Small plates frequently sound appealing for a night out ("Yes! We can try a little bit of everything!") but that feeling often fades when the bill arrives at the table, leaving hungry diners to wonder how they spent so much money on so little food.
Erase a lifetime's worth of small-plates disappointment with a trip to Cafe Iberico. The value—and delicious food—of the tapas hot spot in River North isn't a secret, as evidenced by the lengthy waits for a table on weekend nights. Luckily, when you finally sit down and take a look at the menu, you won't be disappointed, especially if you enjoyed some of Iberico's famed sangria (a reasonable $14) while waiting in the bar.
With a menu as large as Iberico's, it's best to dive in with a plan. Skip the raciones (large plates) and focus in on classic tapas, which is where Iberico's kitchen really shines. Start with the aceitunas (olives) which, after a long wait, are a welcome snack while other dishes are being prepared. Be certain to order the jamon Iberico ($7), a large plate brimming with paper-thin slices of Spain's prized pork product and tangy manchego cheese. On the "hot" side of the menu, opt for patatas bravas, the classic dish of potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce (people in Madrid love this dish so much that there's an entire restaurant chain devoted to the dish). The pincho de pollo ($5) is a masterful four-part dish, with a skewer of chicken, expertly caramelized onions and fragrant rice, all topped with a decadent aioli.
The restaurant's pace is frenetic, the servers harried and the din sometimes unbearable, but the food is cheap, delicious and filling. Small plates have never had it so good.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Laura Oppenheimer