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Ciao Amore Ristorante

1134 W. 18th | 312-432-9090

$$$

ITALIAN | LUNCH: TUESDAY-FRIDAY; DINNER: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED MONDAY | byo

Ciao Amore, a somewhat out-of-the-way place with lots of ambition and space to grow, is still getting its act together, though it promises to be quite a show. The cardboard-stiff Italian bread we started with and the cold coffee we closed with were sad, but what came in between was consistently delicious and at times exceptional. Chef Cesar Pineda responded enthusiastically to our request to just bring whatever was looking good. A salad of green beans, mozzarella, oregano, and garlic dressed in balsamic had marvelously simple flavors. Ciao Amore's zuppa Barese—the chef's mother is a native of Bari—was a rich and substantial cream soup of hard-boiled egg, noodles, and potato. Vegan-friendly minestrone was more like a dense vegetable stew infused with roasted garlic, a savory take on a classic. Ethereal house-made gnocchi—here sheets of pasta stuffed with cheese and pesto—were draped in three sauces including an off-menu mushroom cream sauce that was fantastically lush. Osso buco had a 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. —David Hammond

Cosina Grill

1706 W. Foster | 773-271-7103

$$$

MEXICAN/SOUTHWESTERN | LUNCH, DINNER: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | Closed monday | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL MIDNIGHT | BYO

Some savor authenticity; for others, it's all about the flavor. Neither, unfortunately, will be found at Cosina Grill, an Andersonville restaurant inexplicably jammed on a weekday night. Guacamole was so stunningly tasteless it could have been mistaken for green mashed potatoes or mayonnaise. The touted Dona Esperanza mole, ladled on a spongy chicken breast, tasted of burnt tar, with none of the sauce's traditional complexity; we couldn't stomach more than a bite or two. The tortilla soup, our server told us, was too spicy for many guests, but we found it had no heat at all. The enchiladas? Also nada. Grilled tilapia was edible because it was just decent fish, not messed with, and so relatively benign though bland. Our hostess, who like everyone here was friendly and outgoing, told us the tortillas were made in-house, but they managed to have the flavor and mouthfeel of mass-produced varieties. Leaving Cosina, I wanted to grab newcomers on their way in and shriek, "For God's sake, flee!" —David Hammond

Falafill

3202 N. Broadway | 773-525-0052

$

Middle eastern | Lunch, dinner: seven days

At Falafill you select decently prepared falafel in a pita or a plastic bowl, then challenge gravity by piling on toppings from a staggering collection. Add-ons like fava bean puree and hummus, available for a surcharge, are superfluous: each order gives you access to the regularly replenished and formidable condimentarium of cabbage with mint, zhug (jalapeño and cilantro), taratour (tahini with lemon), and dozens of other colorful options. White and sweet potato fries can also be drizzled with selections from a battery of hot, sweet, and sour sauces. With migraine-inducing interior lighting, a Denny's inspired color scheme, and cramped quarters, this Boystown newcomer seems best for grab-and-go dining. —David Hammond

Kyu Sushi

939 N. Ashland | 773-772-5985

$$

ASIAN, JAPANESE | LUNCH, DINNER: TUESDAY-SUNDAY | CLOSED MONDAY | BYO

Say bye-bye Buenos Aires Forever (guess not) and hello Kyu Sushi. Spiffed up some, this little storefront has a hip vibe. But much of the business is takeout and delivery—it only seats 20-25. Still, we had no problem getting a weeknight reservation and were pleased by the sushi-focused menu, reasonable prices, and prompt, friendly service. Cold openers included a disk of tightly packed gomae topped with rich sesame-peanut sauce and a refreshing salad with little pieces of hirame ringing seaweed and seeded cucumber in a light vinaigrette. Most of the hot appetizers were solid versions of the standards: panfried gyoza with a smooth pork filling, dainty beef and asparagus rolls glazed with sweet teriyaki sauce, piping-hot shrimp tempura served with soy-ginger and wasabi-mayo sauces rather than the usual tempura sauce. Our nigiri sushi featured thick cuts of fish—the mackerel was heavily pickled—on average rice balls, but no wasabi. A long list of maki ranged from negi hamachi with yellowtail and potent scallion to una avo, an inside-out roll of freshwater eel and avocado. Hot entrees are limited to teriyaki, tempura, soft-shell crab curry, and udon noodles. For dessert: tempura green-tea ice cream or deep-fried bananas. —Anne Spiselman

Macondo Colombian Coffee and Empanadas

2965 N. Lincoln | 773-698-6867

$

LATIN AMERICAN, COFFEE SHOP | 7 AM-8 PM sunday-thursday, 7 am-9 pm Friday-saturday

This new 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 (incongruously, though, food arrives on paper plates with plastic knives and forks even if you're dining in). 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

Paciugo

3241 N. Broadway | 773-248-8433

$

ICE CREAM | MONDAY-THURSDAY 12:30-10:30 PM, FRIDAY & SATURDAY 11:30 AM-11:30 PM, SUNDAY 11:30 AM-9:30 PM

This outpost of the Dallas-based gelato chain performs a daily production miracle, churning out 30 to 40 fresh traditional and modern flavors from a master list of 270, some of them fascinating (blackberry cabernet, latte menta), others just plain audacious (blueberry lavender chocolate chip). I don't think corporate—or at least this Lakeview location—has quite reached the optimal ideal of franchise-style consistency; some flavors turn out remarkably smooth and silky, others are grainy and broken. But as long as customers make judicious use of the tasting spoons, frequent turnover virtually assures a good ratio of quality flavor to failure. I'm particularly taken by the chocolate jalapeño, smooth with just a slight afterburn; Amarena black cherry swirl, with imported cherries suspended in a luxuriant matrix; and an intensely floral if gritty violet. Among value-added preparations such as sundaes and shakes, the ridiculously sybaritic affogato—two or three scoops drowned in hot espresso—is the way to go. —Mike Sula

