Is there room for another taco joint in Chicago? When they make the tortillas from scratch and source produce from farmer's markets, absolutely. Wicker Park's Antique Taco creates dishes not typically seen in a Pilsen taqueria.
"I'd say the food is mainly focused around my background - I'm Mexican, Hispanic, as well as very American. So I think I just meld the two together," said co-owner Rick Ortiz.
That means crunchy cucumbers and pickled onions dress up a moist chicken taco, drizzled with a sweet-tart honey-yogurt sauce.
In Arlington Heights, Ttowa cooks Korean with a bit of a twist. One notable dish is the bo ssam. Pork belly is poached, seasoned, grilled and sliced into manageable squares, then at the table, you grab some lettuce, a piece of pork with cooked garlic and peppers, and choose from condiments like spicy radish kimchi, sweet soybean paste, salty tiger shrimp puree and a small mound of rice powder. Wrap it all up and enjoy one of the most delicious combinations anywhere.
In the shadow of the United Center, Sinha has always been open for Sunday brunch, featuring Brazilian home-cooking. But a few months ago, they opened for lunch, cooking the same wonderful food. Guests start with a small buffet, including hearts of palm salad and the national symbols of basmati rice and black beans.
"It's always with pork and some type of beef, usually dry - the smoked type - that's what gives a wonderful taste to the beans," said Jorgina Pereira, owner of Sinha.
And after the mini-buffet, you choose an entree from among three or four options, like a Bahian shrimp made even more indulgent with notes of palm oil and coconut milk.
The menu may be vast at the tiny, family-run Nha Hang Vietnamese Restaurant in Uptown, but beginners should try one item for sure: the claypot catfish. They begin by sautéing pork belly and catfish with chilies and coconut soda, as well as salty soy sauce. Fried garlic adds an earthy note and the entire pan is transferred to the clay pot, along with lots of black pepper and sliced jalapenos, where it cooks another 10 minutes.
At Lincolnwood's Taste of Cuba, they're trying to invoke the feeling of true home-cooking. The Cubano sandwich is a good example. Yes, there's the usual mustard, pickles and roasted pork, but the ham and cheese are a little different.
"We do a different turn on the sandwich, so we use hickory smoked ham which most restaurants don't use. We use a Wisconsin American cheese because I think it melts better," said co-owner Jamie Alvarez.
Taste of Cuba
3918 W. Touhy Ave., Lincolnwood
161 W. Wing St., Arlington Heights
Nha Hang Vietnam
1032 W. Argyle St.
Sinha Elegant Cuisine
2018 W. Adams
1360 N. Milwaukee Ave.