Photo: Tyllie Barbosa

Sheba Café

Budget Beat
When it comes to décor, Sheba Café (5403 N. Broadway; 773-878-2352) may lack panache, but for authentic Ethiopian vittles, this noirish Edgewater storefront is downright queenly. It’s something of a clubhouse for expats who hang at the booze-free bar outfitted with a muted TV, keeping an eye on soccer matches. Meanwhile everyone else seems intent on some serious scarfing. The ultimate finger-food opportunities, Ethiopian restaurants keep the forks well hidden. Instead, injera, a spongy, crêpe-like sourdough bread, is the key to scooping up a variety of complex stews (wats), diced chicken, lamb, or beef stir-fried in clarified, herb-seasoned butter (tibs), and veggie dishes. Challenging, yes, but fun. The doro wat, a lush stew redolent of cardamom, ginger, and red pepper, outfitted with a chicken leg and bits of hard-cooked egg, is a must, but it’s the vegetarian goodies that keep our hands in play. Check out tikel gomen, a savory trio of cabbage, potatoes, and carrots; yeater kik alicha, dense yellow split peas perked with garlic; fosolia, a simpatico matchup of string beans, carrots, and onions; and feisty misir wat, red lentils simmered in berbera, a unique red pepper sauce (pictured here; $9.25 for a combo of four items plus a salad). Dishes arrive en masse artfully splayed in petal-like sections atop an injera-lined tray. This is communal chowing at its best and everything is fair game-save the tray and the basket it comes in. BYO.
–Jill Rohde

Mix And Match
The gentlemen behind Gibsons and Hugo’s Frog Bar-two of the biggest cash cows on Rush Street-further strengthened their grip on the Gold Coast with the début of Luxbar last fall. Now they’ve set their sights on River North with Quartino (626 N. State St.; 312-698-5000), a small-plates concept set to open in December in the former Napa Valley Grille space. Executive chef John Coletta has packed his menu with artisanal cheeses, meats cured in-house, a bounty of fresh Italian nibbles (pictured here), and a big selection of quartinos of wine (about a glass and a half). We expect the “urban/blue collar” dining room will be equally packed.
–Jeff Ruby

Italian Blitz
Opening a “seafood first, then Italian” restaurant is Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’s way of adding water to the North Shore’s seafood drought, says partner Marc Jacobs. Di Pescara (2124 Northbrook Ct., Northbrook; 847-498-4321), named after a fishing port and party town on the Italian coast, wants to bring the party to you: wines by the glass are served in small pitchers, which represent a third of the bottle. “The wine list is divided into categories like light, dry, sweet, or spicy to make wine selection less intimidating,” Jacobs says. Expect appetizers like artichoke alla Marco-cold, marinated artichoke with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (pictured here; $6.95).
–Emily Fleischaker

Photo: Tyllie Barbosa

Del Toro’s patatas bravas

When contemporary American Mod went Spanish, chef Andrew Zimmerman got to go loco all over Spain. After eating five meals a day-lunch, post-lunch, pre-dinner, dinner, and post-dinner-for seven days, Zimmerman said he grew to love the “tasty little things” of Spanish simplicity. At Del Toro (1520 N. Damen Ave.; 773-252-1500), which opened in November, he puts his spin on “quintessential Spanish dishes” such as patatas bravas. Zimmerman turns the classic spud dish, traditionally a rustic pile of fried or roasted potatoes tossed in sauce, into small potato cups, filled with spicy tomato sauce and topped with aïoli (pictured here; $6).
–Emily Fleischaker