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Six restaurants with delicious Christmas traditions

Tre Kronor From the reindeer meat on the smorgasbord to the Santa Lucia singers with candles on their heads, this Swedish restaurant’s Julbord dinners...

Photograph: Jill Paider
The herring at Tre Kronor

Tre Kronor From the reindeer meat on the smorgasbord to the Santa Lucia singers with candles on their heads, this Swedish restaurant’s Julbord dinners are as charmingly old-fashioned as yuletime dining in Chicago gets. The culinary highlight is the herring table— and before you turn up your nose at an old-fashioned fish, note that herring are exactly the kind of small, sustainable fish we’re all supposed to be eating now. And anybody who admires sushi or ceviche should be equally impressed by how Scandinavians bring out bright, briny flavors in their seafood. (On the other hand, if you want to turn up your nose at lutefisk, we’re right with you.) 3258 W Foster Ave (773-267-9888), El: Brown to Kedzie. Bus: 81, 92, 93. Julbord dinner: $49.95, reservations recommended.

Mundial Cocina Mestizo A traditional winter dish in the Yucatan (and an annual offering at this Pilsen favorite), chiles en nogada take on extra meaning around Christmas, when the fried poblano pepper—stuffed with seasoned pork and beef and topped with a nut-cream sauce—is said to represent the infant Jesus in swaddling clothes. Mundial has seen its share of changes lately, all the more reason to appreciate that this tasty holiday tradition returns for another year. 1640 W 18th St (312-491-9908). El: Pink to 18th. Bus: 9, 18, 168. Brunch (Sat–Sun), lunch, dinner (closed Mon). Average main course: $21.

Pupuseria y Restaurante Cuscatleco Tamales are a Christmas standard throughout Latin America, and during the holidays this Albany Park restaurant cranks out Salvadoran–style tamales (chicken in lightly spiced corn meal, stewed in a banana leaf) for fellow Salvadorans who buy them 50 at a time. But co-owner and cook Rina Meza doesn’t want anybody from the local Central American community to be without a taste of home at Christmas, so she also makes Guatemalan tamales (pork with a little red pepper), Costa Rican (pork, rice, potato and a whole olive), Nicaraguan (same as Costa Rican, but with jalapeño), Honduran and Panamanian. 3125 W Lawrence Ave (773-539-0977). El: Brown to Kedzie. Bus: 81, 82. Lunch, dinner. Average meal: under $10.

Smak Tak Poland, like many other predominantly Catholic countries, traditionally observes Christmas Eve (Wigilius) with a fish dinner. This homey, hunting-lodge-like restaurant on the Northwest Side will be serving fried and broiled whitefish and Hungarian-style herring—along with its standard pierogi and meat-based dishes. The dinner finishes off with a traditional Eastern European poppy-seed cheesecake. 5961 N Elston Ave (773-763-1123). Bus: 56A, Pace 270. Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $10. BYOB.

Nacional 27 Cubans love lechon asado (roasted pork) for a Christmas main course, so the centerpiece of Nacional’s Cuban holiday dinner is a roast suckling pig marinated in a spicy, citrusy mojo. A lively Caribbean alternative to traditional fixed-price downtown holiday menus, the four-course meal with included wine pairings is available December 21 through Christmas Eve. 325 W Huron St (312-664-2727). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Chicago. Bus: 11, 22, 66. Dinner (closed Sun). Christmas dinner: $45.

Artopolis Bakery & Café Greeks exchange gifts on Jan 1, courtesy of St. Basil, who gave his name to vassilopita, a sweet bread into which a coin or other trinket is baked. Whoever gets the slice with the prize is promised good fortune in the next year, so test your luck all this month alongside coffee and pastries at this colorful Greektown café. 306 S Halsted St (312-559-9000). El: Blue to UIC/Halsted. Bus: 7, 8, 60, 126, 156, 157. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, late night. Average main course: $7.

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