1531 N. Wells | 312-654-9500

$$$ Tapas/Spanish | Lunch, dinner: seven days

The large double-sided menu at Dudley Nieto’s Old Town tapas restaurant Eivissa, named for the Balearic party isle of Ibiza, features a pair of ostensible bloodstains over which are superimposed a pair of incomprehensible non sequiturs: “Taste the art. Drink with all senses” and “The essence of the essence.” If the aim is discombobulation, then bravo. Nieto, who rivals Geno Bahena for the archipelago of restaurants he’s skipped about, has forgone his usual Mexican in favor of a bisected approach to tapas, aspiring to both tradition and the more modern wave of Spanish gastronomy born of Ferran Adria. It’s a broad stroke, with sections of the menu devoted to luminous vodka balls and sangrias, charcuterie and cheeses, and plates large and small. One of the more aggravating offerings is a selection of “chupitos,” shots of thick viscous sauces into which has been inserted a single bite of protein or veg impaled on a skewer. These are antithetical to the concept of shared plates, as are the stylized Basque pinxtos, oversize slices of bread topped with towering mounds of mushroom duxelles and cheese “air,” or duck breast and tomato mint foam. Even the most successful of the offerings, the tapas classicas and paellas, seem a bit off, the tortilla piperada more of custard than a classic Spanish omelet, and Nieto’s rendition of the paella Valenciana is essentially a risotto, with creamy rice and the stark absence of the coveted crusty socorrat scraped from the bottom of the pan. Many plates are accented with pointless El Bulliesque flourishes—quince sodium alginate “ravioli” alongside the rack of lamb ravioli, jamon iberico gelee with seared wild salmon—that fail to harmonize with the dishes as a whole. Nieto is trying to have it both ways, but as one tablemate observed, “If you haven’t mastered the basics don’t attempt an advanced class.” Late-night hours vary.—Mike Sula

FDM Mexican Cuisine & Lounge

3908 N. Lincoln | 773-348-7635

$$$ Mexican | Dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

The primary differences between FDM and its folksier Logan Square sister, Fonda del Mar, are mostly cosmetic: this sleek North Center upscale-Mexican restaurant is all blond wood and curving white lines. There’s a varied list of margaritas and cocktails, but menuwise, despite claims to contrary, there are only a few items that deviate from the mothership’s. Execution of most—from an oversalted cucumber-jicama salad to an overcooked monkfish escabeche wobbly atop bland mashed potatoes and swimming in its vinegary sauce—doesn’t bode well for FDM’s chances. —Mike Sula

Kin Sushi & Thai Cuisine

1132 N. Milwaukee | 773-772-2722

$$ Asian, Japanese, Thai | Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | BYO

I’ve praised many a neighborhood restaurant by saying I’d become a regular if it were in my hood. Well, Kin Sushi & Thai cuisine is, and based on one visit, I wouldn’t go back. I don’t mind so much that the budget-sleek black-and-gold spot exceeds reasonable decibel levels when crowded, as it often is. Or that some of the seating around packed-in light wood tables is uncomfortable, especially the backless benches. Or that the single door is bound to make the place cold in winter. What I did mind was waiting half an hour after ordering to get anything to eat and then being served a Kin salad that bore no resemblance to the menu description: “fresh tuna, mango, avocado, soy mint sauce, micro greens.” Instead it consisted of mixed full-size lettuces with tomato, cucumber, and three slices of raw tuna in a standard, mintless Japanese dressing. Our waiter didn’t notice anything amiss with this—or with our Alaskan maki, which was supposed to have fresh salmon, avocado, and ikura on the outside but instead just had seared salmon, leading me to suspect it was the wrong roll entirely (it was). It took three tries for an Alaskan with all the ingredients to arrive, and I suspect it still was missing the mango inside. It wasn’t very balanced, either: too much crunchy-salty salmon skin. Our nigiri-sushi—unagi and saba (pickled-tasting mackerel)—were average at best, as was ice-cold goma-ae with too little of the smooth, thick sesame sauce. Of the Thai entrees, most of them noodles and curries, we tried pad thai that suffered from oversoaked noodles and panang curry that lacked the listed kaffir lime leaves. The beef was quite chewy, and the vegetables included atypical cabbage and broccoli florets. Desserts—mochi, coconut ice cream—aren’t made in-house, and free mini cupcakes failed to compensate for a disappointing meal. —Anne Spiselman

