Budget Beat
Nothing makes a budget meal hunter happier than uncovering a cute little BYO hideaway with unique grub. Add a smiley staff and colorful décor and downright bliss sets in. Case in point is the cozy 12-table Palmito(3605 N. Ashland Ave.; 773-248-3087), specializing in sophisticated yet homey Costa Rican cooking. Opened in April by John Damer and his Costa Rican–born wife, Laura Salas, the spot offers a small but appealing menu highlighting faves from her homeland. This means appetizers like crisp-fried disks of plantain paired with a dense, earthy black bean dip, bruschetta bombarded with diced tomato and hearts of palm, and a spirited lemon- and orange-juice-zapped tilapia seviche piled into a martini glass. Not to be missed is a salad enlivened with dabs of blue cheese, candied pistachios, and strips of dried fig. Ditto for entrées such as tender chicken breast splashed with a shallot- and rosemary-infused mango sauce ($12), and sweet-fleshed tilapia gently sautéed in garlic oil and partnered with mashed plantains ($13). Those itching for a brawnier bite will meet their match with casado con carne, a macho mix of sizzling skirt steak, black beans, rice, and plantains ($14), or a burly char-grilled pork chop scented with ginger and cumin, topped with cucumbers and fresh pineapple, and paired with a lively quinoa salad (pictured here; $14). For sipping, rainbow-hued smoothies (refrescos naturales) of strawberry, pineapple, or mango or rich Costa Rican coffee, brewed right at the table, should do the trick.

–Jill Rohde

In late July, Robert Butterfield, owner of the contemporary Mexican hit Brioso, added Erba(4520 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-989-4200) to Lincoln Square’s burgeoning dining scene. A wow-me menu includes temptations such as linguine with asparagus, fava beans, basil, lemon, and crème fraîche (pictured here; $13) and Barolo wine–poached pear with mascarpone and mint syrup. Bonus points: the fresh herbs come straight from the trattoria’s garden patio. Paul Niekrasz’s authentic, affordable Northern Italian dishes and that idyllic 46-seat patio promise to raise Erba beyond the status of a neighborhood favorite.

–Carleigh Connelly


Shiny Entourage (1301 American Ln., Schaumburg; 847-995-9400) rolls out the red carpet for well-heeled suburban denizens hungry for some TLC along with their dinners. The sleek new spot delivers the goods starting with cushy seats and a frozen martini tap handle (to ensure temperature-controlled cocktails), not to mention fresh seafood and nice, juicy steaks. The menu assembles an all-star cast of classic American offerings. Hoisin-serrano calamari rates kudos during the first course, and saké-marinated sea bass and fillet medallions topped with crab cakes satisfy in the second. For those who love special effects, the individual-size baked Alaska set ablaze tableside makes for a spectacular finale (pictured here; $7.95).

–Kim Conte


Bakery Café
Considering this year’s sweetest trend-the cupcake-it’s no surprise that the two-month-old Flourish (1138 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.; 773-271-2253) quickly became Edgewater’s go-to dessert destination. No cutesy sugar boutique, this North Sider lures with retro goodies such as carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and lemon poppy seed muffins, but it’s the café menu of surprisingly sophisticated breakfast dishes, wraps, panini, and salads that keeps them coming back all day long. Low-cost wi-fi, fresh pastel décor, and reassuring comfort food make an irresistible combination of modern and vintage delights.

–Carleigh Connelly

Photography by Tyllie Barbosa