Winter is upon us here in Chicago and our thoughts often shift to warmer climates, as well as the food that we associate with them. But, if you cannot escape the polar vortex, below is a list of “10 Fabulous Latin Eats in Chicago.” Grab your coat and hop the rails to these tasty, local hot spots!
This elegant little spot in the West Town neighborhood is serving up beautifully executed Mexican fare with French influence and technique. I highly recommend the mussels and don’t forget to ask for a straw to slurp up the orgasmic broth!
The mahi mahi in mole sauce with chorizo, beans and roasted pineapple was almost too gorgeous to eat but I managed 😉
Mexique is located at 1529 W. Chicago Ave. Take the Blue Line to the Chicago ‘L’ stop and walk west or connect for the #66 Chicago bus.
La Ciudad Mexican Cafe & Grill
Have you ever noticed how some of the very best food can be found in a strip mall? It is always such a treat when you find a great spot that is hidden in plain sight, right? La Ciudad Mexican Cafe Y Grill in the Uptown neighborhood is one of those Latin eats in Chicago that you do not want to miss!
This family-run Mexican restaurant creates thoughtful plates of food with super fresh ingredients. On a recent visit, I enjoyed a healthy plate of halibut in lime butter with capers, rice and beans.
Don’t forget to ask the lovely staff at La Ciudad about their ridiculously good stuffed breads. You can order them in advance over the phone. They make a great addition to dinners and parties at home.
La Ciudad Mexican Cafe & Grill is located at 4515 N. Sheridan Road. Take the Red Line to the Wilson ‘L’ stop and walk 2 blocks east and one block south.
Celebrity Chef Rick Bayliss opened the doors at his latest restaurant, Leña Brava, a few months ago. It is one of the great new Latin eats in Chicago and it focuses on seafood. I loved the boozy mezcal cocktails which immediately took the edge off of my day. Two drinks should be sufficient but who am I to judge?!
While I was contemplating ordering the black cod “al pastor,” my helpful server convinced me to order the scallops. She told me that it was her favorite dish on the menu and since this was my first visit to Leña Brava, I decided to follow her advice. It was a great decision because these scallops screamed “I am on a tropical vacation!” They were sweet, perfectly cooked and sat atop a bed of mashed plantains, salsa and smoky bonito flakes. This dish was lick-your-plate worthy!
While the majority of the menu at Leña Brava consists of seafood, you can find a wood-fired chicken, a beef short rib and some fantastic vegetarian options. I could not get enough of the spicy eggplant, shiitake mushrooms and goat cheese which was substantial enough as an entree.
Leña Brava is located at 900 W. Randolph St., just one block south and 2 blocks east of the Morgan ‘L’ stop, along the Green and Pink Lines.
Have you tried Peruvian food yet? If not, then you should put Tanta on your list of the Latin eats in Chicago to try. Tanta is located in bustling River North where people gather to see and be seen and it offers fare with some flavors which are a different from the other restaurants in the neighborhood.
The octopus and other seafood on the menu are top notch and they come with varying levels of spice. There is something at Tanta for every palate. Tanta also has some delicious meat dishes and you should check out the vibe-y rooftop patio for drinks plus a more limited version of the menu.
Tanta is located at 118 W. Grand Avenue, just 2 blocks west of the Grand ‘L’ stop, along the Red Line.
Pozoleria San Juan
Humboldt Park is a neighborhood rich in Latin history, restaurants and bakeries representing Puerto Rico to Mexico. Pozoleria San Juan is one of my favorite places to reminisce about time I spent in Mexico and enjoy some of that country’s Latin eats in Chicago.
While this place has a large menu with many tasty options, you do not want to miss the pozole (hominy soup) which you can have in either red, green or white broth. I really love the red pozole but they are all phenomenal and extremely comforting. I suggest that you order the medium size, unless you plan on sharing or taking some home, in which case get the large bowl.
In order to take in the full pozole experience, order it with everything: radishes, cabbage, white onions, chicharrones (crispy pig skin), avocado, tortillas and lime.
I must say that the salsa at Pozoleria San Juan is the best I have had in Chicago, to date. I don’t say that lightly but this salsa was just spicy enough and it was made mellow by a certain sweetness that had an almost smoky flavor. When I asked my server whether there was sugar added to the recipe she advised me that a small bit of ketchup was added. I would have never guessed it and I was pleasantly surprised. Ask for extra salsa at your table!
