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Transformations

Authentic Mexican, Inventive Breakfast, and Rock 'n' Roll Sushi

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For over 20 years, Lincoln Park's LINDO MEXICO served consistent but ordinary Americanized Mexican fare, but the recent purchase of the place by veteran restaurateur Yebel Shlimovitch has taken it to a new level. There are a few holdovers from the old menu--giant burritos, chiles rellenos, and tacos--but Shlimovitch has added Oaxacan, Guerreran, and Yucatecan dishes he learned during his upbringing in Guerrero, Mexico, and the four years he spent working at Ixcapuzalco and Chilpancingo, the regional-Mexican restaurants run by his brother-in-law Geno Bahena. Cochinita pibil is succulent marinated pork in achiote, baked for hours in banana leaves then topped with an eye-opening habanero sauce; puntas al albanil are grilled tenderloin tips with bacon and manzano chilies; and the tender braised lamb is steamed in parchment with black mole, grilled onions, and mushrooms. Shlimovitch plans to turn the front bar into a specialty tequila bar--"as soon as I've got the best selection of tequilas together," he says--but in the meantime the margaritas are a great foil for the earthy Latin flavors and the heat from the kitchen's generous use of chilies. Lindo Mexico is at 2640 N. Lincoln, 773-871-4832.

Running with the success of ORANGE's Lakeview location, owners Matt Miller and Andy Klemen converted the former Monday's in Printer's Row into a larger version of their orange-themed eatery. The huge new space, which opened on January 23, has five-foot-tall artificial orange trees in the entryway, light fixtures made from orange crates suspended from the ceiling, and a giant replica of an orange crate label over the juice bar. The menu is identical to the one at the Clark Street location, with clever and tasty options for breakfast and lunch: jelly-doughnut pancakes, skewers of coconut-flavored French toast with strawberries and pineapple, and omelets stuffed with forest mushrooms and roasted garlic or figs, leeks, and bacon. Orange's daily soups are the perfect winter warmers--the carrot-ginger was so fresh and hot I'm still thinking about it. Simple lunch items get flavorful twists: the Snoop Dog stuffs a baguette with buffalo-bacon-chipotle sausage, cognac-roasted onions, pickled carrots and cucumbers, and spicy mustard; the grilled cheese is cheddar with caramelized onions and roasted tomatoes. You can create your own juice drinks by choosing from an initial list--orange, apple, cucumber, carrot, etc--and adding more-exotic fruits like mango and papaya for an additional buck apiece. The kids' menu features tiny pancakes, fluffernutter sandwiches, and other classics for the tricycle set. Orange is at 75 W. Harrison, 312-447-1000.

Benihana of Tokyo still had the lease on its former Sushi Doraku space, so after acquiring RA SUSHI, a trendy Phoenix-based "rock-'n'-roll sushi" chain, last year, it turned the 100-year-old building into the first Chicago branch. Gone are the channels of water flowing quietly tableside--now there's Zeppelin and AC/DC played at high decibels in a black-and-crimson room that feels like a nightclub. The menu changes aren't quite as dramatic. There's still a standard selection of fresh sushi and sashimi, but now it's supplemented by dozens of hot starters and entrees, including teriyaki, chicken katsu, and stir-fried noodles with shrimp. The Mandarin-shrimp-and-snow-crab salad would benefit from a bit of lemon. The baked green mussels were OK, though the excessive topping of thick "dynamite sauce" and potatoes made it difficult to taste the mollusks--or see them, for that matter, especially in this dark room. The dragon roll was tasty but lacked the dish's usual crunch--the filling's customary tempura was replaced with crab. There's a happy hour from 4 to 7 every weeknight, with reduced prices on sushi and entrees (drinks are still full price) and a sampling menu with smaller portions. RA Sushi is at 1139 N. State, 312-274-0011.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/A. Jackson.

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