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Marina’s Bistro and Rum Bar featured in Chicago Tribune Mini Reviews

From the Chicago Tribune: 

Nestled in the Uptown neighborhood’s Magnolia Plaza strip mall, chef-owner Eric Roldan opened Marina’s Bistro and Rum Bar in August. The cozy and lamplit space features classic and modern takes on iconic Puerto Rican dishes such as mofongo and pastelillos, and a bar that whips up handcrafted rum-based cocktails.

Roldan said the restaurant began as Marina’s Cafe, an Avondale ghost kitchen in 2021. The chef won a $245,000 Chicago Recovery Plan grant in 2022, which allowed him to finish construction on the restaurant. Over two years later, Marina’s Bistro pays homage to his mother, who taught Roldan how to cook and passed away when he was young.

Marina’s gives you all the chill party vibes and sense of island pride — conversations in English and Spanish rise and lull to the tune of salsa hits. Above you there are decorative vines, wrought iron chandeliers and exposed wood beams in the style of Old San Juan. The bar space, which sits about four patrons, has wall art that pays homage to the island’s 78 municipalities. From a back wall, a portrait of Roldan’s mother, Marina, gazes lovingly.

I was greeted with complimentary and very snackable plantain chips served with vegan guava butter. My order of pollo al ajillo, or chicken marinated with garlic and onion, was well seasoned and served in a precious silver pan.

“The secret to it is slow temperature,” Roldan told me later, saying the whole process takes 48 hours. “That’s how we get that (tender) consistency.”
To accompany the juicy chicken, I ordered the tostones, which were salty and crispy on the outside but maintained their soft interior. Rounding out this trio, the arroz con gandules, or yellow rice cooked with pigeon peas and sofrito, was a perfect complement to the chicken.

The variety of the rum-focused drink menu matches and at times supersedes all these savory and filling dishes. Marina’s uses the rum brands Don Q, Barrilito and Bacardi, Roldan said.

The La Playita passion fruit cocktail came stacked with a wedge of lime and fresh mint sprig atop white rum, lime, puree, soda and speckles of passion fruit seeds. It reminded me of pineapple-flavored Fanta.
Don’t leave without trying The Yabucoa, also made with white rum, and soursop, a fruit in the custard apple family that’s native to the Caribbean region. Marina’s drink was milk-colored, a little bit tangy and yet refreshing, and also neatly presented with a pink flower.

There are also mocktails that sound more than basic, with notes of coconut milk, agave nectar and fruit puree freshly squeezed in-house.
I can see Marina’s adding to the splendor of Uptown’s diverse dining options. It has the added bonus of being steps away from the “L.”

Look out for Roldan’s specials for Chicago Restaurant Week, including the aforementioned pollo, a patio as the months turn warmer and maybe even live music. — Lauryn Azu

4554 N. Magnolia Ave., 773-739-9161,

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