El Ñandú Order a basket of the crispy, stuffed, savory empanadas and a bottle of malbec to transport yourself to the owner’s homeland of Argentina. Our favorites are the criolla, a blend of ground beef, onions and golden raisins, and the maiz, plump with corn, peppers and hard-boiled eggs. If you have room, finish off with the dulce de batata, a sweet potato paste toned down with a slice of mild cheese. A live band plays tango and bolero music on Thursday evenings. 2731 W Fullerton Ave (773-278-0900). Lunch (Mon–Sat), dinner. Average main course: $18.
5411 Empanadas 5411 is the city’s most stylish food truck, so the clean lines and mod furniture in its storefront are no surprise. It’s tight in here—there are only 13 seats—but if you can score a four-top and bring some wine, you’ve got the makings for a good BYOB dinner. Start with veggie options, like the thyme-heavy mushroom-and-blue-cheese, and ease into the heavier meat options (beef simmered in malbec). And don’t cheap out on the sauces. These empanadas are flaky, but they’re nothing without chimichurri. 2850 N Clark St (773-755-5411). Lunch, dinner. Average empanada: $2.25.
Folklore Argentine Grill At this Wicker Park sibling to Tango Sur, the lights are dim, the mojitos are strong, the wine list has tons of inexpensive by-the-glass options—just the right setup for a romantic dinner. But plan to pay more attention to your date than to the food, which is equal parts misses and hits. For best results, go with the flaky empanadas filled with juicy beef and the parillada para uno, a skillet teeming with on-the-bone short ribs and charred sweetbreads, which will serve you, your date and then some. 2100 W Division St (773-292-1600). Lunch (Sun), dinner. Average main course: $20.
Isabella Bakery Do whatever it takes to snag one of the three tables in this tiny Guatemalan café—you don’t have enough hands to take away everything you’ll want to try. Don’t miss the chile relleno sandwich, a delicious spread of peppers and onions on soft, housemade bread. Tamales are served in the banana leaves they’re steamed in and hold a tender chunk of bone-in pork. Finish with sips of coffee in between bites of strawberry empanada. 1659 W Foster Ave (773-275-5237). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $3.50.
Lito’s Empanadas Situated among a long row of boutiques, Lito’s is in a perfect position to provide that most essential of snacks: the one that provides sustenance for more shopping. The small storefront offers about eight stuffed pastries a day, including a “Hawaiian” version with mozzarella, ham and pineapple, and a hearty version with shredded chicken and rice. One makes a snack; two or three make a meal. 2566 N Clark St (773-857-1337). Lunch, dinner. Average empanada: $2.50.
Mekato’s Colombian Bakery Stopping by this bakery for the heavenly variety of sweet baked goods is fine and all (try the flan de leche and the caramel napoleon). But we make a meal from the rotating tins of meaty snacks that pile up in the hot case. Beef- and chicken–stuffed empanadas, flavorful palito de queso (cheese-stuffed pretzel sticks) and wildly rich chorizo roll out from the kitchen every few hours, so arrive early for a choice bar stool, and you can pluck your picks from the freshest batch while sipping turbo-strength Colombian coffee. 5423 N Lincoln Ave (773-784-5181). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average snack: $2.