I am sure you have heard the expression, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”! This statement can be used in many other ways. For example, last night we went to Albany Park ( the north side of Chicago) to visit a fairly new dining spot called Ixcateco Grill, cuisine from the central and southwestern region of Mexico. The location, Montrose and Kimball Avenues. Albany Park , while a neighborhood with many fond memories of my youth, is no longer a destination for suburbanite and even city dwellers in upscale areas of the city. It should be! From the outside, this cozy little spot appeared to be small and dark, but once we entered the restaurant, bottle of wine in hand (this is a BYOB where they will chill and open your wine for you) the dining room lit up our eyes and made us feel much better about our trip.
The restaurant is owned by the Ramirez family and under the guidance of its chef, Anselmo, and his staff, we had a magnificent dining experience. Our waitress, Suzie (who is one the chef’s daughters) made us feel as if we had entered their family home, not just a restaurant, as she talked with us about the menu. While it seems limited in size (there are not a great deal of items) there are options that can make everyone in your party find what they are seeking. I must tell you that every item on the menu is prepared fresh and by the hands of the Ramirez family, so you might just feel that you are enjoying dinner, family style with the new Mexican friends you have made! We did.
Jane, Barry (who took the pictures), Casey and I decided that we wanted to try so many items, we would order and share which worked out perfectly. After Suzie poured us water and chilled our wine (which we bought at the CVS on the corner) she brought us some fresh Chips (warm and toasty) with a special sauce (not salsa) that was sweeter and perfecto to start the meal. For our appetizers, we selected Guacamole and chips ( Jane LOVES guacamole!!) , Ensalade de Pulpo (wood-grilled octopus, cherry tomatoes,jicama pea shoots,green beans,oaxacan pastille dressing- delish- this one has a bit of a kick), Picaditas (roasted poultry carnitas, avocado cream sauce, pickled cactus- sounds different, tastes wonderful), and Memela Brava (wood-grilled chicken,guacamole, tomatillo salsa ,sour cream ranchero, pickled apple and cabbage- another winning taste). The portions were ample and easy to share with four of us, allowing all of us to try the wonderful offerings of this family operated business.
For our entrees, we selected three from their seven items: Camarones en mole de Calabaza (wood grilled shrimp, pumpkin squash mole, sautéed vegetables microgreens- a flavorful dish with just a little kick), Carne Asada (wood-grilled skirt steak, as juicy as one could want,tomato molcajete sauce, black beans and guacamole) and for the third, Costilla de Res (slow roasted short ribs, red mole, chunky garlic mashed potatoes, pumpkin seeds microgreens-amazing!). One of our sides, the plantains, served in a creamy sauce, truly made the evening special for me. I love these!Again, the portions were ample enough to share and the meal was absolutely heaven. Every sauce flavorful, every dish presented as if we were in a Michigan Avenue fine dining establishment, and yet, we were of the opinion we were guests in the home of the Ramirez family, from start to finish.
Once we got past the storefront appearance and entered the door, meeting Larry and the staff, we knew that this would be a dining experience that we would remember. Once we were seated, and the service began, Casey said “This is a good sign.The salsa and chips are great , and the guacamole is delicious”. As the meal progressed, Barry, who was very used to being served short ribs while growing up said “I’ve never had a better short rib”. We all agreed that everything tasted fresh as could be and we could see and taste that everything was indeed home-made with love by The Ramirez Familia. We did leave room for dessert and enjoyed the LaLeche cake and the amazing flan. Make sure you leave room, as you will certainly enjoy the sweetness of what they offer.
Ixcateco Grill is located at 3402 West Montrose Avenue (at Kimball) and can be reached by bus as well as car. Street parking is metered but plentiful. The restaurant is BYOB ( there is a liquor store as well as CVS and they will chill for you, or bring what you want from home. The dining hours are as follows:
Tuesday- Thursday 5- 10 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays 5 p.m.- 10:30 p.m.
Sundays 5 -10 p.m.
RESERVATIONS ARE RECOMMENDED call 773-539-5887 or visit www.ixcatecogrill.com
This is an experience that you will suggest to your friends and family- worth the trip, for sure!
photos courtesy Barry Segal