Amelia’s Bar and Grill

Restaurants, Mexican New City
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Amelia’s Bar and Grill
Photograph: Martha Williams
Langostinos and chile relleno at Amelia's

There are two ways a waiter asks, “How did you hear about us?” The first is as a conversation starter; the second is sincerely curious, as though the place had up until then been a well-kept secret. It was in the latter vein that the host greeted me as I stepped into Amelia’s, whose welcoming interior belied its surroundings: out-of-use stockyards that a century earlier set the scene for Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

So how had I heard about this place? Here’s the gist of it: Eusevio and Kate Garcia—the husband-and-wife team whose inventive Nuevo Mexican at Mundial–Cocina Mestiza breathed new life into Pilsen—divorced, so in February they sold Mundial to partner Mario Cota, who continues to operate it along the couple’s original platform. Eusevio brought Mundial’s menu to Amelia’s, and Kate began work on an Algerian deli on the Northwest Side slated to open within a month. I was here to check in on Eusevio, but all this was more than I could tell the server (and likely more than he wanted to know), so I lied through my teeth (and lost all sense of dignity) and answered: “Metromix?”

This was sufficient for our host, who proceeded to open the blinds along the windows (“to show people that there are people inside eating here”) and present us with a familiar menu and, subsequently, with the familiar flavor combinations that made Mundial’s food particularly memorable. Lump crab meat melded with soft avocado in taquitos, then got an extra charge from a mango dipping sauce that started sweet and ended fiery. Some of my langoustines yielded mushy meat, others were just tender enough. Either way, the critters were outdone by a creamy saffron-scented risotto dotted with mushrooms so tender they almost threatened to melt. Crispy anchovies lend the dish saltiness and a fresh slaw of sprouts adds brightness and texture.

If anything, the subtle weakness of Garcia’s cuisine is that the sides—a lemony patty of crusted potato mash and a simple slaw of sugar snap peas and sautéed onions—deserve more attention than the supposed main attraction, in this case slightly chewy grilled lamb loin. The chile relleno is a prime exception: the pepper oozed cheese-covered sweet corn and eggplant and asked for nothing more.

Unfortunately, the dynamism doesn’t carry over to sweets: I’m not above molten chocolate cake, but the “lava” in this one was too raw-batter, and a wildly twisted doughnut shed its promise in slightly tough bites. Pass on dessert and finish off whatever bottle of wine you brought instead; if your experience is anything like mine, the kind host might offer to give your very full self a ride back to the El. Just be sure to let him know who sent you.

Posted:

Venue name: Amelia’s Bar and Grill
Contact:
Address: 4559 S Halsted St
Chicago

Cross street: at 46th St
Opening hours: Brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch, dinner
Transport: El stop: Red to 47th. Bus: 8, 44, 47.
Price: Average main course: $25
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