Life Line Tropical Island Cuisine & Juice

7247 N. Damen | 773-262-4818

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

This far-north-side outpost of a minichain with two far-south-side locations has been doing a brisk business, and it’s easy to see why. This is some damn good jerk, and portions are such that you’ll be feasting on leftovers for at least a couple days. Curried goat was flavorful if characteristically bony, but even better were the sides, especially the distinctive callaloo and tender steamed cabbage. The small, colorful storefront has been tricked out with a thatched juice bar, high tables, and booths, and while I could do without the blaring music videos, service is friendly. Alcohol prohibited.—Kate Schmidt

Lunch Rolls

112 W. Monroe | 312-551-0000

$ American | Lunch Monday-Friday | Reservations not accepted

I’m a fan of the trend that has bona fide chefs behind quick-service places, so I applaud Kurt Chenier, formerly of Bonsoiree, for opening this excellent Loop lunch stand. The design and decor—a kind of futuristic retro—are a little kitschy, but who cares when you’re devouring sandwiches generously stuffed with smoky beef brisket, Moroccan lamb with couscous and golden raisins, or shrimp jambalaya with chicken andouille? Sides are appealing as well, from mac ‘n’ cheese (just decent) to grilled vegetables to salads to banana pudding. The chef dreams up soups of the day—vegan curried lentil or chilled coconut-cucumber, for example—and Friday’s chef’s choice sandwich special, ginger beef with bok choy on one visit. Speaking of specials, there’s one daily, and a beverage and sandwich for $5 is one sweet deal. The staff is good-humored and inclined to offer samples, and all the packaging’s environmentally friendly. —Kate Schmidt

El Mariel

1438 W. Chicago | 312-226-0455

$ Cuban | Breakfast, Lunch: seven days; Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Reservations not accepted | Cash only | BYO

I don’t know about the “best” Cuban sandwiches, as the postcard menu proclaims—the crucial balance of meat, cheese, and pickle was slightly off—but there’s much to like at this bare-bones storefront, not least of which is the amiable owner. Bread, soup, and the crunchy brown potato chips are all made in-house, as of course are traditional sides like tostones, papas fritas, and croquetas, the last a taste I can’t seem to acquire. The lechon sandwich, meaty and juicy, was another matter; don’t miss it. There are just two tables, and preparation was slow enough that this seems a good thing, but there’s something heartwarming about the decor commemorating the Mariel boatlift. —Kate Schmidt

Los Moles

3140 N. Lincoln | 773-935-9620

$$Mexican | Dinner: Sunday-Monday, Wednesday-Saturday | Closed Tuesday | Saturday & sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | BYO

Vagabond chef Geno Bahena, one of Rick Bayless’s most renowned (and elusive) disciples, returns to ply mole in this modest Lakeview spot. Sparsely decorated by his usual peacock standards—though the dedicated tortillera who emerges in the dining room to press masa to order is a nice touch—the menu isn’t radically different from what we’ve seen before, lots of moles in pretty presentations, notably the conceptual mar cielo y tierra, sea (shrimp), sky (quail), and land (lamb), each bedded on distinctly flavored, wonderfully complex green, white, and red sauces meant to symbolize the Mexican flag, or a sliced duck breast cooked to exacting specifications in a mild pumpkin-seed mole. Appetizers were particularly good: a murky sopa azteca, redolent of the pasilla chile swimming with chewy strips of tortilla and chicken: a pair of tlacoyos, masa ovoids stuffed with earthy mushrooms and topped with chorizo, and a ceviche whose fresh marlin held up well among olives, tomato, avocado, and chile. Desserts were likewise well done, particularly housemade strawberry ice cream atop a chewy, rustic coconut pie or a light white dulce de leche cake special. In a city increasingly cluttered by average-to-disappointing Mexican fine dining, Bahena—despite his past unpredictability—is still one the city’s most talented chefs in this arena. I hope this time he hangs up his saddlebags and stays put. —Mike Sula

