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Amelia’s Bar & Grill

4559 S. Halsted | 773-538-8200



Amelia’s Bar & Grill occupies a lonely industrial corner a few blocks south of the storied stockyards’ gate, and nothing about the facade would indicate that anything more exotic than menudo lies within. But classics like lush quesadillas—made with chewy handmade tortillas, mild Oaxacan cheese and dark, funky huitlacoche—or chef Eusebio Garcia’s signature grilled salmon with green papaya, mango, and avocado creme fraiche share the page with Mediterranean fusion creations like goat cheese ravioli and pappardelle with shrimp, shiitakes, shallots, and Swiss chard in roasted garlic sauce. Lomo de puerco, an entree of grilled pork tenderloin, was terrific—thick medallions of pork painted with a tart, sweet tamarind glaze and seared till crisp. Plated with a handful of sauteed purslane, a smear of roasted quince, and a tangle of grilled onions, it could have come out of a far more pretentious kitchen. A plate of oysters on the half shell topped with ceviche looked fantastic, and if the ceviche was disproportionately heavy on octopus, and the bivalves themselves a little blah, it was all still fresh, and punchy with lime and peppers. Garcia and the tiny, effusive staff do a whole lot with a little. —Martha Bayne

La Cecina

1943 W. 47th | 773-927-9444



Cecina, the traditional steak of Guerrero, is salt-dried, then rehydrated and grilled, with deliciously toothy and succulent results. Other representative foods from Guerrero here include a guajillo-spiked chicken soup in a bright red broth with fresh squash and carrot. This place is swimming with seafood: fried smelts were especially tasty spritzed with lime, and ceviche was helium light. My dining partner had grilled seafood with gently charred chunks of octopus, shrimp, and, alas, krab in a light sauce. Less routine menu items include quail, game hen, and bull’s testicles. The tortillas at La Cecina are handcrafted, and we enjoyed quesadillas with requeson, Mexico’s answer to ricotta, and fish (minced and fried in the tortilla). No booze is served, but there are healthful beverages including a fresh-squeezed concoction of mixed veggies and fruits and a milk shake of mamey, a starchy, honey-tinged tropical fruit. —David Hammond

Cobblestones Bar and Grill

514 W. Pershing | 773-624-3630



Over a decade ago, fresh out of the Culinary Institute of America, south-side native Laurette Vaccaro-Holley returned to her roots, opening this hybrid of bistro and corner tap just a few blocks south of Sox Park. The menu’s a significant step up from standard bar food: New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp were six succulent crustaceans in a spicy beurre blanc, and Vaccaro-Holley makes a mean muffuletta (“Big enough for two,” the menu says, and that’s no lie). There are daily specials and a range of salads and sandwiches, but roughly half the regular menu is devoted to mix-and-match pastas and sauces. My spaghetti alla arrabiata was perfectly al dente and delectably garlicky, and my friend was pleased with his steak Vaccaro, tender slices of rib eye with green peppers and caramelized onions served over penne in a light, savory red sauce. Service can be gruff in the south-side manner, but that just means they think you can take it, right? Cobblestones is open on Sundays when there’s a Sox home game. —Kate Schmidt

Ed’s Potsticker House

3139 S. Halsted | 312-326-6898



To gain access to Ed’s amazing repertoire of delicious northern Chinese specialties start by asking for the leather-bound Chinese menu with English translations, then ask about the specials hanging on the wall, and if something appeals to you don’t let anyone talk you out of it. You could spend weeks happily exploring: house pot stickers are long cigars of crispy, porky goodness, and the complex lamb, stir-fried with dried chiles, is carried from the kitchen with great regularity. Beef stew with noodle is a massive, very soupy bowl of tender beef chunks with a nice touch of spice. “Fish-fragrant” eggplant has nothing to do with fish—it’s really just a version of eggplant with garlic sauce that renders the fruit light and puffy, with a delicate, crispy outer crust. Don’t overlook the cold appetizers: a bowl of tofu with bits of preserved egg is a nice lesson in subtle textural contrasts, and the sliced pork leg with soy sauce is cut thinly in cross section so you can see the varying textures of the different muscles, rimmed by a layer of caramelized fat. Even cosmetically challenged selections tend to be terrific: lily flowers and bean thread noodle is sort of a grayish lump of noodles studded with wilted yellow flowers, but the pale yellow buds have a satisfying snap, like lightly sauteed mushrooms. —Mike Sula