Pozoleria San Juan is located at 1523 N. Pulaski Rd. Take the #72 North Ave bus to Pulaski Rd. and walk one block south.
Rubi’s at Maxwell Street Market
An old tradition and year-long ,weekl, Chicago event is the Maxwell Street Market. The market is open every Sunday from 7am – 3pm in the South Loop and it attracts locals who are looking to stock up on everything from produce and spices to clothing and drill bits! However, most visitors will agree that the tacos, burritos and quesadillas at Rubi’s are reason enough to stop by Maxwell Street Market.
You will instantly spot Rubi’s because it will have the longest line of any food vendor at this popular market. You should be prepared to wait but I usually find that arriving between 9:30-10:00 am will reduce your wait time.
The tortillas, meats and veggies are always fresh and cooked to order. This is definitely one of the best places for affordable and consistently delicious Latin eats in Chicago.
Rubi’s at Maxwell Street Market is located at 800 S. Desplaines St. Take the #12 Roosevelt bus to Desplaines or the Blue Line to the Clinton ‘L’ stop.
Carnitas Uruapan is located on the south side of Chicago in the Pilsen neighborhood and it is THE BEST place for carnitas in town. In fact, you will only find carnitas on their menu, so don’t expect to order any beef, chicken or seafood tacos here. It also made my list of the 15 Best Chicago Tacos.
You will begin drooling the minute you approach 18th St. and don’t forget to order some chicharrones to top off your pig fest!
Carnitas Uruapan is located at 1725 W. 18th St., directly across the street from the 18th St. ‘L’ stop, along the Pink Line.
While Carnitas Uruapan is all about the pig, Birrieria Zaragoza is all about the goat. That’s right, goat meat in all its forms is king here. The best bang for your buck is to order the platter with consommé, onions, cilantro, limes, and tortillas so that you can build your own tacos.
Birreria Zaragoza also made my list of the 15 Best Chicago Tacos. It is located at at 4854 S. Pulaski Rd., just 2 blocks north of the Pulaski ‘L’ stop, along the Orange Line.
Paladar Restaurant & Rum Bar
So many folks are rushing to book flights to Cuba for their next vacation but if you cannot or do not want to join them, you can find a real taste of Havana at Paladar Restaurant & Rum Bar in the Bucktown neighborhood. Paladar is not the only Cuban restaurant in town but I think it is most reminiscent of “paladars” (Cuban homes converted into restaurants) with lovely family heirlooms that decorate the walls.
The ropa vieja, plantains, mojitos and more at Paladar are all fantastic. Bring a crowd or a date with you because this place is serving some great Latin eats in Chicago. It is charming, fun and there is live music in the rum bar on Tuesdays!
Don’t forget to order some of Paladar’s delicious flan for dessert!
Paladar Restaurant & Rum bar is located at 2252 N. Western Avenue, just a few blocks north of the Western ‘L’ stop, along the Blue Line.
Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club is one of the most overlooked and underrated places for brunch (or breakfast) in Chicago. This corner spot in the North Park neighborhood has some of the very best Latin eats in Chicago, even though it is billed as having an American menu. Nevertheless, Chef Manny Mejia has incorporated Latin flavors into many of the substantial and tasty dishes on his menu.
This place is loved by those “in the know” and, sadly, people outside of the North Park neighborhood do not come here enough. Whether you live in Chicago or you are just visiting, I encourage you to have breakfast, lunch or brunch at Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club. They are open every day from 7am – 3pm.
Some of the great items on the menu include the Caribbean Omelette, the Mayan Benedict, the Mango/Blueberry Pancakes, the Mahi tacos and the Chorizo Skillet.
If you wish to try a dish with less Latin flare, you should order the Pajun Pancake which is a scallion pancake with pork belly, sauteed Brussels sprouts in garlic sauce, easy eggs and potatoes.
Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club is located at 3401 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Take the Brown Line to the Kimball ‘L’ stop and transfer for the #82 bus.
In keeping with the spirit of Feeding Off The Rails, I encourage you to leave your car at home and take the local trains and buses to reach these “10 Fabulous Latin Eats in Chicago.” Save on gas. Avoid traffic, parking and road rage. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!