Vera Iberian Restaurant | West Loop, Chicago

Mark Mendez cooks Spanish with soul at the new Vera

Mark Mendez has never been to Spain. But you wouldn't know it from eating at Vera.

At his new West Loop restaurant, Mendez references and updates Spanish classics with the dexterity and confidence of one who has studied cocina española firsthand.

A dish of garlic shrimp ($12) is New World Spanish, with scallions and Meyer lemon slices scattered over head-on crustaceans in Vinho Verde-butter sauce. Squeeze out the head juices and drag bread through the bowl, catching a sliver of toasted garlic along the way.

Croquettes have a béchamel-laden foot in both worlds. The breaded orbs ($5) are filled with bacon and Hooks Wisconsin cheddar, and served on a classic romesco made with Marcona almonds and piquillo-like peppers from local farm Genesis Growers.

Small plates could easily make a meal, but then you wouldn't be able to eat the generous pan of paella ($26), scented with rosemary and loaded with duck sausage, braised rabbit and chewy Bomba rice.

Mendez's wife, Liz, packed the wine list with affordable bottles from Spain and beyond, but we suggest drawing from the section entitled "Sherry & Friends"–at least for a glass of Fino to sip with those first bites of olives ($4) or Serrano ham ($10).

Vera, 1023 W. Lake St.; 312-243-9770 or