Maya Del Sol

*** (3 stars)

A beautiful patio is the highlight of this place. Unfortunately sitting in it means you have to eat their food, which is a mixed blessing at best.

The only particularly good item was the nachos, which were unconventional but good. Each rustic chip was topped with shredded beef, black beens, a little drizzle of cheese, tomatoes, scallions, jalapeños and sour cream.

The fish in the fish tacos was coated with a very strange seasoning that no one at our table liked. And the chilaquiles were a sodden lump, the worst we ever encountered.

Service was friendly and efficient, and as I said, the patio is lovely. My advice: have a sangria and some nachos and call it a day.

Maya Del Sol
144 S Oak Park Ave
Oak Park, IL 60302
(708) 358-9800
http://www.yelp.com/biz/maya-del-sol-oak-park

Latinicity

*** (3 stars)

Latinicity is a couple of concepts in one. It’s essentially a mall food court, except that you use a plastic card to keep track of your purchases at the various counters and then pay on the way out.

But the first thing you come to when you enter is a conventional sit down restaurant. Do not eat there! It offers a limited select of mediocre and over-priced Spanish tapas. You will do better at literally any other tapas restaurant in town.

Beyond it, the food counters offer some interesting selections, though, including ceviche (which is really more of a seafood cocktail) and even sushi.

The best choice is Machefe Taqueria, which serves tacos, burritos and cazuelas in a fashion similar to Chipotle, but with actually good ingredients. The corn tortillas are completely authentic, for example. The pastor was not the best in town, but was decent. And at $3 the tacos are certainly reasonable.

A better deal is the burrito, which is served in a flour tortilla the size of a manhole cover for $7.

An even better deal is the cazuela, which is basically an exploded burrito served with three corn tortillas. The attraction here is that it’s the only way to get the chicken mole, a nice slab of breast meat drenched in a very good dark mole sauce. It’s a lot of food for $8.

There’s plenty of seating in the back, but it’s nicer to set near the exit, which is much quieter.

You can get better Mexican food elsewhere, but if you’re in the area it’s a perfectly acceptable choice.

Latinicity
108 N State St
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 795-4444
http://www.yelp.com/biz/latinicity-chicago-2

Sofrito Latin Cafe

***** (5 stars)

This is a terrific pan-Latin restaurant that is a whole lot better than it needs to be in the tourist corridor. In fact, it’s probably the best Latin restaurant in town. (Just to clarify, it is NOT Latin fusion, which would combine the cuisines of different countries; instead, they offer different foods from many Latin countries.)

Although it’s a quick serve concept where you order at the counter and food is delivered to the table, the service is exceptional. The staff is clearly enthusiastic about their food, and is welcoming and anxious to explain the menu, and to promote their favorite items.

My favorite items were the Pandebono, a round, cheesy, and slightly sweet Colombian bread, and the Cachapa, a Venezuelan sweet corn pancake filled with white cheese and (in my case) beef. Both were a complex combination of savory and sweet flavors, with both crisp and chewy textures. I’ve never had a better Chachapa.

I also enjoyed the Venezuelan empanada, although it didn’t have a lot of filling. I was less enthusiastic about the Mini Cheese Tequeños, which were cheese filled pastry rolls without a lot of flavor.  

There are a number of interesting beers on tap, South American soft drinks, and excellent Cuban coffee.

If you’re visiting and looking for something non-touristy and a bit different, this is a great choice. And if you’re a local, it’s worth the drive to Lake Buena Vista to get your Latin food fix.

Sofrito Latin Cafe
8607 Palm Pkwy
Orlando, FL 32836
(407) 778-4205
http://www.yelp.com/biz/sofrito-latin-cafe-orlando

Tako Cheena

***** (5 stars)

This tiny taco palace is soon moving four doors north to larger quarters, but for now competition for the few tables can be challenging. Fortunately, although it is a table-service restaurant, it also looks like and operates as a counter service place, and the food is just as good when you get it to go.

I tried two very different specials. The shredded pork taco was moist and tasty, with just the right spice level to the pork. But the curry beet arepa was an event. I’m not a huge beet fan, but it doesn’t matter; the delicate combination of flavors, and the creamy curry sauce (which tasted like it had just a touch of mayo) was out of this world. And the maize shell was perfectly crusted. I would definitely have this again. And again.

Service was friendly. Food preparation takes a bit longer than you’d expect for a counter service place, but that’s probably because of the cooking time of the arepa batter, and it was definitely worth it.

Tako Cheena
932 Mills Ave
Orlando, FL 32803
(321) 236-7457
http://www.yelp.com/biz/tako-cheena-orlando

Chimiking Restaurant

**** (4 stars)

Chimiking takes this space over form a previous tenant with somewhat similar cuisine, but the space and service is now vastly cheerier. The specialties are chimichurri burgers, Dominican sandwiches and mashed plantain mofongos.

