Byline: Elaine Glusac
The Latin craze is the latest, liveliest culinary wave to strike Chicago.
In the past few months, restaurants serving eats from Brazil, Cuba and Argentina have spiced up the cuisine scene.
Hip, happening Rhumba, 3631 North Halsted Street, serves up Brazilian food and culture, from churrasco meats to carneval-inspired stage shows.
“We combine theatrics and food,” said Rhumba partner Steve Abrams. “There’s as much going on around you as there is on your plate.”
The food is delicious, if familiar, Brazilian fare — grilled meats and seafood, prepared simply, that rely on spices rather than sauces for their oomph. A tap-dancing duo and a Carmen Miranda impersonator provide the theatrics from a small stage above the tables. Franklin Bettencourt, aka “Carmen,” does a sassy Brazilian diva complete with enormous fruit-laden headpieces and spangled costumes he designs himself.
A lively beat swings Havana, 230 West Kinzie Street, where the forbidden island and its glamorous Fifties past are evoked with slow-turning ceiling fans and white-jacketed waiters.
“The feeling is walking out of winter and into a sultry, tropical, escape,” said Roger Greenfield, one of Havana’s owners.
The potted palms might be ersatz, but the black and white pictures that crowd the walls are the real thing. Greenfield sent a photographer to Cuba to capture cigar factory work, and the family photos are from the scrapbooks of Cuban investors.
Caribbean spiced seafood is the specialty here, but don’t miss the crispy plantain chips starter.
Far less flashy is the family-run Tango Sur, 3763 North Southport, where Argentina meets Italy in a fusion of cuisines that owner Sergio DiSapio said is the heart of the country.
“Most people don’t realize that Argentinians are 60 percent Italian descendants,” he said.
So pastas and noqui mingle with char-grilled meats on the menu. Diners bring their own beer and wine to the cozy storefront, which is pumped up with tango tunes and painted with a mural of a couple entwined in the sensual dance.
Prepare to crowd in on the last Wednesday of each month, when an Argentinian tango singer performs live.