Atlas Café If you’re not wearing flip-flops, you’re probably overdressed at this bright, laid-back coffeehouse. This international joint (Chilean/Mexican/Italian) is typically quite empty, so you’ll have the server’s attention to ask for suggestions from the massive menu of salads, housemade empanadas, wraps and sandwiches. Go with the South American chacarero (juicy steak and ripe avocado on a soft roll) and don’t miss the avocado smoothies or perfect café con leche. The creativity won’t blow you away, but everything’s affordable, fresh and flavorful. 3028 W Armitage Ave (773-227-0022). Bus: 52, 73, 82. Lunch, dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $8.
Belly Shack Bill Kim and Yvonne Cadiz-Kim’s follow-up to Urban Belly borrows from a slew of cultures: Korean barbecue exists alongside tostones, and meatball sandwiches are actually Asian meatball sandwiches. It’s no surprise, then, that the jibarito here isn’t necessarily traditional—the flattened plantains sandwich Chinese black beans and marinated tofu. Follow the sandwich with Kim’s soft serve topped with Mindy Segal’s brownies—a decidedly American ending to an international meal. 1912 N Western Ave (773-252-1414). El: Blue to Western. Bus: 49, 56, 73. Lunch, dinner (closed Mon). Average main course: $10
Cafecito You don’t have to claim a bunk at the adjacent Hostel International to get your hands on one of this café’s ridiculously good Cuban sandwiches. Sure, sides of roasted eggplant, cannellini bean salad and briny artichokes are flavorful, but there’s no confusion over the star of the show: The Cubano’s crusty bread is toasted just right, its roast pork juicy, its pickles thick, and its mustard and gooey cheese plentiful. And once it’s devoured, only a potent cortadito will keep you from calling the café’s comfy couch home for the day. 26 E Congress Pkwy (312-922-2233). El: Brown, Orange, Pink, Purple (rush hrs) to Library; Red, Blue to Jackson. Breakfast, lunch, dinner (closes 6pm Sat, Sun). Average sandwich: $5.
Irazú Never tried Central American food? Here’s your safe entry. It’s simple, authentic, cheap, supercasual and friendly. Start with the hearts of palm salad—huge, tangy stalks on a bed of shredded cabbage that’s been tossed in a lime vinaigrette, along with radishes, cilantro, cucumber, pickled beets and ripe avocado. Another menu standout is the pepito sandwich, a toasted, gooey combo of juicy rib-eye steak, caramelized onions and mild cheese on French bread. Make it a meal by adding a side of perfect white rice, soupy black beans and sweet plantains. Bring a bottle of Malbec to match, and end the meal with one of the shakes (oatmeal and tamarind are our favorites). 1865 N Milwaukee Ave (773-252-5687). El: Blue to Western. Bus: 49, 56, 73. Lunch, dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $8.
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. Croissant sandwiches are fine, but 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. Desserts are a must—take sips of the especially smooth cappuccino in between bites of strawberry empanada and tall, moist chocolate layer cake. 1659 W Foster Ave (773-275-5237). El: Red to Argyle. Bus: 22, 50, 92. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $3.
Rapa Nui In the spot formerly known as Latin Sandwich Café, sandwiches are the name of the game, and for good reason: The Chilean versions are assembled on crusty, housemade white bread and feature addictive fillings (such as the pork, avocado and mayonnaise in the creamy “pernil con palta”). But what we’re really smitten with are the empanadas, two-handed affairs filled with beef, onions, olives and hard-boiled egg that are a meal in themselves. If all those carbs put you into a food coma, a full lineup of espresso drinks is on hand to perk you right up. 4009 N Elston Ave (773-478-0175). El: Blue to Irving Park. Bus: 53, 80, 82. Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $10.