11 Oct From Tacos to Tostones: A Tour of Latin America in Chicago
Discover 9 Latin American cuisines without leaving Chicago – ¿Quieres viajar por Latinoamérica?
Of all the foodie towns across America, few live up to the reputation the way Chicago does. The diverse metropolis has long been a melting pot of world cuisines representing cultures from all corners of the globe. Indeed, many neighborhoods in the Windy City are defined by the immigrant constituency, making their mark within them.
With countries and territories represented from all points south of the border, you can rest assured that your Hispanic culinary hankerings will be satisfied. Walking around Chi-Town’s diverse restaurant scene means you can travel from Mexico to Argentina and back up to Puerto Rico over the course of three meals in a day. Fusion eateries will remix expectations while infusing tried-and-true kitchen traditions you will recognize. So do yourself a favor and check out some of the best Chicago offers for Latin Restaurant Weeks. Get your mouth watering in anticipation with some of our top picks below.
Now, let’s take your tastebuds on a trip to Latin America. ¡Vamos, que no hay tiempo que perder!
1865 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
If you’ve never heard the expression “Pura Vida,” you haven’t been properly introduced to Costa Rican culture. This national slogan translates in English to “pure life” and expresses the nation’s commitment to making the most out of every moment in life. This, of course, includes food, and we can think of no better emissary to introduce you to this ethos than Irazú. This family operation has served its traditional recipes to hungry bellies since 1990! The festive atmosphere in the establishment itself is easy to enhance for both private dining experiences and catering options. As for the food – prepare yourself. Start with some chifrijo, an appetizer of layered fried pork, rice, and beans. Sandwich lovers are encouraged to try the pepitos, a typical offering on French bread that can have skirt steak, chicken, or even veggie toppings. And do try the vanilla flan for dessert!
15 W Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602
Fusion restaurants don’t get more Chicago than this! With the ubiquitous Polish influence blowing its way into every corner of the Windy City’s melting pot, it’s no wonder it found a place in a Colombian kitchen. Run by a passionate foodie power couple, their emphasis is a two-pronged approach to meals, fusing delicious recipes with an eye on healthful nutrition. The resulting offerings are surprising, unique, and unlike anything else you will taste. The emparogis fuse empanadas and perogies, combining two classic filled-pastry traditions. The kielbasa perro takes the classic Polish sausage and turns it into a hot dog graced with Colombian toppings like garlic aioli and pineapple glaze. And its take on the East European “hunter’s stew” called bigos replaces kielbasa with Colombian chorizo.
The deceivingly suburban neighborhood of Oak Park holds some of the most exciting restaurants in all of Chicago. One of the greatest examples is Sabe a Zulia, an introduction to the city’s Latin cuisine scene. Dedicated to making Sabe a Zulia more than a mere restaurant, owner Gerardo Abreu is committed to fostering a family atmosphere where customers feel at home and well cared for. With the owner bringing his immigrant spirit to his establishment, you’ll taste 100% authentic Venezuelan cuisine here. Show up for breakfast and sink your teeth into desayuno criollo, featuring scrambled eggs, carne mechada, and more. Their savory arepas are a must-try and come filled with beef or chicken. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the chico en coco, a goat stew made with coconut milk.
2540 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
If ever there was a real-life American Dream story, then the Gonzalez family’s story would be it. Migrating to Key West during the famous 1980 “Mariel Flotilla,” which braved stormy seas in an exodus from Cuba, they immediately hit the ground running to build themselves a future in the land of opportunity. Naming the establishment 90 Miles Cuban Café is an homage to the harrowing sea journey that brought them to these shores. Bringing his grandmother’s recipes spanning back generations, owner Alberto Gonzalez is so passionate about keeping these traditions alive that he was featured on The Food Network. Start off with some mariquitas, which are plantain chips with mojo de ajo. The tuna ceviche is a true taste of the Caribbean you won’t soon forget. Of course, you can’t miss sampling a typical Cubano sandwich. Save some room for the bread pudding at the end!
