Step inside Estrella Negra and you know you're not in just any typical restaurant. Once through the door of this colorful Bucktown joint, you've entered an artist's domain. Fashioned head to toe in Dia de los Muertos decor, Estrella Negra serves as both a funky little restaurant and a creative haven.
Owner Otoniel Michel Jr. opened Estrella Negra with the goal of putting a new twist on old, home-cooked family recipes. Showcasing fresh and vegetarian-friendly dishes, the restaurant offers a small, but diverse menu of tapas and larger plates for $10 or less. For starters, try the vibrant "el Mundo" guacamole topped with fresh pomegranate seeds ($6), or "la Sirenita" ceviche (citrus-marinated fresh shrimp and tilapia cocktail topped with guacamole) for $9. The larger plates include tacos, empanadas and burritos, but the hit dish is the spinach-artichoke tamales, which come three for $10. Another crowd pleaser is the $10 steak tacos, sauteed in bacon, onions and jalapenos, and topped with cheese, onions, tomatoes, cilantro and sour cream. The restaurant is BYOB, but the bar offers an assortment of soft drinks along with fresh smoothies.
Serving up contemporary Latin cuisine isn't the only thing this place does. Estrella Negra is an art gallery, showcasing work from local artists as well as Michel's family and friends. Paintings line the red walls of the restaurant, and if you head downstairs (which for now serves as a waiting area and room for private parties), more treasures await. A stunning mosaic tile floor, two-toned walls covered with additional artwork and old, refinished furniture – all projects completed by Michel – make this area not only a unique gallery of art, but a superb place to sip a beer and wait for your dinner upstairs.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Katie Piepel