Frustrated by the long wait for a license, partners John Sanchez, Felix Bustamante, and Chris Storey finally opened MOONSHINE, which pays homage to the prohibition era, without stocking so much as a single bottle of liquor. The red and orange backlit walls behind the bar are noticeably empty until the owners get word from the city. The rest of the room isn’t quite so bare: after months of salvaging old wood from a barn on a Wisconsin farm–“They were gonna tear it down, so we offered to tear it down for them,” says Bustamante–the resourceful group had it milled and used it to detail the interior. Then they turned a Jack Daniels barrel into a host stand, painted some of the walls bright orange and canary yellow, and commissioned local artist Rob Soller to cover others with murals depicting cops confiscating liquor stills. The menu is a collection of the owners’ favorite bar food: burgers, pizza, ribs, and steaks. Freshly mashed guacamole came with red, white, and blue corn chips and a dip made of dark roasted chilies, something like a mole. The New York strip sandwich was cooked exactly to order; ours was topped with blue cheese, although mushrooms are another option. Most of the neighborhood crowd indulged in pizza and burgers, carrying in their own six-packs and bottles of wine. Childhood friends Sanchez and Storey grew up in New Mexico, and a southwestern influence comes through in a few places on the menu: the mixed fajitas with beef, chicken, or shrimp and the green chilies offered as a pizza topping or a side with guacamole. Otherwise, it’s standard casual American fare. Moonshine is at 1824 W. Division, 773-862-8686. –Laura Levy Shatkin
When Ivan’s Lounge vacated the space at the southwest corner of Roscoe and Ashland, the owners of El Tapatio across the street seized the opportunity to spread their wings, opening a trendier version of their long-standing traditional Mexican restaurant. LA TABERNA TAPATIA is lively and appealing, with walls painted in hues of red and Latin music played at club volumes; a DJ spins on weekend nights. All dishes are botanitas (tapas-style small plates), making this a good spot for a reasonably priced light dinner or late-night snack–the kitchen stays open till 11. A tasty trio of sopes (small masa cups) comes filled with huitlacoche (a mushroomlike fungus), shredded chicken, and a potato-chorizo mixture, while the portobello mushroom is marinated with guajillo peppers, charbroiled, and served with a side of caramelized onions. Homemade tamales are filled with chihuahua cheese and poblano peppers and served with salsa verde. The perfect accompaniment to the spicy fare is a frosty shaken Taberna margarita, made with Herradura Silver tequila. And the desserts are tantalizing, from the guava-stuffed empanada to the bunuelos rellenos–flour tortillas oozing with caramel and peaches. La Taberna Tapatia is at 3358 N. Ashland, 773-248-5475. –Laura Levy Shatkin
Catering-business-cum-lunch spot SAVVY FARE serves superlight but tasty Cajun food; it’s a great stop for a tranquil, sedentary day but a terrible idea if you’re on an action mission. The menu rotates monthly and includes interesting hot meals-in-a-bowl like portobello gumbo and poultry-sausage jambalaya, plus soups, sandwiches, and salads. One afternoon they offered a chunky, tasty, if undersalted minestrone and a perfectly marinated and grilled chilled veggie wrap that really could’ve used a slice of cheese. There are only a couple of tables in the cute, clean space, and many lunches come prepackaged for carryout. They make and bottle their own flavorful hot sauces, which cost no more than grocery-store schlock to snap up and cart home, but I scratched my head over the compose-your-own takeout salads–offering a box of greens plus a choice of tiny prepackaged “fixings” is, er, innovative, but not much less work than buying and combining the stuff on your own. Savvy Fare is at 3911 N. Sheridan, 773-472-2901. –Ann Sterzinger
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yvette Marie Dostatni.