In olden days, the finest restaurants were equipped with exposed brick walls, which aristocrats used to roughen up their smooth, work-deprived fingers to the point that they could grip silverware. Today's Groupon to Café 28 massages your yum-muscles in similar style: for $20, you get $40 worth of traditional Cuban and Mexican fare, magic mojitos, and contemporary twists at the charming candlelit café, located steps from the Irving Park Brown Line stop. In addition to its lunch menu, Café 28 now serves coffee and breakfast Tuesday–Friday from 7 a.m.–2 p.m. and dinner beginning at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday–Sunday (the café is closed Mondays through March 22). Weekend brunch is served until 2 p.m., beginning 10 a.m. on Saturdays and 9 a.m. Sundays.
Though Café 28's servers are known for their remarkable ability to serve a table set for 20 in one fell swoop by balancing trays on hands, knees, and ears, your modest waiter will refrain from doing so to spare diners' nerves—and to let the succulent menu take center stage. Pair a pear and greens salad dressed in blue-cheese crumbles and champagne vinaigrette ($6.50) with one of the café's eclectic contemporary Latin dishes, such as the handsomely plated almond-crusted halibut (with saffron cream and jalapeno mashed potatoes, $21) or a hefty portion of honey jalapeno pork chops with sweet potatoes ($21.50). Those who prefer to stick with tradition can order one of Café 28's authentic Cuban dishes, such as ropa vieja, a plate full of tender, slow-cooked flank steak in garlic tomato and bell-pepper sauce with rice, black beans, and sweet plantains ($15.50).
On the weekend, join a bustling bar crowd for wine and cocktails amid Café 28's intimate dining room decorated with exposed brick, vibrant paintings, and curling wrought iron over the windows—or impress your date with the sultry kick of chiles and the warmth of a sweet plantain kiss at dinner. Café 28's green tamales ($7.95)—made with poblanos, corn, and brick cheese—make the perfect late-night snack with a tall mojito or glass of wine, and baked goat cheese with spicy tomato sauce and crostini ($9.75) is a tangy start to an evening of good food and conversation about materials that could be used to build a dam.
- A great off-the-beaten-path place to meet friends, impress a date or wow your out-of-town guests, Cafe 28 nails the atmosphere of a hip downtown cafe and brings it to the chill-out oasis of North Center...More refined dishes include tidy almond-crusted halibut or honey-jalapeno pork chops, while classic favorites span tender ropa vieja (shredded beef), to comal (think fajitas with a slightly sweeter sauce) to sandwiches like the mojo-oozing Cuban steak version. And if you come for Sunday brunch, make sure there's at least one order of the delirium-inducing stuffed French toast (packed with cream cheese, brown sugar and bananas) on your table. – Julia Steinberger, CenterStage Chicago
- The food was incredible - I had a delicious pecan encrusted chicken that was just sinfully delicious and so artfully prepared. The service was great and the small dining room made for a nice evening. – csmobyte, Metromix
- ...the very best on their menu is the honey jalapeno porkchops. They give you two huge chops, enough to share the plate....Thick, juicy, sweet, and tender perfectly paired with sweet potatoes. – CarribbeanQueen, Metromix
- The Mojitos we started out with were the best I had ever had. – NINA, Metromix