While Cafe Laguardia's decor features more animal prints than an African safari, the menu boasts items so authentic you might as well be dining in Cuba itself.
Cafe Laguardia opened its doors more than half a century ago under the name Los Cubanitos in Bainoa, Cuba, a town outside of Havana. When founder Roger Laguardia relocated to Chicago, he brought his recipes with him, opening a true-to-its-roots American version of the haunt in Bucktown.
Try the ground beef criollo cooked in spicy tomato sauce with raisins, potatoes, onions and olives, or opt for the simple and flavorful chicken in garlic sauce with peppers and spices. If plantains tickle your fancy, you're forbidden to pass on the Cuban Nachos (green plantains smothered with melted cheese, guacamole, tomatoes, sour cream and cilantro). Adventurous eaters will want to taste the rice and squid jubilee, complete with squid cooked in its own ink (beware; the menu warns that it's "an acquired taste").
Prices are almost too reasonable, ranging from $4 appetizers and $5 sandwiches to $12 dinner entrees. The biggest splurge? Traditional paella with all the fixin's at $17.50 per person.
Enjoy drink specials every night of the week, including $5 mojitos of any flavor (mango and coconut included) on Tuesday and $5 caiprinihas on Thursday. Sip your tropical cocktails to the tune of energetic, live Cuban music on both Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Ay, caramba.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Carly Schwartz