Restaurants: In the Neighborhood, April 10, 2008 | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

Restaurants: In the Neighborhood, April 10, 2008 

Twenty more restaurants in Rogers Park

In the NeighborhoodTwenty more restaurants in Rogers Park

African Harambee7537 N. Clark | 773-764-2200

$$African | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Reservations accepted for large groups only

Harambee, the motto of Kenya, means "pulling together," and at this far-north-side pan-African restaurant, owner Sisay Abebe (formerly of Ethiopian Diamond) pulls together dishes from all over the continent. It's an intriguing concept, but for the most part the attempt to corral these distinct cuisines seems to have resulted in taming them down some. We started with African Summer Rolls (the only appetizer apart from soup or salad), cigar-shaped egg-roll skins stuffed with mildly spiced beef. Moving on to the meat portion of the menu (there are also seafood and vegetarian sections), we opted for the jollof rice, a dish called "spinach meat" (your choice of beef, lamb, or chicken with potatoes, carrots, and spinach in a tahini sauce), and the sleeper hit of the evening, a delicious dried fruit curry with lamb. Entrees come with your choice of rice, couscous, injera, or ugali, a cornmeal mush common in East Africa. The injera, served rolled into bundles on a small plate, was especially good—it's made with

teff, a tiny grain indigenous to Ethiopia; many restaurants substitute farina. There are African beers and wines on offer, and service couldn't have been more welcoming. Parking is free and ample. —Kate Schmidt

Amphora7547 N. Clark | 773-262-5767

$$Mediterranean, Small Plates | Lunch: Sunday; Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

At Amphora you experience some cognitive dissonance: Greek vases hang high against the clubby dark wood of the former Gateway Bar & Grill, a television blares over the world music on the sound system, and the purportedly pan-Mediterranean menu includes Caesar salad and shrimp de Jonghe, a dish that originated in the exotic port city of Chicago. The food helps overcome these incongruities. Crispy flatbreads, large enough to make a meal, are pizzalike, with sunny ingredients like goat cheese, olives, and fresh mozzarella. Salt cod cakes were clean tasting and delicately crisped, reflecting quality ingredients and a capable hand in the kitchen. A braised lamb shank was big and meaty, but befitting the Mediterranean focus there are many seafood dishes and enough vegetarian entrees—including pasta, soups, and spanakopita—to satisfy those who don't eat things with eyes or mothers. The full bar has a good selection of wines, over half available by the glass and many in carafes (for a reasonable $16), and a small-plates menu is served till the wee hours (the bar stays open till 2 on weekends, 1 on weekdays). —David Hammond

Asmara Cafe6511 N. Clark | 773-338-9650

$African | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days| BYO

Eritrean cuisine is similar to Ethiopian—except for the pasta. The country was an Italian colony for the first half of the 20th century, and during that time Eritreans learned to eat as the Romans do. At Asmara Cafe, a brightly painted storefront on a dingy stretch of Rogers Park, the menu includes spaghetti and mostaccioli in tomato sauce mildly spiced with berbere, a paste of red chile peppers, paprika, cardamom, and basil. But the friendly owner, Kidane Mihtsun, also offers dishes like tibsi derh (cubed chicken sauteed with berbere, onions, jalapenos, and rosemary and served on injera) and breakfast specialties such as ful mudammas (mashed fava beans) and kitcha fitfit, chunks of chewy spiced flatbread eaten with thick yogurt. In Sudan, where Mihtsun spent four years as a refugee, "kitcha is in every household," he says. —Ted McClelland

