Taste of Cuba's kitchen crafts a menu full of traditional Cuban eats concocted using fresh ingredients each day. Among the ranks of pressed sandwiches, the kingly cubano ($5.50) stands tall, bursting with sliced ham and roasted pork. The famous jibarito sandwich ($5.75) attracts paparazzi by canoodling with both grilled steak and onions, covering the affair with plantains and garlic mojo, then putting the whole thing on blast via Twitter. The roster of entrees includes the pechuga de pollo ($9.95), which finds a grilled chicken breast rubbed in savory spices. Fend off a food coma with a bracing cup of Cuban coffee in one of its myriad iterations ($1.50–$2).
Inari Sushi is the place to be. Japanese cuisine that is part of a healthy and light diet. Carefully prepared fresh fish and seafood are full of nutrients and the elegant way the food is served gives you a good reason to meet with a date, with friends, or for a business meeting.
A U.S. extension of its original form as a neighborhood eatery in Bainoa, Cuba, in the 1950s, Café Laguardia—featured on the Food Network’s Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels and in the Chicago Sun-Times—is still known for its authentic Cuban cuisine. The menu is populated with vegetarian and meat-filled tastes, with many manifestations packed with succulent pork or shredded beef and flanked by mounds of moist rice. Hands-on eaters can grab onto a Cuban sandwich, which the Sun-Times calls "about as authentic as you will get this side of Tampa."
Havana serves up Cuban-American cuisine and fresh mojitos in a setting replete with all the charm of an Old World bistro. The menu combines the distinctly Cuban with pan-Latin flavors for a taste exploration that uproots taste-buds and sends them careening on a pinball-style joy ride. Start off with a pitcher of the house mojito, swirled with fresh mint, lime, and sugar in Bacardi Limon rum ($31, or $8 for a glass), and a couple orders of citrusy, seafood-infused ceviche ($9.95). Save room, though, because entrees such as the apricot-chipotle pork chops, marinated with apricot chipotle sauce and served with jalapeno hash browns and steamed broccoli ($18.95), demand serious abdominal real estate. The vegetarian chiles en nogada fools meat-thirsty mandibles with the toothsome texture of two poblano peppers stuffed with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and cheese ($14.95). With a couple more mojitos, caipirinhas, and margaritas, plus an order of Cuban coconut-rum flan ($4.95), gracious guests will be primed for a twilight Clark Street trot on a chestnut mare.
Laguardia's Cuban Bistro features warm hospitality and a bright, funky interior paired with a menu of savory flavor combinations. Fine-tune your hand-mouth coordination with the bistro's wildly popular Cuban sandwich, a concoction of seasoned pork and ham pressed with swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles ($5); or sharpen your spoon skills with a bowl of havana black-bean soup topped with cheese, onions, and sour cream ($4). The house specialty is the braised caribbean ox tail, which is marinated for three days in a succulent red wine and tomato sauce before being simmered with vegetables and served with rice and black beans ($10.25). Bring your own bottle of wine and take it to the quaint patio area during warmer months, or seek shelter inside during Chicago's werewolf-ridden six months of night.
Though they can make such café staples as cappuccinos and chai lattes, Cafecito’s baristas specialize in Cuban coffee—classics such as the café con leche, cortadito, and their signature Cuban espresso, whose murky blackness is cut with a teaspoon of sugar. Those earthy aromas complement those of the eatery’s gourmet pressed sandwiches, which incorporate all-natural ingredients and the same recipes followed in generations of Cuban kitchens. Rather than just stick to tradition, however, owner Philip Ghantous and his culinary team also put their own spin on the form, creating sandwiches stuffed with Carribbean-inspired jerk chicken or unusual combinations of sweet plantains, guava, and peanut butter. Each meat they use is marinated in a tangy homemade mojo before being doused in signature sauces such as habanero-lime mayo or their famous chimichurri. The garlicky topping requires a full week for its flavors to integrate, according to the Chicago Reader, which heralded Cafecito as one of 2008’s best new restaurants. Acclaim has remained strong since then—The Huffington Post and Time Out Chicago included the restaurant on their lists of best Cuban sandwiches in Chicago, the latter in its #1 spot.