From the Frontera empire
and Mixteco Grill
to Fonda del Mar
and wherever Geno Bahena's cooking these days, there's no shortage of good upscale Mexican food in Chicago, where chefs are utilizing the freshest ingredients available. But there's always room for one more.
At 23, Chuy Valencia has already worked on the lines of Bayless's kitchens and for Freddy Sanchez at Adobo Grill. Now he's striking out on his own with the help of partner Soraya Rendon. Named after a Mayan holy book, Chilam Balam is farm-to-table small-plate Mexican cuisine intended for sharing, served in a BYOB storefront decorated with some of the best fabrics and Mexican artwork outside of Pilsen.
Since Valencia is emphasizing seasonality, the menu at Chilam Balam will constantly change. Since the window for tomatoes in Illinois is short, tomato lovers should take advantage of the season while they can and sample heirlooms with fresh cheese, chilaca chile-avocado dressing and sunflower greens. Another must-order dish is young greens with roasted poblano dressing, avocado, toasted sweet pumpkin seeds, grilled jicama, orange and red onion. Being that these are mainly small plates, bring a group to share and some wine to pair.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Chuck Sudo