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Northwest Side Restaurant Review: El Nandu

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Mar 13, 2007 3:30PM

2007_03_Elnandu_Prime.jpgWe like Tango Sur on Southport. A lot. For perhaps the most talked about Argentine restaurant in Chicago among, dare we say, “gringos,” it truly does have great food, a bopping crowd and casual ambiance, and the BYOB situation makes it easy on your wallet. But you know what? El Nandu, an Argentine steak restaurant in Logan Square, offers some pretty stiff competition. It might just be better.

Haven’t heard of it? That's probably because it’s one of the best kept secrets on the Northwest Side, known for its lively ambiance and stellar food. Just ask any of the regulars, many who hail from Argentina and other parts of South America. Obviously, they should know. Simply put, El Nandu really makes you feel all happy inside. Pastel walls, colorful paintings by local artists, a projection television showcasing beautiful photos of South America, and lots of soft lighting make for a truly inviting and cheerful atmosphere. A lively, generally “later” dining crowd - 8:30 – 9 p.m. and beyond - pack the cozy dining room with long rows of wooden two- and four-tops. On Thursday nights, a guitarist strums and sings in Spanish, and occasionally on weekends, musicians perform tango and flamenco dances on a small stage.

Oh, did we mention the food yet?

Empanadas for appetizers are a must. The buttery and flakey, but not greasy, fried pastry balls come in eight varieties—standouts are the ones stuffed with ground beef, red pepper, egg, raisins and olives, or the shrimp with creamy cheese.

2007_03_Elnandu_2.jpgNext up, the El Nandu special—steak, or churrasco. Sirloin in 10-12 oz. slabs and skirt-steak thinness, charbroiled and topped with your choice of grilled onions, cheese, or better yet, plain. Words to describe it: mouth-watering, buttery, smoky, heaven. For extra umph, dip your forkful in your ramekin of chimichurri — a traditional Argentine sauce or marinade blending olive oil with parsley, garlic, and other spices. Accompanying salads and side dishes-French fries or beans-are just okay, but who really cares about side dishes when you have a hunk of juicy meat on your plate.

A regular El Nandu steak-eater, this Chicagoist writer mixed it up a bit and ordered the chicken, a slab of white breast meat, pounded thinly and smothered in cheese. At many restaurants, ordering chicken breast can mean being served a dried out, bland piece of meat. Boy, does El Nandu’s chicken scream the opposite. That was evident from the juices pouring out with each slice of the knife, not to mention the thick bites of buttery cheese.

Guess El Nandu won’t be such a secret anymore.

El Nandu is located at 2731 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-278-0900. Open Monday-Wednesday, noon-10:30; Thursday-Saturday, noon-2 a.m.; Sunday, 4:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.

Review submitted by Amelia Levin.