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  WINDY CITY TIMES

DISH: SAVOR Mago Grill & Cantina; Pokeworks; State and Lake
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2017-12-22

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There are authentic Mexican restaurants—and there are spots that say they're "Mexican" but are actually more "Mexican-American."

Mago Grill & Cantina ( various locations, including 1010 S. Delano Ct., in Chicago; MagoGrill.com ) falls squarely in the latter category, although it makes sure to have all the bells and whistles in place, including sugar skulls and luchador masks.

However, that doesn't mean the food can't be good. Overall, Mago's cuisine is pretty tasty.

The meal began with a couple delicious drinks, including an horchata that I could've drunk all day. These were followed by empanadas that were mostly on the mark—as well as guacamole that a woman named Delores made at tableside, and that was pretty delicious.

The lunch entrees include chicken Azteca, which my dining companion really liked, and a jibarito that, for me, was the meal's one true misfire. The skirt steak was expertly cooked; however, instead of bread, fried plantains were used—and they were unpalatable to the point where I just ate the rest of the sandwich as a salad and removed the fruit.

Fortunately, dessert was a high point, with an appropriately moist ( and large ) slice of tres leches cake. BTW, this holiday season, Mago is offering pumpkin cream-cheese flan and eggnog tres leches—compelling ( albeit non-traditional ) reasons to visit Mago.

Pokeworks

Pokeworks ( 79 E. Madison St.; Pokeworks.com ) has a stated mission to serve "high-quality, healthy food in a convenient and responsible way"—and succeeds, deliciously.

For those not in the know, poke ( which originated in Hawaii ) is a salad containing raw fish. My experience has been that's made primarily with tuna, although Pokeworks has expanded that concept to include salmon, chicken or even tofu—which almost sounds like an "Americanizing" of traditional Hawaiian food, even though Hawaii is part of the United States.

Pokeworks takes what I call a Chipotle-like approach, with patrons choosing menu or customized options. From there, people select the base ( e.g., bowl, burrito or salad ), protein, "mix-ins" ( like diced mango, edamame and ogo seaweed ), flavor/sauce, toppings and even crunch ( leading to my current addiction to toasted rice puffs ).

The result was a pretty tasty salmon shiso ( shiso being a Japanese herb that's similar to basil, according to manager Matt ). And as for anyone who's worried about raw fish and what I call the "E. coli factor," Matt clarified to me that the fish is kept no longer than one day.

State and Lake

I have visited State and Lake Chicago Tavern ( 201 N. State St.; StateAndLakeChicago.com ) several times, and enjoyed the cuisine each time—and a recent dinner visit, done in conjunction with an overnight stay at a nearby hotel, only confirmed how pleasant this restaurant is.

In a spot with warm woods and an artfully decorated bar, State and Lake offers cold appetizers like smoked trout dip ( with trout, mascarpone, lemon, house hot sauce and crackers ) and a succulent golden beet salad ( roasted golden beets, avocado, napa cabbage, hard cider vinaigrette, hazelnuts and spices ) as well as some tasty hot apps like pork meatballs and crab fat-braised pork belly, which is worth the price of admission alone.

The entrees are just as indulgent, if not more, than the appetizers. A perfectly cooked tavern chicken ( actually, a half-chicken ) was accompanied by spaghetti squash, pickled ginger and root-vegetable panzanella. Unfortunately, my dining companion was not too keen on the cauliflower risotto ( the only non-meat entree ), which she said was a bit flavorless—and I had to concur. However, there are other options ( for carnivores, anyway ), including Faroe Island salmon and grilled New York strip. Desserts are sufficiently creative and delicious, with items such as maple banana croissant bread pudding and pumpkin cheesecake parfait.

Also, State and Lake has a late-night menu ( 11 p.m.-2 a.m. ), with big-bite items ( like the Diner Burger and the SLCT House Bratwurst ) that are no more than $9 each.

Note: Restaurant profiles/events are based on invitations arranged from restaurants and/or firms.


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