The highly scrutinized, yet often imitated, mojitos at Moonshine.
A mojito isn't just about refreshment. If you're in the right frame of mind, the explosion of soda flirting with rum, muddled mint leaves, limes and sugar can take you on a trip far from wherever you happen to be sitting. One sip might bring you to Havana, where blaring salsa and roasted pork conspire to create an impromptu celebration. A gulp later, you're on a Miami rooftop, bathed in glimmering neon and ocean spray. It might be too late to plan that summer vacation, but all it takes to get away is a visit to one of these Chicago bars, where the mojitos are praised by locals as the city's best. Sure beats the cost of a plane ticket.
Go cuckoo at Coco
This Paseo Boricua jewel, acclaimed for decadent Puerto Rican dishes and creamy coquitos, puts together an invigorating original mojito ($8). We appreciated the perfect proportion of soda in the highball glass (a mojito doesn't work any other way), which led to a crisp, refreshing experience. For a festive accompaniment, come Wednesdays for Brazilian night as dazzling dancers in carnival attire frolic the room in tune to vigorous samba beats. Insider tip: Coco's coconut shrimp ($9) will win over even the most ardent coconut-hater.
Never ending at ñ
Stepping inside this small Avondale tapas lounge is like visiting a South American island vibrant with endemic wildlife. Uninterrupted by invasive species like the college crowd, the space fills with artsy Latinos (and the occasional gorgeous gringa) both young and hot. They're about as chill as the mojitos they nurse - at least until the salsa music starts on weekend nights, when the place turns into an eardrum-shaking dance party. The $9 drinks come in flavors like mango and blackberry (via house-made purees), but the original is still the most popular. "We sell about 270 a night. For a place this size, that's ridiculous," says Raul Jaimes, director of the beverage program.
Faux-jitos at Moonshine
If there were a James Dean in this bunch, Moonshine would be the rebel without a cause. Other restaurant owners rolled their eyes (some did the chickenhead) when we prided this Wicker Park spot's risky take on a classic cocktail. "Those aren't real mojitos," one accused. Moonshine's bastardized recipe features tequila in place of rum; lemons versus limes; basil as opposed to mint; with brown sugar and strawberries muddled in the mix. Voila! The highly scrutinized yet often imitated strawberry basil mojito, $9. Scoff if you must, but spend an evening sipping them while people-watching and tapping toes to the diverse DJ lineup, and you just might change your mind.
They're simply the best at Nacional 27
Traditional mojitos at Nacional 27.
Nothing compares with the classic recipe of an original mojito, until this River North restaurant went and f'd things on up - in a good way. Mixologist Adam Seger isn't afraid to take an exotic fruit or two and add them to the mix. For even more flavor, try the Chadwick with 10 Cane rum, mint, lime, pomegranate, ginger and habanero, $11, or the Passion Colada Mojito with Skyy Infusions pineapple, coconut, fresh pineapple, passion fruit and mint, $11.
A family affair at Cafe 28
Matthew Navarro, co-owner of Cuatro, admits the mojito sensation began 10 years ago at this family-friendly Cuban/Mexican restaurant in North Center. It was right around the release of The Buena Vista Social Club which ignited an interest in traditional Cuban music and culture. Mojitos, having originated in Cuba, complemented the sounds and people visited this off-the-beaten-path spot in hopes of capturing the feeling. Berta Navarro, who owns the place along with her son Ricardo Miranda, remembers the release as a marker. "The timing was just perfect," she says. The secret to this operation's potion ($8) is the splash of 7UP.
Ooh and ahh at Coobah
The smell of muddled mint can reach a table 10 feet away from the bar at this Southport Corridor Latin hotspot, where architectural artifacts turned into designer touches set the tone. Moody Mayan cave light appeals in this room of oyster harvester-lined mirrors, aged drafter's chairs and clamshell-tin lamps. Of the mojitos, general manager Kyle Cerami says, "We sell about 200 on a Saturday night. The dynamic nature of the drink and its ingredients just makes sense in a restaurant like this." We couldn't agree more. For a trendy take on the recipe, sample the Scarface, which includes some potent energy drink in the mix, $8.
Other mojitos worth trying:
Tumbao: Guava mojitos in a room of chiseled Latinos and their dressed-to-impress counterparts, need we say more?
Cuatro: With all the foliage swimming in the reddish-brown pomegranate mojito, sampling this restaurant's staple drink evokes thoughts of rafting an Amazonian river with howler monkeys dancing in the canopies. If you have enough of them, that is.