Big Buns and Pita6649 N. Clark | 773-262-2000

$Middle Eastern | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | BYO

A storefront plastered with gyro and pizza puff signage gives little hint that an accomplished Assyrian restaurant might lie within. But this Rogers Park spot has been praised by the likes of Avenues chef Graham Elliott Bowles. Tasty starters include smoky baba ghanoush; falafel made from a flavorful blend of chickpeas and fava beans; lahim beajin—think Middle Eastern pizza on a pita; and kubbat Mosul, a delicious cracked wheat pancake stuffed with beef and onion. Tashreeb, a signature dish, is a meltingly tender lamb shank set atop a slightly spicy sour tomato broth and samon, a fluffy bread (the "big buns" in the restaurant's name) that soaks up the juices. Cornish hen, marinated and charcoal grilled, is likewise terrific. Each plate is insanely generous for the price (there's nothing here over $10), accompanied by a savory lentil soup, salad, torshi (pickle), and rice. —Gary Wiviott

La Cazuela Mariscos6922 N. Clark | 773-338-5425

$$Mexican, Seafood | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Reservations accepted for large groups only| BYO

This apricot-walled Mexican seafood place has a menu that goes beyond standard tacos and burritos. To start there are mejillones al mojo de ajo y vino (mussels in garlic and wine sauce) and tostadas de pulpo (octopus tostadas). The seven seas soup comes chock-full of shrimp, crab, clams, octopus, fish, calamari, and snails. There's also a variety of shrimp preparations, including delectably spicy shrimp diablo. Whole fish offerings include deep-fried catfish and red snapper, which come with salad, rice, and plenty of lime wedges. Tacos, burritos, and tostadas are served with a variety of fillings: marinated skirt steak, barbecued pork, chorizo, chicken, lengua. Though you can BYO, there's a limit of six beers per table. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Good to Go Jamaican Jerk and Juice Bar1947 W. Howard | 773-381-7777

$Caribbean | Breakfast: Friday-Sunday; Lunch, dinner: seven days

Good? Damn straight. This budget-chic storefront across from the drab gray facade of an Evanston Police Department outpost serves moist, succulent jerk chicken and pork with some of the best smoke flavor you can get on the north side—no wonder the counterman wasn't giving up any trade secrets. My friend's special of small, firm curry shrimp was lip-smackingly good. Sharing a plastic spoon, we also tried the soup of the day, and if it was indeed goat head, as it said on the menu, well, that's some tender, flavorful meat. There are all the Jamaican standards here—brown stew chicken, curry goat, oxtail, cow foot, and red snapper, served en escabeche or steamed—and I just might hike up again to try the fish-tea or cow-skin soup ("very chewy," said the counterman, comfortable disclosing that much). In addition to wine and beer, there are juices and smoothies on offer, including the Iron Man (carrots, beets, and ginger), the Lady Love (cucumber juice and ginger), and, inevitably, the One Love (carrot, apple, and ginger). —Kate Schmidt

Govinda's Restaurant1716 W. Lunt | 773-973-0900

$Indian/Pakistani, Vegetarian/Healthy | Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Sunday, Monday | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

Located in the basement of the local temple of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, this $5 all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet offers very basic, frequently bland curries and vegetables dishes with a few surprises like curly fries. Everything suffers from idling on the steam table, but it may be the cheapest way to fill up in Rogers Park. While fluorescents light up a brilliantly colored mural of celestial deity doings and the chanting and bell ringing wafts down the stairs like heavenly chorus, the atmosphere is casually welcoming and hassle free. —Mike Sula

Grande Noodles and Sushi Bar 6632 N. Clark | 773-761-6666

F 7.5 | S 8.0 | A 7.6 | $ (5 reports)Asian, Japanese, thai | Lunch, dinner: seven days | BYO | Vegetarian friendly

rrr This restaurant would easily blend into a trendier area like Lincoln Square but stands out amid the Mexican bakeries and taquerias on far North Clark. The lavender and orange walls are hung with kitchen utensils and arty photos; the cuisine is a Japanese-Thai hybrid. Platters of fresh, generously cut sushi, maki combination plates, and bento boxes are reasonably priced, as are relatively standard but nicely prepared Thai specialties (all under $9) like the mildly seasoned Seafood Delight, shelled mussels, squid, shrimp, and krab tossed with fresh red and green peppers, napa cabbage, pea pods, and baby corn. For lighter appetites there's a salad with warm ground chicken, beef, or pork served on greens; cold cabbage and shredded carrots topped with peanuts; close to 50 individual nigiri sushi; and some interesting maki like the sweet potato tempura roll. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Gruppo di Amici1508 W. Jarvis | 773-508-5565

