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Two Lacks Identity; Isla Serves Top-Notch Filipino Fare

Photo: Thrillist

New West Loop spot Two fails to "cement much of an identity," writes Mike Sula. Quality is inconsistent as he runs into chilled carrot soup "so thickened with honey you could spread it on bread" and "cold, dry" cream puffs. Worse is the "off odor" grilled octopus with "leathery flesh" as well as braised oxtail ragu that's a "solidified mass" on a bed of grilled cheddar grits. The "inappropriately uniform temperatures" on dishes like frigid bruschetta on chilled toast are a constant problem and make Two a forgettable experience. [Reader]

Although Filipino restaurants are largely underrepresented, Michael Nagrant thinks Isla is one of the best joints in town. The lumpia shanghai egg rolls are "golden-fried cigars" and some of the best he's had while the tocino "combines the best sweet/savory qualities of General Tso's sauce and bacon." Crispy pata "puffs steam and dribbles juice" and fried chicken with sweet, banana-infused ketchup is "one of the better poultry offerings this side of Popeye's." Even the seafood delivers, with "Jules Verne-worthy" char-grilled whole squid stuffed with onion and tomato getting Nagrant's "juices flowing." [Sun-Times]

Paladar is a satisfying, homely Cuban spot in Logan Square. Julia Kramer starts with a "deeper, more distinctive flavor" premium mojito before moving on to the "meatiest" Cuban sandwich she's ever laid eyes on. "Rich and comforting" ropa vieja is "perfect" and is accompanied by "sweet caramelized" plantains and "tender" rice. The quiet, simple dining room reminds Kramer that sometimes, "nothing beats a home-cooked meal."

Kramer also visits Alimentari where she tries "tepidly flavored and texturally imperfect" gnocchi. A second plate of pasta fares better as "delicate, light packets" of tortelloni stuffed with squash puree and ricotta exhibit "finesse" that's lacking from the rest of the menu. She laments that while the service is "phenomenal," the food is still "very-average."

Grandma J's Local Kitchen brings quality, dinerlike food to Humboldt Park according to David Tamarkin. French toast sticks spark flashbacks to high school—"crispy on the outside, all custard within"—while "well-prepared" eggs, "well-toasted" toast, crispy bacon and crunchy housemade potato chips are sprinkled throughout the rest of the menu. "Extra gifts" like "very delicious, very herby" mushrooms that come with the eggs and chive mayo "slathered generously" on the morning sandwich are what "separate Grandma J's from a run-of-the-mill diner." [TOC]