On a stretch of North Cicero Avenue better known for used-car lots than carnitas, it’s now just as easy to find fresh tamales as old Toyotas thanks to six-months-old Sol de Mexico (3018 N. Cicero Ave.; 773-282-4119). The owner, Carlos Tello, outfitted his new digs with enough colorful paintings, photos, and carved masks to double as an art gallery. And Tello happens to be the brother-in-law of Geno Bahena, head honcho of two former mole havens, Ixcapuzalco and Chilpancingo. Mole still rules, courtesy of Tello’s mother-in-law (and Geno’s mom), Clementina Flores, who runs the kitchen alongside Carlos. Renditions of her signature sauces pop up in everything from an appetizer of sopecitos-four dainty disks of masa, two blanketed with tender chicken and rich, sesame seed–dotted mole rojo, one piled with fresh guacamole, one with refried beans (pictured here; $6.95)-to an entrée of carne de puerco, stewed pork partnered with spunky chorizo-laced mole manchamanteles ($10.95). Other perks include earthy homemade corn tortillas and a tempting lineup of shareable tapas, including topnotch tamales. Best to go easy here, as the $6.95-to-$8.95 plates add up quickly. Entrées rotate seasonally and span the map of Mexico. Keep an eye out for Puebla’s grilled chicken breast enlivened by a poblano pepper salsa, Michoacán’s pan-fried whole tilapia, and lush Oaxacan enchiladas. Hit the coast for zingy Veracruz-style camarones a la diabla sparked with a macho tomato and chile de arbol sauce (pictured here; $11.95). No cerveza yet to dampen the flames, but a liquor license should be on tap soon.
With the September opening of Steve and Leslie Chiappetti’s Banana Bakery (10423 W. Cermak Rd., Westchester; 708-409-7793), the Chiappetti name goes beyond fine dining restaurants (Café le Coq and the late Mango). Those who dare to indulge their inner child should get a kick out of the ape-themed treats such as the Chubby Chimp fudge with chunks of marshmallow and caramel (pictured here; $12.75/lb.). Slightly more grownup are the homemade doughnuts, oatmeal raisin cookies, and mousse cakes. For the truly mature, there are breads like cranberry walnut and herbed focaccia. Regardless of your age, try the chocolate suckers-the Chiappettis will make them in any shape you choose.
The European-style Cru Café & Wine Bar (888 N. Wabash Ave.; 312-337-4001)-closed since February-is reopening as a massive foodie haven. Under the same roof as the bar (but with a different entrance, at 25 East Delaware Place), owner Debbie Sharpe introduces a second outpost of her Bucktown upscale gourmet shop, The Goddess & Grocer, to the Gold Coast. From the Cru side, try the whimsically named “savory lollipops” (which include roasted turkey with a cranberry crust on a stick; $12.50) and colorful heirloom tomato shooters ($8). Then wander next door and let The Goddess cater your next dinner party with a gorgeous antipasto platter ($65) about twice the size of the one pictured here.
The cast and crew of the late 302 West wanted the show to go on, so they launched its sequel, Niche (14 S. Third St., Geneva; 630-262-1000), just steps from their old gig. Located in the heart of downtown Geneva, Niche offers what its name suggests: a comfortable, intimate, unpretentious atmosphere. The chef/partner, Jeremy Lycan, describes his menu as contemporary American fine dining, and his “constantly evolving” dishes range from the spicy grilled Szechwan beef layered with crisp won tons (pictured here; $28.50) to a Hawaiian opah fillet in lobster coconut broth ($23). Sounds like two good reasons to visit Geneva.
photography: Tyllie Barbosa