Vera Restaurant | West Loop, Chicago

The West Loop's low-key and lovely Spanish standard

Last month, Tasting Table asked readers for their favorite neighborhood gems. Now we're introducing the winning picks.

"When you only have three cooks, you gravitate toward ideas that are really simple and good. "

So says Mark Mendez about the menu at Vera, the Spanish-inspired restaurant he and his wife, Liz, opened in 2011 on a quiet corner in the West Loop.

His description is both apt and a humble understatement. Dishes like trout escabeche ($12) with pickled vegetables and green romesco–a picada-like purée of parsley, bread and almonds–are simple and good. But they're also intensely satisfying and gently creative. That is to say: exactly what one hopes for in an eat-there-weekly neighborhood spot.

Fried Brussels sprouts, Vera-style (Photo: Kailley Lindman)

Mendez makes Spanish food with caveats. His Brussels sprouts with anchovy vinaigrette ($7), for example: "I ripped off David Chang," he happily admits, referring to the Momofuku chef's roasted sprouts with fish sauce vinaigrette. Mendez deep-fries the brassica, referencing Spain with a dressing of anchovies and sherry vinegar. Similar liberties are taken with disks of spiced blood sausage ($10), a current Tuesday night special, served with arugula and a fried egg.

What to drink? It would be a shame not to mine the restaurant's sherry list, which has no Chicago rival. Start with a glass of fino or manzanilla to accompany olives and cured meats, then finish the night with salted caramel pudding, marcona almonds and a glass of amontillado–or forgo dessert and sip dark, raisin-y Pedro Ximenez instead.

More West Loop gems: Maude's Liquor Bar, Avec, Sepia and Macello