Years ago I lived in a remote pocket of Bucktown (way back when there was no Chipotle), and every afternoon, no matter what was going on, I'd halt all work and declare it an "Irazu break." I'd walk over to the corner Costa Rican shack for my veggie burrito and oatmeal shake fix. Since I left Bucktown and moved North (all hail Roscoe Village), I've never let go of Irazu and the intense memories of its sauteed mushroom-stuffed burrito, polished off with an I've-never-heard-of-that-before icy-cold oatmeal milkshake.
Last week, after years away, I returned slightly prepared for a letdown; I mean, who can keep up the good work for five years solid, with nary word on the street? Indeed, in all my food dealings across the city over the past few years, I've never heard a soul mention Irazu or its delicious burritos, not even in passing or as a slip-up afterthought. Sorry to letcha know, the secret's back out and those beautiful Costa Ricans straight up rule.
Branded by its sugar-shack, island hideaway resemblance, Irazu has always been an insider's secret (even though its wall is plastered with worshipful write-ups and cheesy photo-ops). Everyone's pretty hush-hush about this one and it's totally understandable; the joint already has a continual wait. The more the tongues roll about the incredible (and super-cheap) cuisine, the longer the lines twirl around the block. Though I do always find it hysterical when you squeeze into a hopping front-of-the-house holding area only to be told by the hostess/waitress/cashier that there is a 10-minute wait, and then when you finally bust around the corner into the dining room, there's barely a soul around. Why do they do that? Just let us in.
Even though it had changed significantly, I barely even glanced at the menu this go round. I couldn't care less. I was there for one thing and one thing only (well two things): the veggie burrito and the oatmeal shake (with milk, mind you). The first to arrive at the table, the shake was even better than I'd remembered, somehow icier, colder, creamier, more thoroughly infused with cinnamon and something delightfully mysterious (the sassy little waitress professed she couldn't give away the secret ingredient, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there is more than one shot of horchata, the Mexican rice water made from blanched almonds and cooked rice, loaded down in the milky mix).
Sadly, that mo-fo was down to the last I'll-fist-fightcha-for-it slurp when the big-enough-for-two burrito arrived. Just like old times, I'd ordered it with sauteed mushrooms and, again, I was just blown away by the flavor of all the simple ingredients combined. Imagine a soft, pillowly flour tortilla warmed on the grill and swollen with not-too-wet black beans, meaty sauteed mushrooms, chunks of fresh avocado (not gooey guacamole), crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, slowly melting white cheese and a strand of chilly sour cream centered directly in the middle. After rolling it up, wrapping it in wax paper and neatly slicing it down the middle, it's presented in a tidy little bundle of steaming hot goodness; coupled with a basket of perfectly thick chips and salsa, this burrito, along with Irazu, is the ultimate tummy satiater.
THE FINAL RAVE: Please don't tell too many people. That's all.
Read it: The menu at Pick Me Up
Since its redesign, the tables are cozier, the booths more plentiful and the crowd more present than ever. Who cares? Come early, spread out and dive into the veggie-lover's menu, featuring what else? Burritos out the wazoo.
Drink: El Tinajon
The gigantic veggie burrito (suiza-style, of course) runs a close second to Irazu, and when you top it off with a side of the garlicky yucca appetizer and a lethal all-ya-need's-a-half-pitcher of rita's, spring ain't nothing but a day away.
Eat: The Bongo Room
Deserting my old Bucktown hood also meant leaving behind my beloved egg-and-avacado stuffed breakfast burrito (smothered with melted cheese) at this insanely popular Wicker Park b'fast/lunch spot. Oh, don't worry Bongo, I've got your number.
Crazy with it: Hotel Lagunita, Yelapa, Mexico
Though Hillary Swank recently graced this remote village with her presence (blast you), I'm praying that most folks avoid the tabloids and just happen upon this gem because of their foodie adventurer's spirit; it's got the best Mexican burritos (and moonshine) on the Pacific coast.
I guess there is a difference in burritos; who knew?
Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.