F 5.6 | S 5.6 | A 7.6 | $$ (5 reports)Italian, Pizza | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday| Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

The menu at Gruppo di Amici is rather daring in its spareness: no scads of pasta dishes here. To begin there are restrained antipasti and insalata such as mussels and grilled mixed vegetables. We tried the marinated baby octopus with capers, kalamata olives, and lots of diced celery, then shared a generous salad of mixed greens. Entrees include lasagna, meatballs, a lamb shank in red-wine sauce, and chicken saltimbocca, but as at so many places these days, the wood-burning Italian pizza oven is where the real action is meant to be. We went with the Capricciosa: mushrooms, prosciutto, artichoke, hard-boiled eggs, and olives with fresh mozzarella and a tomato sauce seemingly free of garlic. Quite chewy, it was styled so rustically that we wound up bartering the inequitably distributed ingredients ("Trade you the artichoke for a hard-boiled egg and a bit more prosciutto"). There's a nicely chosen global wine list, and outdoor seating is pleasant in warm weather. —Kate Schmidt

Harold's Chicken Shack #446952 N. Clark | 773-465-2300

$American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, Monday-Thursday till 11 | Reservations not accepted

A bright, clean storefront with green booths, chicken-printed curtains, a chicken clock, and a stuffed chicken mounted on a pedestal, Harold's Chicken Shack #44 is one of the better newer outlets of the venerable chain. The batter isn't as peppery as at some, and the fries are crinkle cut and on the soggy side, but who cares when the bird itself is so moist and meaty and the whole package—a couple slices of white bread serving as the foundation—is covered with vinegary orange hot sauce? At lunch you can bag four wings, a half order of white or dark meat, gizzards, or livers with fries, bread, coleslaw, and a soda for $3.99. Harold's #44 also offers soul-food sides such as greens, red beans and rice, and mac 'n' cheese, but go early if you want a shot at them. Service is friendly and sweet as the Lady Di's cake slices filling the glass case under the counter. —Kate Schmidt

Heartland Cafe7000 N. Glenwood | 773-465-8005

F 6.5 | S 5.9 | A 6.8 | $ (19 reports)American, Vegetarian/Healthy | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

"Unfortunately there are not many places to get a really good buffalo burger," quips one Rater. The Heartland, however, serves up a mean one, plus salads, sandwiches, and enough hearty vegetarian entrees to satisfy the pickiest eater, from veggie chili to tofu scrambles, barbecue seitan, and a macrobiotic plate. Fine dining it's not (though specials like steamed artichokes show some aspiration), but it is a north-side sanctuary for hungry bohemians of all stripes, with live music (funk, folk, and jazz) and a Wednesday-night poetry open mike. While service can be erratic, most who frequent the Heartland know what they're getting into. —Martha Bayne

Las Islas Marias6635 N. Clark | 773-973-4752

$$Mexican, Seafood | Lunch, dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | BYO

There are enough different shrimp preparations on the menu at Las Islas Marias to dazzle Forrest Gump's army buddy. Shrimp empanadas are simple and good, with a cornmeal crust and fresh green salsa, and there are several shrimp-heavy seafood cocktails, hot and cold, as well as a paté. Langostinos a la plancha (grilled shrimp) are meaty little bastards griddled in salsa Huichol to a piquant crustiness. Our order of parilla levanta muertos—a grilled platter to "raise the dead"—was fresh and spicy, full of shrimp, mussels, scallops, and crab. My dining partner rapidly slurped down a bowl of caldo sieto mares ("soup of the seven seas"), an overflowing cornucopia of crustaceans and fish more stew than soup. We ordered tilapia and were pleased to receive a whole fish. This isn't fancy seafood, just good stuff prepared straightforwardly and perked up with avocado and fresh lime. Most dishes are cooked in the tradition of the islands off the coast of the Mexican state of Nayarit, so don't come a-looking for refried beans and tortillas. —David Hammond