Han 202

605 W. 31st | 312-949-1314


ASIAN | DINNER: Sunday, tuesday-saturday | closed monday | BYO

Han 202, the unusual Bridgeport Asian restaurant from the folks behind Evanston’s late Restaurant Guan (previously Ninefish), offers a prix fixe dinner at $25 for five expertly turned-out courses—one of the best deals in town. Like any self-respecting chef, Guan Chen winces at the term fusion. But his judgment is too sound and his touch too deft for any of the excesses that dated label conjures. Julienned green apple is dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, pine nuts, and two of the most aggressive ingredients you can think of, capers and truffle oil, applied with such restraint that it’s difficult to imagine them not working. For his beef and lemongrass salad Chen simply builds on the apple salad, adding the herb and tender glazed chunks of beef; it’s completely different from the base but no less memorable. And a bowl of romaine laced with wakame seaweed is a harmonious preparation—and head-slappingly simple. To say Chen makes things look easy, though, would ignore his facility with sea creatures, like a special of baby scallops, luscious, perfectly cooked, and served in spicy miso broth, or the just-over-wobbly scallops and shrimp he pairs with firm vegetables in a red seafood curry. Fourth courses move from sea to land with dishes like spicy lamb chops in bonito-plum sauce with sprigs of thyme and Chen’s takes on Chinese-American classics like General Tso’s chicken and orange beef. Light desserts—vanilla ice cream with a sphere of mango-tomato sorbet or an unpitted poached peach enrobed in green apple sorbet and sprinkled with poppy seeds—serve as a proper punctuation mark. —Mike Sula

Kevin’s Hamburger Heaven

554 W. Pershing | 773-924-5771



Kevin’s Hamburger Heaven is a 24-7 “city that works” diner in a light-industrial area a few blocks south of Sox Park. Early morning you’ll find steel-toe-shod working stiffs fueling up on good-size portions of crispy hash browns, nicely spiced (though somewhat dry) sausage, three eggs over, and toast. Those needing a little extra to stoke the engine opt for hot-off-the-griddle pancakes or creamy grits with dollops of butter winking up at you in defiance of future cholesterol checks. Burgers rule at lunch, and these are juicy, rich, flavorful patties, roughly formed and sizzled on the grill. Topped with pickle slices, grilled onions, and a toasted bun, they satisfy in a way that’ll make you swear off drive-through McQuickies forever. But it’s nighttime—more specifically, the hours after the bars close—that’s given Kevin’s its citywide rep as the ne plus ultra of greasy spoons. The sotted and soused come from far and wide for coffee, chili burgers with mounds of fries, or steak and eggs served with Kevin’s house-label steak sauce; late one evening I heard a guy say blearily, “Gimme one of everything on the breakfast menu.” The late-night security guard sits at the counter as unobtrusively as a man tough as nails and armed can. —Gary Wiviott

Maxwell Street Depot

411 W. 31st | 312-326-3514


American | breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days  | open late: 24 hours every day

Maxwell Street Depot is busiest—and tastiest—between the hours of midnight and 4 AM. The 24-hour Bridgeport hot dog stand is flooded with IIT and U. of C. students in various states of inebriation mixing with Polish and Mexican workers getting off the night shift. There are six items on the menu—hot dog, Polish, hamburger, cheeseburger, double cheeseburger, and the “famous” pork chop sandwich—and none more expensive than $4.25 (french fries included). Mustard and generous heapings of grilled onions are your only choices for condiments, but this means they can assemble your order in under a minute. And finally, Depot’s number one secret: you can order the pork chop sandwich without the bone. Otherwise, it’s far too much to handle while drunk. —Katie Buitrago


