Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Irazú made a good first impression. Walking in from the cold, I loved how its holiday jazz and colorful interior provided warmth and nostalgic comfort. It was kind of weird. I knew the meal would be satisfying even before I saw a menu.

The people behind Irazú are casual about the decor and, unfortunately, about the food as well. That's not to say that the Costa Rican cuisine is bad - it's just that it could be better. The dishes I sampled were strong for the most part, but would've benefited from some refinement.

The shake above clearly illustrates an exception to my "No Artistic Photo Edits" rule and there's good reason: it's truly as good as the reviews say it is. You can have it made with regular milk, soy, or water and I'm sure each way is delicious. It's like an incredible horchata smoothie with oatmeal and everything about it seems to be in perfect harmony. Its thickness won't clog your straw, but it won't rush through it. It won't give you a sugar headache, but it won't disappoint your sweet tooth. It's so well balanced; it's like no shake you've ever had.

Ah, the deceptive chifrijo. It looks like a moderately sized appetizer from the picture, but I assure you, this is a coy beast of a dish. Beneath the dark sauce and avocado slices lie tasty fried pork chunks, rice, black beans, and a variation of pico de gallo. Add the chips and you've got yourself something that is not light. The dish starts off excellently, but once you make it through the pico de gallo and crispy lardons (aka the top layer), you're left with more black beans and rice. If there were a smaller quantity of these two things instead of an abundance, the dish would be much better and less filling...

My meal ended with a single taco tico, which is a "crispy tortilla filled with skirt steak topped with cabbage, mayo, ketchup and Lizano sauce". To me, this was just a microwaved frozen taquito buried in cabbage and way too much sauce. Perhaps if the sauce had been reduced along with the cabbage, it would've been fine, but c'mon, look at the picture!

Though imperfect, Irazú is a place I can recommend without reluctance. The menu has options for everyone (including an entire vegetarian section), delightful flavors, and it's cozy and Costa Rican to boot. Look, the squeeze bottle salsas are weak and some culinary areas could use more effort, but having said that, I will still be back.

Irazú - Bucktown - (773)252-5687 - 1865 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 - Public transportation: bus 56 or the Western stop of the Blue Line.

oatmeal (avena) shake - $3.00
chifrijo - $6.50
taco tico - $1.95

No comments: