Just a few months after its early autumn launch at 3402 W. Montrose in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood, Ixateco Grill has become one of the hottest spots to sample excellent, authentic southern Mexican cuisine. Chef/Owner Anselmo Ramirez has created an intimate yet casual restaurant with some of the best authentic, yet sophisticated, renditions of the dishes from the regions surrounding his hometown of Guerrero, Mexico.
And here’s a bonus . . . it is BYOB with no corkage fee!
Ramirez worked in the kitchens of Chef Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill and Topolobampo for 13 years and also spent time under the tutelage of chefs Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris. It’s no surprise, then, that he has hit gold with his own spot. The restaurant opened to an enthusiastic audience of food lovers, a bit overwhelming for the staff. "It was a good problem to have," says Ramirez, who is thrilled by the response of his customers. Despite the hectic nature of his busy kitchen, Ramirez often finds time to leave his busy kitchen to say a quick hello to his new fans.
I was recently invited to bring a guest to sample the menu at Ixcateco Grill. We brought along an excellent bottle of Malbec and prepared ourselves to sample what we had been told was “some of the best Mexican food in the city.” That claim may very well be true. Chef Ramirez has a strong commitment to using only fresh, locally sourced, seasonal products. As a result, the menu will change monthly as available materials shift with the seasons. The current menu should hold until mid-January at least.
My guest and I sampled several of Chef Ramirez’ inventive seasonal selections, including:
- Picaditas (Masa Canoe filled with slow Roasted Poultry Carnitas, Avocado Cream Sauce, garnished with Queso Ranchero and Pickled Cactus) - The masa was superb! It was slightly crunchy on the outside yet soft on the inside. The chicken cooked in the carnitas style was delicious, and the pickled cactus was a perfect tangy accompaniment. This was a stand-out appetizer for me.
- Carne Asada (Adobo marinated Wood Grilled Skirt Steak, served with a Tomato Molcajete Sauce, Black Beans and Guacamole) - This is an iconic menu item for most Mexican restaurants, and Chef Ramirez plans to keep this on the menu even when he changes other items seasonally. The steak was perfectly prepared (just on the rare side of medium rare) and the Tomato Molcajete Sauce was just spicy enough to give the dish a special zing without overpowering anything else.
- Tres Leches Cake - This is another iconic Mexican menu item and Chef Ramirez has created a beautiful version. The chocolate garnish adds just a hint of savory to the sweet cake, and as you would expect the cake itself was luscious and just sweet enough without being sugary. The portion is large enough to be easily shareable.
Ixcateco Grill is an intimate casual Mexican restaurant featuring authentically prepared dishes from the southern regions of Mexico, by chef/owner Anselmo Ramirez. BYO is encouraged. The restaurant is located at 3402 W. Montrose in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood. Dinner is served from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, and from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Mondays. Weekend brunch service Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Ample street parking is available. All major cards are accepted. For reservations, please call the restaurant at 773-539-5887. The website is www.ixcatecogrill.com.
All photos courtesy of Cindy Kurman, Kurman Communications, Inc.