My Logan Square love has taken a backseat to my neighbor to the north. I've been biking like a madwoman to Uptown for all my BYOB dinners lately, but when my latest date rolled around, this one with my friend DD, my legs just wouldn't pedal anymore. It had been a long week, and the idea of any lengthy transport, even as a passenger in her cute red stick-shift, was way too much for these tired bones.
Most of my favorite local places aren't bring-your-own, but after three-plus years of Logan Square living, I've learned how to keep the bills low and the drinks flowing (thank you, Don Chema). But I had forgotten about a restaurant that has rock-bottom prices and a parade of drinks that only ends when you empty your black plastic bag of booze: Irazu.
I've spoken highly of the Costa Rican hotspot for years, but had only been once. I've biked by it an estimated 632 times, admiring the patio in summer months and the cozy, shack-like confines in chillier ones.
I was definitely ready for round two. I was also ready for beer. We had nixed the idea of sushi, largely because I had a crap day, and sushi and wine seemed too dainty for my mood. I wanted a great brew and a mess of tortilla chips, and I knew Irazu wouldn't disappoint.
We stopped at Vas Foremost Liquors on the way, located a few blocks northwest of Irazu on Milwaukee Avenue. It's a deceptive spot, one that looks pretty generic from the outside. One glance at its extensive beer selection, which runs from Unibroue to six-packs of Fat Tire to plenty of Two Brothers, proves otherwise. Belgian isn't the ideal pairing with Central American fare, but when faced with a selection this good, we had to default to a well-priced favorite: a six-pack of the Belgian ale Leffe Blond for $8.99.
We snagged the last open table on the patio at around 8 p.m. on a Thursday. Tables turn over frequently, but we were glad to grab one quickly, as we had plans to munch and sip and close the place (which we very nearly did). The menu dishes plenty of choices, running from inexpensive Costa Rican sandwiches to sauteed pork chops (still pretty cheap at $12.50). Deciding to take the vegetarian route narrowed down our choices…to one of the best, the much-praised vegetarian burrito.
But before we got to that, we opened our beers and ordered some apps. We split an order of spicy guacamole and the vegetarian salad, a shredded cabbage slaw topped with beets, cucumber, tomato, avocado, radishes and cilantro, with a little lime juice and olive oil. The salad rocked. I expected a cabbage base to be pretty dull, but it had a great crunch, and the addition of cilantro and lime is one I'll be repeating at home. I usually attack the chips first thing (being raised in a family of six, I learned that communal food goes fast), but the salad plate was picked clean before I even hit the chips.
The small pile of chopped jalapeno pushed to the side of the sizeable platter served as the "spicy" part of the guac. We stirred it into the avocado and tomato mix, added a heavy dose of salt, and prepared ourselves for a rush of heat that didn't really come. DD and I are hot fiends, and this version was a bit flat, somewhat redeemed by the hunks of fresh avocado I kept scooping on to my chips.
By this point, we had moved on to beers three and four of the six-pack. Leffe is a Zinny and DD summer staple, something we drink most weekends on her porch. The Abbey ale tastes creamy with fruit aromas, sort of tripel-like, and is excellent drunk alone. I'm not sure that it enhanced the flavors of the food, but golden perfection makes any meal better in my book.
And what a meal it already was. The generous portions left me a little bit wary of what we had intended to eat from the get-go: the award-winning burrito. Since we both hate sour cream we were able to go halfsies, each getting a giant hunk of rolled up goodness.
The big surprise wasn't that it was great. It's hard to mess up anything with cheese and avocado. But the taste was surprising. I expected typical Mexican flavors, for no other reason than that I'm used to them (thanks again, Don Chema). But this was definitely different, courtesy of the awesome spice of the Costa Rican black beans and yellow rice.
Surprise number two? Our embarrassingly cheap bill. Being the big spenders that we are, we left a 30-percent tip, which brought my total to a whopping $10.
Zinny Fandel's tales of living the (mostly) BYOB life are intended to be attempted at home and in the community, preferably at BYOB restaurants. If you know of a BYOB spot she simply must tipple at, let her know.