Saluté Wine Bar

46 E. Superior | 312-664-0100

$$$ Bar/Lounge, Italian, Small Plates | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night till 2 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

Saluté Wine Bar is a warmly lit space with a sidewalk patio that seems perfect for a drink and a bite to eat before a movie or play. On my last visit, however, even though the place was mostly empty, service was so slow that we had to rush through the last of our food and leave our drinks unfinished to make it to our movie on time. The food, mostly OK, hardly made up for the sluggish service. Beet hummus was pleasant, with plenty of tahini and a subtle earthy sweetness from the beets, but could’ve used more of the aged balsamic reduction it was served with; thin crostini was piled high with goat cheese and a garlicky white bean and roasted red pepper spread that I liked but seemed excessive in proportion to the toast. In the second round—which arrived at least half an hour after we’d finished the first—the flavors of an open-face sandwich of chopped smoked turkey and cranberry hash with basil pesto meshed beautifully, but a wan Caesar salad that arrived sans Parmesan was pretty flavorless. The all-Italian wine list includes about 20 wines by the glass, mostly priced a little under $10, and close to 100 in total, all served in stemless glasses. There’s also a small selection of cocktails, including the Caprese, a smooth basil-infused vodka martini garnished with a mozzarella-stuffed cherry tomato, and a limonata with citrus-infused gin and lavender water that went down easy (maybe because I couldn’t taste any gin). For dessert there are house-made cellos including Meyer lemon, kumquat, and blueberry as well as a half-dozen sweets—but we didn’t have time to try any of them. —Julia Thiel

Terzo Piano

159 Monroe | 312-443-8650

$$$ Italian | Lunch: seven days; Dinner: Thursday

When I told a friend I thought Terzo Piano looked like a colorless 1950s cafeteria, with its white-on-white minimalism, long walls of windows, molded-plastic chairs and translucent resin tabletops, she—in a kinder mood—said she saw it as a blank canvas with the patrons as the paint. Maybe. A diverse crowd certainly comes for lunch (dinner is Thursdays only) to the dining room with the double-entendre name (“third floor” and a reference to Modern Wing architect Renzo Piano), drawn by everything from the star power of chef-partner Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia) to the views, though the best vista of Millennium Park—from the north end of the terrace—can’t be enjoyed from any of the tables. The one-page menu alone wouldn’t attract many people, even if it is lavish about listing the midwestern sources of ingredients in the mostly Italian-inspired dishes. But frankly, I don’t care if the piccolo lamb burger on the uno, due, tre burgers started life at Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms in Wisconsin, since it ended up an overdone, overspiced, dry puck of meat unredeemed by Indiana’s Capriole goat cheese or ketchup made from McWethy Farms tomatoes. The shrimp burger with Calabrian pepper spread reminded me of Chinese shrimp toast, only spicier; the “Midwestern Piemontese” beef burger with Wisconsin Colby cheese was at least better than the limp organic fries. Oddly, much of our meal was as pale as the decor. Satiny but slightly boring potato-fennel soup of the day with a melt of Parmesan practically matched the white oak floors, as did an appetizer of crispy fried Lake Erie perch perked up by tart fried caper berries and sweet fried lemon slices. Handmade spaghetti with a few Oregon porcini mushrooms and a dollop of lemon ricotta tasted as beige as it appeared. Mizuna salad was green with promise—sugar snap peas, fresh favas, avocado (underripe), slices of raw artichoke heart (ivory and cardboardy)—but the bland ginger-cashew dressing didn’t pull it together. Colorful pizza-size flatbreads headed for other tables made me wish I’d ordered one. While many dishes feature cheeses, the cart with a dozen selections—more than half midwestern—languished on the sidelines because servers didn’t bother to offer them. I might return for desserts like espresso doughnut holes with a mini glass of cherry soda and zeppole (fig-filled pastries) with vin cotto and dark-chocolate ice cream, but given that lunch for two cost more than $100, the food—and service—should have been better. —Anne Spiselman