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After the gentrification of nearby Bucktown, more Chicagoans began to discover the neighborhood's charms, including its quirky, cool restaurants. While some of these places have been around for years, others are more recent additions and cater to well-heeled urban pioneers. Here are the ones you need to know about:
Abril. If traditional Mexican food like tacos and enchiladas is what you're after, head to this friendly spot for tasty nachos, cheesy chiles rellenos and affordable combination platters washed down with a cold Tecate, served with a wedge of lime and a frosty mug. The service is friendly and there's a nice sense of community -- this place is always packed with locals.
Boulevard Cafe. This laid-back restaurant-bar-music venue offers affordable salads and sandwiches, plus more ambitious fare, such as grilled ahi tuna with wasabi-teriyaki sauce and wild rice. The Sunday brunch is a popular option. There's live music most nights, including a Sunday night Grateful Dead jam.
El Cid. If the wait is too long at Abril, those in the know head around the corner to this family-owned Mexican eatery for crispy tostadas, tasty chicken enchiladas and frosty margaritas spiked with Chambord. To get a feel for the neighborhood scene, squeeze into the "patio" -- actually the narrow walkway between El Cid and the building next door -- for two-for-one margaritas from 5-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays during the summer.
El Nandu. This casual Argentinian steak joint attracts a diverse crowd, from neighborhood teens out on a date to adventurous Lincoln Park types. Start off with a couple of shrimp empanadas, then order up a sizzling churrasco (strip steak) topped with the best chimichurri sauce this side of Buenos Aires. The house wine is a bargain at $3 a glass, or try one of the value-priced bottles from Argentina or Chile. On weekend nights, there's live classical guitar and a strangely enthralling slide show.
Ixcapuzalco. You won't find chips and salsa at chef Geno Bahena's upscale regional Mexican eatery. Entrees include capon breast stuffed with wild mushrooms, raisins and almonds; and quail, mahi mahi or chicken topped with Bahena's subtle, complex moles (there's one for every day of the week). Tortillas are made to order in a corner of the charmingly ramshackle front dining room.
Lula Cafe. Is Logan Square ready for an "artisanal cheese plate?" Apparently so, judging by the crowd of hipsters waiting to get into this trendy cafe. The menu, which changes daily, showcases organic produce and naturally raised meat and fish from local farms. At breakfast, omelets come stuffed with blue cheese, asparagus, roasted red peppers and spinach. Typical dinner options include free-range pork chop with apple polenta and fennel vinaigrette, and butternut squash risotto with crimini mushrooms, Swiss chard and pear-mirin reduction.
Chad Schlegel is the Dining Producer for Metromix.com.
Originally published May 1, 2002. Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times