The best Latin American restaurants are spread out around the city, so odds are there isn't one too far away. But it's worth traveling to try the excellent empanadas at 5411 Empanadas, the oatmeal shake at Irazú, the rotisserie chicken at La Brasa Roja, the moqueca at La Sirena Clandestina and the pupusas at Pupusería y Restaurante Cuscatleco. Here are the best Chicago restaurants for Latin American cuisine.
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Best Chicago restaurants for Latin American food
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 (think Latin-American pesto).
Never tried Costa Rican food? This spot is simple, authentic, cheap, supercasual and friendly—just what the doctor ordered. Start with the hearts of palm salad—tangy stalks on a bed of shredded cabbage tossed in a lime vinaigrette, along with radishes, cilantro, cucumber, pickled beets and ripe avocado. Make it a meal by adding the steak-and-beans “pepito” sandwich and sweet plantains. Bring a bottle of malbec to match, and end the meal with an oatmeal shake (sounds strange, tastes great).
If you can walk by this place and not be drawn in by the sight of plump, juicy rotisserie chickens rotating atop smoldering coals just on the other side of the window, you’re either a vegetarian or devoid of taste buds. Assuming you’re neither, get into this Colombian eatery, order the droolworthy chicken and don’t stop there. Try the cheesy corn cakes, meat-filled turnovers, tangy marinated skirt steaks topped with bright green chimichurri, sweet plantains and fresh fruit drinks.
Chef John Manion’s restaurant is designed to be a place you want to hang out in: It’s dim and sultry, and cocktails like the Second Wind (vodka, grapefruit, lime and tangerine shrub) get things off to a good start. If you order right—the moqueca, a seafood stew, and the ceviche are standouts—you’ll never want to leave. Manion is a chef who knows what he’s doing.
Stuffed and griddled cornmeal patties, a.k.a. pupusas, are the main draw of this tidy family-run spot. For our money, the mixto of pork rinds, beans and cheese is the winner, which we smother with red and green salsas and crunchy slaw. Supplement the pupusas with a hen tamale and an order of pastels con carne, crispy pinched-shut pockets of oniony beef. And don’t leave without trying the plantain fritters filled with crema salvadoreña (crème fraîche).