should be serving corn chowder made with frozen kernels or a seafood chile relleno with canned crab. Eighteen bucks bought three "enchiladas del mar" that were simply small tortillas folded over the same tinny-tasting crab, diminutive scallops, and tasteless shrimp with bits of shell attached. And I can't believe there's any reasonable rationale for serving multiple entrees at premium prices with the identical standard combo platter accompaniments of rice and pintos. BYO. | Dinner Tue-Sat; open till 11 PM Fri-Sat | $$$ | 2556 W. Fullerton | 773-772-4355


A late-night oasis in Logan Square, El Cid produces solid traditional platters that regulars swear by (and they swear louder when the management is handing out shots of tequila). For $12.95, the fresh shrimp and octopus salad was packed with seafood, and with some ranchero sauce thrown in for color it tasted really good. There's musica en vivo Wednesday nights, and a large, festive back patio. Reservations for large groups only. | Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, brunch Sat-Sun; open till 2 AM Fri-Sat, other nights till midnight | $$ | 2645 N. Kedzie | 773-395-0505


To kick things off at this restaurant from veterans of Topolobampo and Mia Francesca, tacos ensenada (fish tacos) are tasty—a clump of whitefish dressed with avocado and cabbage, and the shrimp ceviche is a knockout. Soups are spiced with a light hand: caldo siete mares ("seven seas soup") is a chile-kissed tomato broth with just a few select slices of seafood; chileatole del mar brims with seafood, peppers, and corn in a tomatillo-based broth seasoned with epazote. Mahimahi gets the mojo de ajo treatment; lamb chops in a mole negro were expertly grilled. Of special note is a roasted pork loin served in a fruity mole manchamanteles. Out back is a find: a relatively undiscovered patio with lots of shade and half a real boat turned into a flower planter. | Lunch Sat-Sun, dinner daily, brunch Sat-Sun; open till 11 PM Fri-Sat | $$$ | 3749 W. Fullerton | 773-489-3748


For drunken denizens of Logan Square, the corner of Armitage and Western offers two 24-hour taquerias, Lazo's and Arturo's. I vote for Lazo's, as much for its rustic stone wall, thrift-store portrait of Pope John Paul II, and bench seats a la KFC in 1983 as for its food. Mexican telenovelas blare from a wall-mounted TV as you crunch down on a hangover helper of camarones rellenos, meaty shrimp wrapped in ham and crispy fried mahogany-colored bacon, and Lazo's airy chicken tamales are worth turning down the tamale guy to wait for. Also worth the trip: the spicy, tangy tacos al pastor or the tostada de ceviche, with its chunks of creamy diced avocado and limey nuggets of shrimp. | Breakfast, lunch, dinner daily; open 24 hours | $ | 2009 N. Western | 773-486-3303


There are taquitos and burritos on offer at this first Chicago location of the Mexican chain, but not surprisingly the chicken is the way to go, marinated in citrus and grilled over an open flame for a flash of lively flavor. Still, why pay $5 for two small pieces of bird and two sides at a chain when you can get the juicy real deal for less at scores of hole-in-the-wall joints? No reservations. | Lunch and dinner daily; open till 11 PM every night | $ | 2715 N. Milwaukee | 773-394-5626


The best thing about this cozy Mexican restaurant, a few blocks from the Kedzie Blue Line, is the hours: it's open as late as the latest bar on weekend nights. House DJs spin, and there's a mariachi band on weekends. But the food's nothing to sneeze at either, from a full range of huevos and omelets at breakfast to an even fuller range of Mexican standards—not just burritos and tacos but huaraches, gorditas, and tortas with fillings that include tripe and sometimes brains as well as the more standard carne asada, pork, and chicken. Carnitas, pastor, and barbacoa are available by the pound for carryout, and El Ranchito delivers. | Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily; open till 5 AM Fri-Sun, 2 AM Mon-Thu | $ | 2829 N. Milwaukee | 773-227-1688


It's far from fine Italian, but the service is warm and tailored to the customer: young ladies dining alone might be served by a gruff, handsome charmer in a three-piece, while moms can expect relief from i bambini in the form of a matron bearing so-so pizza. The pies—in varieties that include taco pizza and the Siciliano Special—come thin, pan, or stuffed, and there are chicken, pasta, fish, and veal dinners as well, all available for delivery. | Dinner daily; open till 2 AM Fri-Sat, other nights till 1 AM | $ | 2033 N. Milwaukee | 773-235-4455


Father & Son feels like a classic pizza joint—well lit and inviting, full but not crowded, with long tables of families and booths of high school kids fidgeting through first dates. Their thin-crust pizza is great, hearty and crispy, but their Chicago-style deep-dish pies are sloppy, undercooked messes best eaten cold. The otherwise standard wine and beer list has an unexpected Easter egg—martinis with hand-stuffed olives. | Lunch and dinner daily; open till 1 AM Fri-Sat, 11:30 other nights | $ | 2475 N. Milwaukee | 773-252-2620


Vito's serves a fine carryout slice: imagine yourself in May, window-shopping the Milwaukee dollar stores in munching content. Or imagine December, sitting down to minestrone and spinach salad with a sweet light vinaigrette while you wait for veal Parmigiana, chicken Vesuvio or oregano, or a rib eye. There are specialty pizzas, sandwiches, pasta, fried chicken, and barbecue; could this friendly little Italian place do anything bad? Can't imagine. | Lunch and dinner seven days; open till midnight Fri-Sat, other nights till 11 PM | $ | 2171 N. Milwaukee | 773-292-0101

South AmericanGLORIA'S

There's an actual Gloria in the kitchen at this little Colombian joint, and she puts out lovingly made home-style cooking. My (admittedly limited) experience with arepas (corn cakes) had led me to believe they were all dry as pucks, but here the cheese and sweet corn (choclo) arepa appetizers both were moist and cakey. Empanadas with mild chimichurri were swell, particularly the spinach, garlic, and potato variety, as was a "Colombian Hummus" with no identifiable South American traits. Besides Caesar and house salads there's an unusual rice and shrimp ensalada with sweet plantains, chile flakes, and a sweet-and-sour sauce that wouldn't be out of place on a Thai menu. Rotisserie chickens are marinated and blazed well, and available in various sums of their parts. The traditional and steak dishes come with ample starchy and fibrous sides (rice, cassava, plantains, beans). BYO. | Lunch and dinner daily | $$ | 3300 W. Fullerton | 773-342-1050


At the Argentinean restaurant 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, which were remarkably crispy and lightly meaty. There's a simple grilled chicken breast zebra-striped with garlic or served with chimichurri, 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. For dessert try the fantastic flan. | Lunch Mon-Sat, dinner daily; open till 1:30 AM Thu, 11:30 Fri-Sat | $$ | 2731 W. Fullerton | 773-278-0900


Every dish on the tapas menu at Azucar sounded good, so among the four of us we ordered nearly all 20 or so, along with a bottle of wine from the reasonably priced all-Spanish list. Standouts included beef empanadas on a fire-roasted pepper puree; albondigas, meatballs in a spicy-sweet piquillo pepper sauce with garlic jam (we ordered seconds of both); a lamb dish redolent of vanilla; and a cheese-stuffed red pepper served on chickpea puree. Desserts include a chocolate terrine and a cinnamon-laden creme Catalan. No reservations. | Lunch and dinner Sun, Wed-Sat; open till 2 AM Fri-Sat, other nights till midnight | $$ | 2647 N. Kedzie | 773-486-6464

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