A taste of the Caribbean is easier to come by than you might have guessed, and-good news!-it doesn’t involve a cruise ship. Lovers of down-home Jamaican cuisine can get a blast of the real thing at tiny Rhythm & Spice (2501 W. 79th St.; 773-476-5600), where the mood is upbeat, the food has real punch, and the view out the window is not of a palm tree, but rather of St. Rita High School’s athletic fields. The brainchild of Jamaican-born Deneen Wright and Chicagoan Tasha Fisher, the cozy spot offers a nice range of seafood prepared as you like it-grilled, jerked, steamed, pan-fried, or brown stewed. We were especially pleased with our dinner of jerk catfish covered with a tangle of vinegared vegetables (escovitch) and sided with fried plantain, crunchy-tender steamed cabbage, and a heaping helping of rice and “peas,” which are actually beans (pictured here; $9.95). Fans of jerk chicken can get anything from a whole-bird ($10.95) to a half-bird dinner ($9.95) to a sandwich, salad, or plateful of wings, all as no-kiddingly spicy as you could wish. Earthy oxtail stew and curried chicken, goat, or vegetables are other island options. To drink, go with ginger beer or a tropical blended drink. BYO.
Bucktown’s former Babaluci space gets an upgrade when Il Covo (2152 N. Damen Ave.; 773-862-5555) unveils. (At press time, it was scheduled for early July.) The smart brick-and-slate room has been hipified-check out the nifty lounge upstairs-and so has the menu. Executive chef Luka Lukic, former sous-chef at Trio Atelier-and a native of Melbourne, Australia-ups the ante in his fresh homemade pastas by adding periodic down-under touches, such as the spaghetti with imported Morton Bay “bugs” (shellfish similar to lobster) and spring arugula. And you’ve got to like the guts of a guy who cures anything in Campari, especially a salmon with shredded red beet root and mascarpone breadsticks (pictured here; $9).
De La Costa (465 E. Illinois St.; 312-321-8930) explodes onto the scene in late July with what chef Douglas Rodriguez calls his “inspired coastal Latin cuisine.” Thirteen seviche dishes, such as halibut cured in “preserved lemon mojo” with wild garlic chives, caper berries, and Arbequina olive oil (pictured here; $14), complement an equally extensive cocktail list featuring the chef’s signature frozen “poptails.” Suhail, the imaginative designer behind Sonotheque and Del Toro, transformed the 12,000-square-foot River East Art Center space with a glass-encased kitchen, a marble seviche bar-make room, sushi bars-and a swanky lounge that includes five private cabanas with personal bars and bartenders.
Photography: Tyllie Barbosa