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North Side Review: Irazu

By Laura Oppenheimer in Food on Mar 15, 2007 5:45PM


As the winter has stretched on, and on, and ... on, we've been searching for dining options that make us think of warmer days. Setting up a lawn chair in the apartment and drinking pina coladas doesn't quite count. So when a friend of Chicagoist suggested getting dinner at Costa Rican restaurant Irazu, we jumped at the chance. And we are very glad we did.

This 17-year-old family-owned restaurant is located a few blocks from the Western Blue Line stop on Milwaukee. The cozy space is packed with tables at different levels, and Christmas lights strung up around the space give it a homey charm. The menu features an extensive list of Costa Rican classics to choose from; those intimidated by trying a new cuisine shouldn't be concerned. Many of the flavors and ingredients are similar to those used in other Central and South American cuisines.

We started off with the Tostones con Mojo with black bean dip. Tostones are garlic topped, deep fried plantains. If you haven't ever tried them, make it a priority. The garlic was strong, almost to the point of being overpowering, but the thick and crispy plantain provided a strong counter. When we tried them dipped in the black beans, it was like eating the nachos of our dreams. No soggy chips or gloopy cheese sauce; just the crunch of the plantain, the bite of the garlic, and the creamy mellowness of the black beans.

2007_3_review2.jpgFor entrees, we decided to play it safe, since we were Costa Rican newbies. As intriguing as tinted squid sounded, we aren't sure what our take on tinted squid is, so we decided to pass.

Irazu's special is the Casado, which can be ordered with either chicken or steak. For only $9.95, this dish is a steal. It comes with caramelized onion, rice, plantains, cabbage salad and an over-easy egg on top, and it is enough food for two people to enjoy. We tried both the chicken and rib-eye versions. The chicken breast was perfectly cooked without being dry; we were less impressed with the rib-eye, which was a little on the tough side. The plantains served with this dish were different than the tostones, as they were both thicker and sweeter. The tangy cabbage salad perfectly balanced the richer aspects of the dish. And an egg on top of the entire dish? Well, that was the proverbial icing on the cake.

We also tried the shrimp mixed with rice. This dish came served with the same accompaniments as the Casado, minus the egg on top. While the shrimp were tasty, we thought this dish lacked some of the zing of the house special.

As for drinks, Irazu is BYOB. The lack of a corkage fee is a nice touch. Milkshakes are a house specialty at Irazu, if you want something without booze. These aren't your standard chocolate-vanilla-strawberry shakes. Flavors like pinolillo corn meal mamey and guanabana soursop lemonade were intriguing, but we opted for the avena oatmeal papaya, which turned out to be an excellent choice. It tasted like a cross between oatmeal and horchata, with a slight taste of papaya — delicious.

Irazu is located at 1865 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-252-5687. Monday - Saturday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; closed on Sunday.