Lake Side Cafe1418 W. Howard | 773-262-9503

F 7.7 | S 6.8 | A 7.6 | $ (5 reports)Vegetarian/Healthy | Lunch: Saturday; Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Reservations accepted for large groups only

It's not likely Hot Doug's will ever pitch a sausage that tastes like brussels sprouts, but many of the dishes at vegetarian joint Lake Side Cafe seem to point to a case of meat envy. A gyro is made out of seitan, sliced to ragged thinness and dyed to give it the color of meat. A thin-crust pizza can be prepared vegan style, with soy cheeze and seitan; there's also a Chicago-style Polish made of wheat gluten and soy protein. Lake Side also offers changing weekly specials, soups and salads, and vegan desserts, and despite its tie to yoga and meditation school Inner Metamorphosis University, the wall of windows, comfortable seating, and recycling bin right next to the trash can give it a relaxing neighborhood feel that attracts customers beyond the mystic set. —Ted McClelland

Morseland1218 W. Morse | 773-764-8900

F 6.4 | S 7.7 | A 7.3 | $$ (6 reports)Bar/Lounge, American | Dinner: seven days | Sunday brunch | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2

With its oak and slate bar and variety of nooks and crannies, the Morseland provides the perfect respite for those looking to drink a few hours away. The mojitos are marvelous: a handful of crushed mint, not too much sugar, and the right amount of soda. The antipasto, too, was great, a spread of prosciutto, assorted cheeses, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, and artichokes that could easily have fed four people; salads are equally huge. From there you might do best to go with a sandwich, which include po'boys, both corned beef and turkey Reubens, a daunting burger you'll manage anyway, and a Caribbean pork diablo sandwich. Eclectic entrees include a vegan Moroccan stew, but at $16-$20, others—rib eye, jambalaya, crab cakes—are pretty pricey for a place with a pool table. There's music nightly, and be advised that Morseland can get really loud later on in the evening. A more peaceful option is the Sunday brunch, which features a good eggs Benedict and even better caramelized bacon. —Chip Dudley

Noon Hour Grill6930 N. Glenwood | 773-338-9494

$American, Asian, Korean | Breakfast, Lunch: Sunday-Monday, Wednesday-Saturday; Dinner: Wednesday-Saturday | Closed Tuesday

A trip to Noon Hour Grill is like a visit to grandma's—if, unlike mine, your grandma was serene, a good cook, and listened to classical radio rather than Lawrence Welk. A small breakfast-and-lunch spot manned single-handedly by grill veteran Susie Lee, it offers a mix of Korean standards and American breakfast fare. Omelets range from bulgogi to bologna and cheese to ginger, garlic, and carrot; a cheesy Denver came with toast and golden hash browns (you can substitute rice). I went for the pajun (Korean pancake), light, savory, and served with a homemade jalapeno soy sauce. Susie's bi bim bop is famous in the neighborhood (she ran a restaurant in Rogers Park before relocating to Irving Park Road for a number of years), and while the rice crust wasn't as crispy as the best I've had and the fried egg could have been runnier, it was satisfying, down-home comfort food. Other entrees include kalbi, chap chae, filling soups, and fried rice, and there are daily specials both in-house and to go. —Kate Schmidt

Quesadillas y Mariscos Dona Lolis6924 N. Clark | 773-761-5677

$Mexican/Southwestern | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Cash only BYO

In the winter months champurrado is mixed up daily at this Rogers Park storefront, the mixture of masa, chocolate or cocoa, cinammon, and other seasonings stirred for up to two hours. The result—velvety, warming, and not too sweet—pairs well with the plate-size quesadillas that along with masa preparations like gorditas are the restaurant's specialty. In addition to the standard fillings (chicken, cheese) there are flor de calabaza (squash blossoms) and earthy huitlacoche (corn fungus). I was less impressed with the posole—best here to stick to Dona Lolis's strengths while you take in the telenovelas on TV. —Kate Schmidt

