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in Avondale or Irving Park on the Blue line

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El Llano (Elston)

View Map4011 N. Elston Ave., Chicago
Tel: (773) 866-9500
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Editorial Review of El Llano (Elston)

First things first: Do not visit El Llano Restaurant on Elston (the sister biz of the original Llano in North Center and a second on Montrose) if you're only "kind of" hungry. Let your stomach become idle for a good three days, when you gather it's digesting itself then you're ready for this Colombian joint where plates stack up like the Andes in an economy friendly range.

The name translates to "the plain" in Spanish, as in grassy plain. Along one wall, a mural of life on the range helps paint a picture that the restaurant's name vaguely gives. Notice a llanero (a Columbian word for cowboy, or plainsman) rounding up well-fed cattle on an open pasture, with isolated palms in the distance and a lake alongside courting a quintet of cattle egrets. Overhead, a second mural astounds. Columbian war craft channels through a powder-blue sky dotted with gentle clouds and a flock of frenzied roseate spoonbills.

Polished hardwood maintains a room of four-tops. If available, choose a table beneath a shingled canopy spot lit by colonial-style lamps. The remainder of the room breaks off into exposed brick, carnation-pink trimming and buttery yellow walls.

The environment mostly magnetizes dates, groups of South Americans hoping for home-style cooking and fresh faces with inquiring taste buds. Vegetarians, this is a carnivore's kingdom, but at least you have the BYOB feature if accompanying friends. Platters include everything from New York steaks and whole chickens to rotisserie rabbit and fried snappers. Entrees come flagged with heaping scoops of rice, salad, plantains and stalks of cassava.

Average cost: <$10

Centerstage Reviewer: David-Anthony Gonzalez

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9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily

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chicago, metromix