By the time you read about what I ate at Allison and Rob Levitt’s minimalist new Wicker Park restaurant, you may have to wait until next year to try some of it. That’s because much of the menu at Mado, in the space formerly housing Barcello’s, reads like a shopping list for the week’s Green City Market. Preparations are simple, with all due reverence given to the superior quality of the ingredients, raised by an A-list of regional agrarian rock stars. The porchetta, a riff on the central Italian boneless roast pig, was presented as a slab of luscious pork with amagalmated crispy bits, dressed with a light salsa verde and some arugula. Raw sunchokes, sliced into small coins and tossed with lemon and parsley, were every bit as memorable—and so uncomplicated it’s a wonder you don’t see this dish everywhere. Nearly everything I ate tasted like early spring, from the thick, deep, dark green wild nettle soup to the trout with walnuts, deftly grilled over wood to yield perfectly lush pink flesh under delicate crispy skin. Desserts were also excellent in their restraint, particularly a rhubarb fool, layers of lightly tart fruit and lightly sweet whipped cream. Don’t overlook the fragile, buttery shortbread, which crumbles at a touch—it’s listed modestly on the menu but it’ll be the last thing I forget about this place. About the only off-key item—tellingly one of the few that couldn’t have had a local provenance—was octopus braised with chiles on crostini. If this is a previously undiscovered Lake Michigan species, I’d say throw it back next time. Valuewise, a few thing are hard to swallow—a $4 side of baby greens works out to about a buck a leaf—but overall the Levitts are doing regional and sustainable sourcing as affordably and accessibly as anyone outside a home kitchen. This neighborhood has already rejected one great restaurant built on this model in John Bubala’s late Baccala—I hope Wicker Park gets it this time. —Mike Sula
In late April, Angela Hepler Lee, co-owner of Sushi Wabi and De Cero, teamed up with former Moto chef Tyler Williams to expand her multiethnic Randolph Street miniempire with Veerasway, an airy storefront specializing in a mix of traditional Indian and Indo-American cuisine. Lots of light wood, curry-yellow and lentil-brown walls, and hanging glass lanterns set a modern tone, along with mood-mellowing cocktails (you’ll need ’em—it’s noisy) such as the Bengali tiger (vanilla-bean-infused vodka, green and black cardamom, tamarind-date puree, ghost peppers, and pineapple) that go well with the free pappadam chips and three accompanying dips. Appetizers “from the streets” include vegetarian samosas and stuffed banana peppers—basically spicy Indian chiles rellenos, filled with lentils and paneer, fried in chickpea batter, and served with coriander chutney. My favorite dish was a salad, or actually two salads: shredded green papaya laced with toasted peanuts and grape tomatoes side by side with ripe mango slices tossed with puffed rice, chopped tomato, and a few golden raisins, both in tamarind-lime dressing. The contrast of flavors and textures was terrific. One of the traditional meat and vegetarian choices I tried, moist chicken tikka in a complex tomato cream sauce, was solid if unexceptional, but it surpassed the surprisingly dull Indo-American coconut scallops, an overcooked trio (one of which was undersize) in individual pools of coconut milk. An a la carte side of sauteed spinach, mustard greens, and fingerling potatoes with garlic and onions was so jarringly tart it clashed with everything else. Decent naan and a milk-shake-thick coconut-mango lassi rounded out the meal; moist spiced chocolate cake with chile-dusted cashew brittle and rice ice cream ended it on a high note. —Anne Spiselman
Based on the name and the looks of the place, you might take Mixteco Grill for a nicer-than-normal diner, acceptable if unambitious. Don’t be fooled: this is a restaurant set on greatness. The menu is pan-Mexican, featuring Oaxacan moles, Pueblan salsas, Guerrerense meats, and other regional specialties. One bite into the fish tacos and my dining companion pronounced them her favorite ever. Since there had been online buzz about the guacamole, we ordered a bowl, mightily complemented by chip-shaped chicharrones (pork rinds) and radish slivers in addition to the tortilla chips on the table. The pollito envinado, a little wood-grilled chicken served with red wine-guajillo sauce, gave me new hope for restaurant chicken, too often drab and tasteless, like tofu with legs. Cochinita pibil, a Yucatecan classic, is pork slow cooked with achiote and other relatively mild spices, then perked up with pickled onions and incendiary habanero salsa. Delicate handmade tortillas add to every dish. Though entrees fall within the $15-$20 range, Mixteco Grill is BYO and that, along with the graciousness of the serving staff, makes dinner here a pleasant, not pricey, experience. —David Hammond
For more on food and drink, see our blog The Food Chain at chicagoreader.com.