Rogers Park Pizzeria1632 W. Howard | 773-274-2200

$Pizza | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

No fan of the Chicago school of too much cheese, I was psyched when I heard a New York-style pizzeria had set up shop in my neighborhood. Imagine my surprise when my pizza arrived cut into squares. It's not going to take the city by storm, but this is decent thin crust apart from that midwestern aberration, with a respectable tomato sauce and quality ingredients. Go to the storefront itself—in a former Dunkin' Donuts on a skanky stretch of Howard across from the el stop—and you can get the traditional, foldable east-coast slice. But delivery might be a better option—my pizza came by bicycle. —Kate Schmidt

Taste of Peru6545 N. Clark | 773-381-4540

F 8.1 | S 8.0 | A 5.7 | $ (6 reports)South American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | BYO

rrr My first visit to this Peruvian strip-mall storefront was enjoyable—and has set my expectations high for future trips. Of special note: it's BYO, ambience is spartan, service is sloooow, portions are huuuuge, and the neighborhood dinner rush seems to peak at 6 PM on Saturday. That said, the food is pleasant and a tremendous bargain—be prepared to take leftovers with you. We especially enjoyed the pollo en salsa de mani (chicken with Peruvian peanut sauce), the shrimp picante (served in a creamy, savory sauce), and the mixed ceviche. There was a superb jalapeno-chile-onion dipping sauce served with simple, tasty bread. Try an Inca Kola soft drink or BYOB—there's a grocery store a few doors south on Clark that has a decent selection of wine and beer. —Patrick Brown, Rater

Tickie's Belizean Cuisine7605 N. Paulina | 773-973-3919

$Latin American, Caribbean | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days

Cheery turquoise tables and walls brighten this tiny place across from the Howard el station, and the menu melds Caribbean and Latin flavors. Offerings include dukunuisas, tamales made with fresh corn instead of corn flour, filled with pork and steamed in foil; panades, tiny fish-filled crescent-shaped pastries accompanied by a spicy habanero sauce and shredded cabbage; and soups full of ingredients like cow's feet, tripe, or conch. Stewed chicken, beef, and oxtail are the main entrees here, along with several whole deep-fried fish served with tomatoes and onions. Desserts—hot cross buns, lemon pie, and ginger pie, to name a few—are all homemade. Laura Levy Shatkin

Uncommon Ground1401 W. Devon | 773-465-9801

$$$American Contemporary/Regional | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 1, Monday-Thursday till midnight, Sunday till 11

It's on a flat stretch of Devon in the old Speakeasy space, but somehow the Rogers Park outpost of the Wrigleyville hangout Uncommon Ground has an Alpine feel—must be the fireplaces, upscale-rustic decor, and leather easy chairs. As at the original, the seasonal menu emphasizes locally produced, family farmed, and organic products including house-infused vodkas. (Order a "TreeTini," organic pear vodka, pear nectar, and Grand Marnier, and the restaurant claims it will plant a tree.) The menu's eclectic and surprisingly carnivore-centric given the crunchy mantras. I tried the Mediterranean Trio—hummus, eggplant salad, and tzatziki served with pita and marinated olives, the dips uniformly fresh with herbs. Duck confit quesadillas weren't quite the hit out of the park they sounded like, but I can't really fault them either. Large plates included bouillabaisse, a buffalo rib eye, and bacon-wrapped meat loaf with mashed potatoes, but with the start of spring the menu has begun morphing. Breakfast and brunch feature standards like huevos and a breakfast burrito but also whole-wheat banana pancakes with organic Himalayan goji berry syrup and a breakfast melt with Nueske peppercorn bacon served on Red Hen black bread—I am so there. There's live entertainment most nights of the week. —Kate Schmidt

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