I tried the garlic shrimp, which was served literally swimming in butter in a bowl lined with mashed plantains. Pretty rich, but tasty. My companion has the triple meat sandwich, which he liked.

In addition to an assortment of regional soft drinks, they also offer beer, wine and sangria.

The space is newly painted and clean and bright, and the highlight of the meal was our very friendly server. Although it looks like a counter service place, in fact it is pretty much full table service.

Chimiking Restaurant
6700 Conroy Windermere Rd
Ste 105
Orlando, FL 32835
(321) 732-3933
http://www.yelp.com/biz/chimiking-restaurant-orlando-2

Babalu Tacos & Tapas

**** (4 stars)

This very popular spot offers a combination of Mexican inspired dishes and small tapas plates. As noted elsewhere, the table-side guacamole is extremely good, and I really liked the homemade tortilla strips served with it.

Ceviche is actually diced tuna with citrus and avocado. Shrimp and grits we classically prepared.

Service was very friendly and our server was obviously very proud of the quality of her restaurant.

Babalu Tacos & Tapas
622 Duling Ave
Jackson, MS 39216
(601) 366-5757
http://www.yelp.com/biz/babalu-tacos-and-tapas-jackson

Kelly’s Mexican Latin American Restaurant

*** (3 stars)

This Ma and Pa Latin American restaurant offers Guatemalan and Mexican food such as Jocon and Fried Tacos.

Everything is prepared to order, so service can take a while.

We really like the complimentary guacamole we were served, with fresh homemade chips straight from the frier.

Service was friendly and the place is bright and clean.

Kelly’s Mexican Latin American Restaurant
6642 Old Winter Garden Rd
Orlando, FL 32835
(407) 435-2560
http://www.yelp.com/biz/kellys-mexican-latin-american-restaurant-orlando

Havana

** (2 stars)

I loved the ambience of this place, which looks and feels exactly like a cafe in old Havana.

Unfortunately, that’s where the love stopped. As someone who lives much of the year in Florida, I’ve had a lot of Cuban food at many different restaurants, and I’ve never encountered anything like what is served here.

First off, the lunch menu has been taken over in part by Tex-Mex items such as quesadillas, not a good sign. Perhaps foolishly, I stuck with something that sounded authentically Cuban, and had the Pollo from the dinner menu, along with a cup of black bean soup.

Good black bean soup is smooth, with plenty of whole beans and crispy bits of onion. This gritty slurry had none of those characteristics.

Traditional Cuban chicken is roasted, with a crisp, garlic coated skin and moist interior, exactly as described on the menu. What showed up, though was a soggy mess covered in a weird salty white gravy that had almost no flavor.

It had more flavor than the “congri,” it was served with, though. That mixture of rice and black beans was dry and utterly flavorless. Fried yucca was similarly flavorless, but had a nice crisp exterior.

The saving grace on the plate were the ripe plantains, which were perfectly caramelized and still hot from the sauce pan. Sadly, one out of five is not enough to get me to ever return.

It’s a shame because the service was efficient, and the place looks great. They just need major adjustments in the kitchen.

Havana
412 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 644-1900
http://www.yelp.com/biz/havana-chicago-2

Vermilion

***** (5 stars)

Vermillion offers very interesting food in a trendy, upscale atmosphere with a nice soundtrack.

They bill their food as a fusion of Indian and Latin, but it seemed to lean much more to Indian, although none of the items were traditional Indian, each had a unique and interesting spin.

We tried an extensive assortment of tapas, appetizers, and one entree, and enjoyed all of them. There is also an interesting wine list with about half the selections available by the glass.

Service was friendly and attentive.

Vermilion
10 W Hubbard St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 527-4060
http://www.yelp.com/biz/vermilion-chicago-2

Patacon Con Todo

***** (5 stars)

This is a great Colombian place for some out of the ordinary food. The main dish is served on either crispy or sweet plantains with your choice of chicken, beef or chicharrones (crispy pork skin). The thing that makes it particularly delicious is the great assortment of sauces to put on them. Try the combination of garlic and pineapple.

There are also a lot of other selections, including arepas and empanadas, and even hot dogs. Even though eleven of us showed up for lunch and one guy was handling the order taking, food prep and serving, it was really quite fast.

The place has a fair amount of seating for a counter service restaurant, and is spotlessly clean. Definitely a great spot to try something different.

Patacon Con Todo
6700 Conroy Windermere Rd
Ste 105
Orlando, FL 32835
(321) 732-3933
http://www.yelp.com/biz/patacon-con-todo-orlando-2