3267 S. Halsted | 312-929-2486



Cafe 28 pastry chef Maria Solis (aka Nana) and her sons, Omar and Christian, preside over this genuinely friendly, slightly crunchy upscale diner, which generally adheres to the standards set by the USDA’s National Organic Program. Menu selections include a breakfast burger crowned with a runny egg and smeared with aioli and the “Nanadict,” two cheese-stuffed pupusas topped with poached eggs and house-made chorizo in poblano sauce, a colorful and creative take on the standard. Banana-hemp buckwheat pancakes (see “crunchy”) were remarkably light and airy. Soyrizo is a surprisingly successful vegetarian alternative to the real thing, and we also enjoyed the mascarpone-stuffed French toast with sweet agave sauce. We also dug the fresh-squeezed fruit and vegetable juices—especially the carrot-Granny Smith apple combo. The inventive chow and positive energy outweigh the occasional service bumps—and when you think about it, really, if you’re in a rush you probably shouldn’t be doing brunch. Lunch brings sandwiches, more burgers, a house-made soup of the day, and salads; dinner some more-upscale options like a Seedling Farms peach salad with arugula and truffle oil, a Laughing Bird shrimp tostada with duck breast, grilled skirt steak with chimichurri, crispy fried quail, and half a roasted Gunthorp Farms chicken. —David Hammond

Ramova Grill

3510 S. Halsted | 773-847-9058



Fresh-squeezed orange juice, house-made chili, sesame-seed-bun-topped burgers, perfect over-easy eggs complementing greaseless hash browns nestling a trio of link sausage. No, it’s not some trendy new Bucktown breakfast place, but a south-side institution around since 1929, where the newest innovation is using colored chalk on the original menu boards, the friendly waitress efficiently “hons” her customers, and the grill is manned with the skill and grace only years with spatula in hand can bring. Ramova may look like just one of countless south-side diners straight out of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, but its God-is-in-the-details mentality elevates its simple diner food to art. —Gary Wiviott


2149 S. Halsted | 312-948-5275



My gawd, behold the Skylark Burger: big and juicy, topped with a dollop of tangy slaw, cheddar cheese, and beer-battered onion rings, and accompanied by an ample portion of supercrispy seasoned tater tots. These people know how to accessorize some grilled meat. The big bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese is worthy too. Rotating specials include a panko-crusted chicken breast with portobello mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, and a side salad and Friday’s regular fish-and-chips. This is better than bar food—it’s great food that happens to be served in a bar. —Susannah J. Felts

Stanley’s Tavern

4258 S. Ashland | 773-927-0033



There’s no sign outside indicating that this remnant of Whiskey Row is a place where you can get a cheap draft and a hot, hearty lunch. But every workday from 11 AM to 2 PM, you can find truck drivers, managers from Tyson or Edsal Manufacturing, or guys from the bricklayers union bellied up to the bar or squeezed behind tables, powering down Wanda Kurek’s daily special—and maybe a cold one. Some of them have been coming for decades. Kurek wakes at six each morning and reads her Trib and Sun-Times before she starts the day’s cooking, all done on an O’Keefe & Merritt porcelain stove that’s almost 60 years old. She might make baked ham with raisin sauce, or roast pork with dumplings, stuffed cabbage and potato salad, or breaded chicken breast on buttered noodles, or Cornish hens. For six bucks you get a heaping plate with a vegetable or two, but on days when Wanda decides to make prime rib she charges seven. Soups—split pea, oxtail with barley, chicken noodle—run about a buck and a half a bowl. There are Vitner’s potato chips behind the bar, and if you want a root beer it’s Filbert’s, bottled right up the street. —Mike Sula

Zaytune Mediterranean Grill

3129 S. Morgan | 773-254-6300



Until Kendall grad Daniel Sarkiss opened this counter-service joint, Bridgeport was probably the last place you’d dream of finding authentic Middle Eastern food. And while you’ll see no Iraqi sheep’s head, trotter, or stomach stew specials, and Sarkiss griddles his shawerma instead of spinning it on a trompo, the attention to detail and complexity of nearly everything he does—from the freshly turned-out pita to light, fluffy, freshly fired falafel to the herbed fries with kalamata aioli to the big, meaty salads bowls and grilled meat platters with roasted vegetables—rivals and even exceeds far older and more venerable spots in ethnic enclaves like Albany Park and Bridgeview. —Mike Sula