A's List: A Guide to Latin American Fare in Chicago
By Audarshia Townsend
When it comes to superior Mexican fare, Chicago's got that covered. Visitors plan vacations centered on reservations at Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill and the Pilsen community remains a major attraction for authentic Mexican restaurants and more.
But other excellent Latin establishments are pretty much scattered across the city. From solid Brazilian brunches to outstanding Cuban cuisine, we're spotlighting some of the most celebrated Latin American eateries in Chicago.
90 Miles Cuban Cafe. Named for the distance it took for the owners to arrive to Florida from the beloved homeland, this Cuban-focused eatery offers lunch and diner in its Logan Square, Lincolnwood and Roscoe Village locations, You'll find several traditional Cuban dishes (think Cubano or ropa vieja) amped up in a "secret" sauce. There are also fresh seafood and vegetarian dishes. The restaurants are BYOB.
Artango Bar & Steakhouse. Classic Argentine and other Latin American fare can be found at the Lincoln Square-based Artango, a fashionable establishment also offering live music and dancing several nights a week. Its backdrop channels 1920s Buenos Aires, adding to its exotic appeal. Of great interest on the dinner menu are the juicy, prime steaks, grilled seafood offerings and empanadas. When there is dancing, it ranges from milongo to tango, and there are dance lessons as well as the pros get on the floor to strut their stuff.
Carnivale. The vibrant Fulton Market District destination spotlights several Latin regions by featuring dishes and drinks from all over South America. A new brunch menu features American and Latin favorites, such as a churro-style waffle topped with sugar, cinnamon and Mexican chocolate ganache, and wood-grilled skirt steak and eggs. For those coming for dinner, the oxtail empanada, seafood paella and adobo-rubbed New York strip are always great choices. The front-room lounge plays host to live Latin bands with dancing, plus serves as a popular after-work hangout.
Irazu Costa Rican Restaurant. The family-owned Costa Rican restaurant has been around since 1990, and it's been a longtime favorite for its unique sandwiches, shakes and salsa lizano—the famed spicy-sweet regional condiment that comes with all dishes. Most popular are authentic entrees casado (meat or seafood served with white rice, black beans, sweet plantains and over easy egg) and El Tico (meat sauteed with onions, bell peppers and onion). The thick, house-made shakes come in flavors such as oatmeal, papaya, mango and pineapple. It's BYO.
La Sirena Clandestina. The intimate setting of this Argentine-focused restaurant in the Fulton Market District serves as a great place for a romantic dinner. Sexy Latin music plays at the right level as couples nosh on share-able dishes and sip on eclectic elixirs with exotic ingredients. La Sirena's menu changes often, which you should expect at a chef-driven restaurant, but you can always count on a few standards. Expect baked empanadas (though the ingredients may change), grilled beef short ribs with red pepper pesto, charred chicory and candied Brazil nuts, and a whole fried fish topped with signature hot sauces.
Sinha Elegant Brazilian Cuisine. Directly across the street from the United Center is this authentic South American find where a Brazilian-born woman generously opens her home for public consumption. Sunday brunch (two seatings at 2 and 4 p.m.) includes live entertainment, samba dancing and an all-you-can-eat spread of classic Brazilian dishes such as basmati rice, black beans and fish stew. It's $30 per person and BYOB. Monday through Friday features a mini-brunch/lunch buffet of Brazilian dishes.
Tango Sur. The insanely popular BYO Argentinean steakhouse makes its home not too far away from Wrigley Field, which means that it's a popular destination after Cubs games. It's from the same folks who also own ñ, but Tango Sur is more chef driven and focused on special preparations of classic Argentine entrees. Chef "specials" include a number of share-able seafood and meat dishes; lomo relleno (half slab Argentine filet filled with chimichurri and ham sauce, then cooked and served on a grill with Portabella marsala) and vacio (half slab of range-grown flap meat, sliced and filled with olive oil, garlic and parsley sauce, then cooked and served on a grill with roasted sweet potatoes) are two of the most popular.
Tanta. Specializing in fine Peruvian cuisine and pisco cocktails, Tanta is owned by famed Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio. While Rio’s d’Sudamerica is neighborhood oriented and family friendly, Tanta is sleek, upscale and draws the River North crowd. In addition to street food-inspired cuisine, ceviche and specialty Peruvian dishes, the restaurant offers a unique pisco spirit program. Guests may order signature pisco cocktails on tap, or a flight of infused pisco tastings. In 2016, the owners opened global cocktail lounge Arbella (112 W. Grand Ave.) next door to Tanta. It serves as an after-hang for Tanta, where guests go for small bites, deejays spinning exotic grooves and cocktails like the Singapore Sling and caipirinha.
Texas de Brazil. This outpost of the well-known churrascaria, or Brazilian steakhouse, makes its home in the upscale Streeterville neighborhood on the Near North Side. It's a brief walk to the Magnificent Mile and Navy Pier, but there's enough excitement within these walls to keep you entertained for at least a few hours. A generous salad bar accompanies the massive meat parade of skewers of filet, pork loin, bacon-wrapped chicken and more, which only ends when diners tell the servers to stop bringing them. The main dining room offers a picturesque view of Streeterville skyscrapers and there's catchy Latin music thumping from the speakers. The best part about your experience here is that you get to take a piece of it home: For an extra $9, chefs will grill a dozen of the house-made Brazilian sausages for you. It's $49.99 per person for dinner (lunch is $26.99; salad bar only is $19.99).
See previous A's List columns right here.