Pannenkoeken Cafe

2257 W. North | 773-227-6600

$

EUROPEAN | BREAKFAST, LUNCH: SEVEN DAYS | BYO | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

This new outpost of the Lincoln Square cafe specializing in Dutch pancakes is much like the original, though it's slightly bigger and features an outdoor patio for warm-weather dining. The menu looks to be identical, focusing on enormous crepelike pancakes dotted with a choice of toppings ranging from chocolate-banana to apple-ginger to ham, pineapple, and Havarti. The ginger marmalade used in the raisin and ginger pancake (with golden raisins cooked into the batter) had an admirable bite, but even so quickly became overly sweet; we preferred the bacon, mushroom, and Havarti. Add-on toppings are available—including some that aren't on any of the specialty pancakes—and if I went back I'd ask to substitute a fried egg for the mushroom on the savory pancake we ordered, the only thing I can imagine that would make it better than it was. The space is cozy but the food, while good, was extremely slow to arrive (even taking into account the fact that all the tables were occupied). Also on the menu are several egg dishes, including omelets, Belgian waffles, buttermilk pancakes, and French toast. —Julia Thiel

Paprika Indian Gourmet Restaurant

2547 W. Lawrence | 773-338-4906

$

INDIAN/PAKISTANI | LUNCH: SATURDAY & SUNDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | Open late: friday & saturday till midnight | BYO

Its location—in a Lawrence Avenue strip mall between an L.A. Tan and a worn Greek coffee shop—is humble, but Paprika is lovingly turned out, with colored lamps warming the space and retro travel posters of India. Don't be misled by the tag "Indian Gourmet Restaurant"—this is home-style food, equally lovingly made. Complimentary pappadum came with little lidded plastic cups of chutney. Tomato-cucumber raita was outstandingly fresh tasting, as were all the vegetables in our meal. Paprika crab cakes, fried with "Mughlai spices," weren't available, so we settled for vegetable samosas; we were warned that the cilantro dip would be hot, though it wasn't. In fact, the cook doesn't seem convinced that customers can take the heat: lamb vindaloo had some burn from black pepper but was by no means "very spicy" as described, and a vegetable dal requested spicy was on the mild side, though flavorful. Though we were stuffed, the gracious owner presented us with cinnamon-dusted, pistachio-studded rice pudding, rounding out a pleasant, leisurely meal marred only by the worrying absence of any other customers. —Kate Schmidt

Rolis Restaurant

5004 N. Sheridan | 773-728-6200

$$

MEXICAN/SOUTHWESTERN | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11 | BYO

Over the summer, Rique's Regional Mexican Cuisine was bought by new owners and became Rolis, which also presents itself as specializing in regional fare though the menu is pretty much standard taqueria—nachos, enchiladas, tacos, burritos, and tortas, plus a breakfast menu. The other difference is dismaying: where Rique's was frequently packed, Rolis was empty but for our two-top at prime time on a Saturday night. It's too bad, because the food's not. A spinach salad with tomato, pecans, honey, and balsamic vinaigrette was superfresh and large enough to share; another option is the Rolis salad, a "mountain of lettuce, tomato, avocado, onion, lemon juice, oil, and pepper." Camarones a la diablo could have been spicier, but the house-made salsa had some bite. Generous combination plates include the Maya, a beef enchilada, chicken flauta, and a moist tamale rojo with rice and beans. Prices are very reasonable, with most dishes running between $9 and $12, and Rolis remains BYO. So give the lonely waiter some company, won't you? —Kate Schmidt

Shokran

4027 W. Irving Park | 773-427-9130

$$

MOROCCAN | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | BYO

Renamed Shokran—meaning "thank you"—earlier this year, the former Blue Line Moroccan Grill & Bakery is an off-the-beaten-path ethnic restaurant destined to be dubbed a find. For good reason. The nondescript storefront's back room—painted a vibrant burnt sienna with a scarf-festooned ceiling, photos of Fez on the walls, and fabric-covered banquettes—is a winsome setting for generous portions of exotic fare at affordable prices, and the friendly, helpful service and BYO policy are icing on the cake. I'd return just for the bastila—crisp baked phyllo layered with shredded chicken, crushed almonds and hard-boiled eggs, then finished with powdered sugar and cinnamon—and the lamb Fez, my favorite tagine, here made with big chunks of honeyed lamb, prunes, and almonds complemented by halved hard-boiled eggs. Of our appetizers, spicy little meatballs in tomato sauce weren't thrilling, but the veggie sampler plate offered a nice introduction to the cold (too cold) dips: roasted pepper and tomato taktouka; the similar zaalouk, mellowed by eggplant; surprisingly mild spinach bakola supposedly spiked with green olives and preserved lemon; and tart carrot salad featuring big slices of the almost flavorless vegetable. Moroccan chicken, our other tagine, melded caramelized onions, green olives, preserved lemon, and saffron blanketed by house-made potato crisps, but the heavily cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast was less satisfying than authentic bone-in whole chicken. House-made merguez sausage shows up in both the couscous and grill sections of the menu. The couscous side dish, topped with chickpeas, tiny lima beans, and golden raisins, could be a meal in itself. Bites, flaky fruit-filled mini pastries meant as morning snacks, were a perfect finish with the minty Moroccan tea. But if you're in a really indulgent mood, try the chocolate baklava. —Anne Spiselman

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