Sorry if this is old news (I'm a greenhorn) but I wanted to spread the word about a cheap, friendly, and culinarily stupendous Mexican and Southwestern place in Humboldt Park called Luis's Restaurant.
Depending on your perspective, you might consider the neighborhood a bit dodgy; the waitstaff's English is deliciously accented rather than primly manicured. But the exquisite food, quiet, homey atmosphere and impeccable service befit an eatery ten times pricier and more prestigious.
The first thing you'll notice that's unusual about Luis's is the soup. Some days it's a light, fresh chicken noodle, others a sumptuous split pea; my favorite is the tomato bisque with chives. But aside from being notably delicious, the soup is free; in fact, a kindly old waiter will bring you a cup of it unbidden, and you will eat it, whether you'd thought you wanted soup or not, because it is to die for. You'll find that this attitude - you are treated like a cherished guest, rather than a used-car buyer - pervades throughout the meal. I brought my mother to Luis's last night for Mother's Day and midway through our appetizers we were presented with a plate of the softest, tangiest buffalo wings I have ever had: "for the mama," our waiter explained. (They were not on the menu, or we would have ordered seconds.) And at the end of every meal, one is unfailingly plied with small dishes of delectable homemade ice cream.
I reiterate that Luis would be justified in pricing his menu to reflect the generosity of his service, but he certainly doesn't; a lavish supper for two comes to about thirty dollars with tip. (At the moment Luis's has no liquor license, but I have gone the BYO route and they are happy to accommodate.)
For such fine treatment, I might occasionally choke down one of the dog-meat tacos or stale tortas with which some area taquerias have disappointed me. Even for their passable-at-best service, the food quality at Humboldt Park Mexican places is inconsistent; Tacos Don Chema has the most inimitable pico de gallo anywhere, and La Tlatzala serves homemade horchata, but neither compels me as does the fare at Luis's. Traditional Mexican entrees, such as the burrito, are given a kick of brilliance with fresh and unusual (though not gimmicky) ingredients like eggplant and provolone, and the selection of more sophisticated dishes, especially seafood, prompts many an "I want everything" as the menu is perused. This chowhound's personal favorites are the camaron a la veracruzana (cravings for the white wine and pepper sauce often rouse me from sleep at two in the morning) and the bacalao - sweet, tender, buttery breaded cod that melts in your mouth, served alongside pleasantly pungent vegetables. On a more prosaic level, Luis can whip you up a mean caesar salad or a bitchin' burger; I've had something different each of the five times I've dined there, and never had a single complaint.
Luis's is small and I don't want it to become trendy, but this is the type of place where you go on payday and leave twenty-dollar tips for a ten-dollar meal because the food is magical and the service is flawless. Both more than merit the trip to the ghetto. Have a look.