Follow your nose (and the server's recs) at West Town's new Cuban joint.
Aromas of garlic assault you at the door of Habana Libre, and they don’t stop there. Both the tostones (crispy plantains) and the fried yuca come with a garlic sauce so strong you’ll smell it on your breath well into the next day.
But garlic’s not the only thing on offer here. Papas rellenas crack open to reveal silky potato, the fragile crust of the empanada de carne is buttery and flaky, and creamy pork croquetas outshine their fish and chicken counterparts.
Our server named the jibarito the menu’s best sandwich, but we weren’t in a Puerto Rican mood, so we ordered her second choice, the pan con lechon, instead. We should have listened to her: The advertised onions weren’t detectable, and though the pork was flavorful, it was almost unbearably dry. In the Cubano (pictured, middle), that pork is flanked on both sides by juicy slices of ham and topped with cheese, pickles and mustard—a much more flavorful, satisfying meal. Camarones (shrimp) fared well sautéed in a lightly spicy “Cuban-Creole sauce” with a hefty dose of cilantro. Red snapper (pictured, foreground), cut in four pieces and served with either the Creole or a garlic sauce, soaks up flavors almost as well as you will. (Seriously, that garlic is powerful—cancel any romantic rendezvous.)—David Tamarkin
1440 W Chicago Ave between Noble and Bishop Sts (312-243-3303). El: Blue to Chicago. Bus: 9 Ashland, 66 Chicago (24 hrs). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $8.