Fusion is once again the name of the game for Chicago’s famous Savanna restaurant. Only this time, it’s strictly Latin and strictly breakfast, lunch, and brunch. This place isn’t even open past 3:00 p.m., so think of it as the perfect place to fuel your day. Start off your morning with the dulce de leche French Toast or turkey chorizo. Step up your game to the brunch menu and prepare for llapingachos, an Ecuadorian potato cake with packed eggs and pork sausage. Or swing back to a Mexican-style plate of huevos rancheros. There are three locations: West Ridge, North Center, and Lakeview, so there’s one nearby, no matter what part of town you’re in.
1177 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60642
Seafood vibes overflow in the unforgettable space Azul Mariscos has set up for itself. Built up along the Chicago River in West Town, the massive octopus mural sets the mood while the adjacent waterfront makes the experience complete. Chef Michael Hernandez has brought a taste of his own corner of Mexico to Chi-Town’s discerning palates. You’ll find the menu comes together swimmingly, making a splash with selections such as spice lime curried shrimp, lobster empanadas, and gargantuan paella. You’ll have plenty of craft cocktails to wash it all down with, from margaritas to sangria. Don’t wait to enjoy this one. Jump on in!
2458 N Division St, Chicago, IL 60622
Brunch is a true family affair in the Humboldt Park neighborhood’s Nellie’s Restaurant. Located in the heart of Chicago’s “Paseo Boricua,” aka “little Puerto Rico,” it’s the labor of love of multi-generational kin proudly offering up their home island’s best fare. The menu also offers plenty of favorite American brunch selections and a weekend breakfast buffet option you can load up on. One fascinating item to try is the avena de coco, coconut oatmeal. Of course, there is authentic mofongo stuffed with your choice of chicken, beef, or shrimp. And if you want a real jumble of flavors, give the Jibrato bowl a shot with either chicken, lechón, or even a veggie option. And if you’re into coffee drinks, the coconut chai is the way to go.
4767 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60625
Anyone in the know of Argentine cuisine understands that meals here will always raise the steaks! True to that country’s passion for everything meat, Artango takes things up a notch by offering authentic imported beef from Argentina. Creating an ambiance with a 1920s vibe, the owners mix the meals here with traditional live music and dancing – yes, that means tangos – and a rustic menu that tastes like you’re dining in the Pampas. Start out with some provoleta, a giant hunk of grilled provolone cheese served on a skillet. Choose from the many cuts of beef or choose a mixed asado where you can sample chorizo, sweetbreads, and blood sausage along with some ribs and steak. Pair your choice with one of Artango’s excellent wine selections and homemade chimichurri.
2518 W 63 St, Chicago, IL 60629
Belize might be one of the few English-speaking nations in Latin America, but its many Hispanic neighbors very much influence its Caribbean cuisine. Garifuna Flava is named after the eponymous native peoples in the area and counts their culinary traditions in its menu items. This means it has flavors you are not likely to taste anywhere else. Dishes like jerk chicken, conch fritters, and beef patties will feel familiar as places like Cuba and Jamaica are not too far offshore from Belize. But once you get into the stewed ox tails and the unmissable hudut baruru tikini – a cabbage-based fish stew – you will savor true Belizean kitchen staples. Wash it all down with one of the neon-colored Caribbean sodas and juices served here.
Take a Latin culinary tour in Chicago today
There are too many foodie tour circuits to count in the vast cultural landscape of Chicago. But during Latin Restaurant Weeks, there’s no better time to sample the very best of Latino culinary traditions. The vibrant immigrant community is proud to share its traditions with you, and your taste buds will thank you. Savoring these concoctions is a form of sharing cultural information, affording a sensual experience that speaks to the history and geography of the places where these meals originate. Grow with these innovative chefs as they impart a little piece of their homelands onto your plates.
Latin Restaurant Weeks runs from October 6-20 and is the perfect opportunity to enjoy the city’s many delectable Latin flavors. Click here to check out our participants’ limited-time-only specials.