Here’s why I love my job: because every so often, I get to discover a new place that thrills me… even if it’s a 40-seater in an unexpected location.
Such is the case with Libertad, a Nuevo-Latino restaurant located in downtown Skokie.
My advice? Run, do not walk – okay, drive quickly – to Libertad. From enticing cocktails to inventive desserts, this place is a winner. And the prices are super reasonable, especially given the quality of the food.
The restaurant space is small and unprepossessing, with a big glass window that looks out onto Lincoln Avenue. But owners Marcos Rivera and J. Omar Magana have warmed it up with an open kitchen, warm walls, impassioned artwork and reclaimed wood tables and banquettes.
Chef Armando Gonzalez, who’s done time in the kitchens of Mas, Bin 36 and mk, clearly knows his stuff. The menu is a deft mix of Argentine, Brazilian and Mexican flavors and ingredients. These are dishes meant to be shared; even though they bill themselves as a small plate restaurant, these are not tapas portions. Three dishes for two people will be plenty for most; hungrier patrons, or those who want to try everything, will want more.
Cocktails that Hum
Start with a drink, by all means. Libertad’s cocktail menu was crafted by Adam Seger, the creator of Hum Spirits and celebrated Chicago mixologist. Most of them feature his Hum liqueur, an intoxicating blend of ginger, cardamom, hibiscus, sugar cane and kaffir lime. (You will want to buy a bottle for your home bar, trust me. It’s great splashed in soda or sparkling wine. But I digress.)
The Rosa Pasion, a tasty blend of Siembra Azul Blanco, Hum, passion fruit, lime and house sour, is a good choice. Also loved the incredibly refreshing Spice & Ice, with Banks rum, lime, house-made ginger-habanero syrup, and passion fruit with a seven-spice rim.
The Margarita Rojo features tequila, Hum, lime juice and agave nectar; its gorgeous dark purple-red color an invitation. If you like a fizz, try the Hummin’ Cello with Sorbetta orange liqueur and Hum, finished with Spanish cava. All specialty cocktails are $9.
Small, Delectable Dishes
I could wax rhapsodic about the food for a few pages, but I can sum it up by saying it’s all delectable. Don’t-miss dishes include the Calabacita ($9), a roasted mini pumpkin filled with an impossibly creamy wild mushroom risotto flavored with chile de arbol and a judicious hint of truffle oil. The sweetness of the pumpkin and slight heat of the chile, the earthy mushrooms and textured riso… it all works.
Camarones ($15) include four large, grilled, head-on shrimp glazed with pomegranate, ancho chile and Hum, beautifully balanced, with sugar snaps, purple Peruvian potatoes and frisee. Fruity, spicy, and delish.
Even the Remolacha (Roasted Beet Salad, $7) felt new, tossed with watercress, vivid orange Mandarin supremes, Manchego cheese shavings and a sherry-truffle vinaigrette. And believe me, I’ve seen a lot of beet salads in the last few years.
Tilapia ($12), that blandest of fish, wakes up to this Peruvian take. Paired with mashed purple potatoes, sautéed leeks and wild mushrooms, and a slightly salty soy-lemongrass sauce, it was a hit.
Forgive me Bubbe, but the Lomo (Pork Tenderloin, $13) was tender and juicy, given the glamour treatment with an herb and spice rub, mashed butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, applewood-smoked bacon and apples caramelized in Mezcal.
Seemingly, every Latin restaurant is required by law to have an Asada ($14), but this one’s worth trying: succulent, medium-rare beef on a bed of ripe tomato slices, topped with chipotle-laced goat cheese, matchstick yucca frites and an herby chimichurri sauce. My mouth is literally watering as I type these words.
Desserts with Drizzle
There are three desserts on the menu, all Latino plays on classics, but the Layered Carrot Cake ($7) is out of this world. Drizzled with carrot syrup and crème anglaise and topped with roasted pineapple ice cream, it’s enough to make Bugs Bunny weak in the knees.
Service was knowledgeable and warm, and the whole restaurant feels like a labor of love. I know that this place is going to take off, and deservedly so. Get there soon, and thank me later.
4.5 stars out of 5
7931 Lincoln Ave.