Irazú

WHAT: Irazú
WHERE: 1865 N. Milwaukee Ave.

OUR RATING: Do It!

Picture 24Named after the mighty Irazú Volcano in Costa Rica, this lively, spirited and eclectic restaurant allows you to enjoy the unique cuisine from this little sampled country in Central America. Flavourful, mild and lots of fruits and vegetables clearly mark these dishes out as deriving from the lush rainforests of that country, which houses an astonishing 5% of the world’s biodiversity, while being only 0.25% of the Earth’s landmass.

With a colourful and light-filled interior and exciting buzz, you’ll be just itching to try to many rare delicacies that come at phenomenally reasonable prices.

Picture 26Adam: Locked between the Mesoamerican and Andean cultures, with a good dose of Spanish colonialism mixed in, Costa Rica (literally Rich Coast) is most certainly true to its name when it comes to food and Irazú provides all the bounty that this nation has to offer. Brought straight to your table and served casually, steaming plates of traditional foods whirl in, with all the colour and verve of this canopied country.

Casado with tilapia

The menu is vast, offering breakfast items, appetizers, vegetarian options, tacos, empanadas, burritos, sandwiches and even shakes. The forefront of the menu, however, are the Costa Rican dinners. Being in the mood to try the most authentic dish on the menu, I opted for the Casado, a traditional full-plate meal.

Casado with steak

Choosing from steak, chicken or tilapia, you can really appreciate the full force of this diverse cuisine through this dish. I went with steak and was not disappointed. A heaping portion served with black beans, sweet plantains, a cabbage salad, rice and an over easy egg to top it all off, the portion was very large and I felt truly stuffed when finished. I actually had my meal upgraded to include gallo pinto instead of rice, a mixture of rice and beans which is exclusive to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Watch out though: they won’t tell you this upgrade costs a buck when they offer it, although it’s worth all one hundred cents.

Potato Tacos

Alicia: One of the many things I love about Irazú is how vegetarian friendly they are. Some of the guests we went out to dinner with ordered the restaurant’s famed potato tacos: crispy corn tortillas filled with mashed potatoes (flauta-esque) and served with guacamole and mole sauce. The dish was gigantic, and also served with yellow rice, beans, deliciously cooked sweet plantains and a cabbage salad. Beware: the mole is not vegetarian, but it’s possibly one of the most delicious moles I have had in the city.

Avena Shake

What I wanted to try more than anything was Irazú’s Avena (Oatmeal) shake made with milk, which was the most deliciously complex consistency with beautiful hints of cinnamon. It was sweet and savory and an entire meal in itself, so I’m glad I only ordered a salad to go with it. They have a ton of other interesting shake flavors, including Pinolillo (Corn Meal) and Tamarindo. Definitely an adventure for the tastebuds!

Palmito Salad

Oh, and by salad, I don’t mean just any ordinary salad. I ordered a large (and boy was it large) Palmito Salad: Heart of palm steaks on a bed of cabbage slaw, tossed with beets, avocado, tomato, radishes, cilantro, splashed with vinegar, lime and olive oil. The salad was perfectly dressed and the dish in its entirety was a refreshing and adventurous journey. The vinegar and lime cut through the hearty heart of palm steaks and the slaw provided a fun crunch with every bite. I would order this dish again in a minute, but it’s imperative you go with someone else so you can steal a few of their delicious sweet plantains.

Picture 25Final Thoughts: In a meal that’s like a rainforest on a plate, without any of the more slippery animals, Irazú immerses you in the warm embrace of the jungle. Excellent portion sizes at good prices, this BYOB (no corkage fee!) is a particular Chicago experience you can’t miss.

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