Open since August, Ixcateco Grill in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood is already running on all cylinders. The casual, full service BYOB restaurant presents authentic Southern Mexican cuisine, with chef and owner Anselmo Ramirez featuring dishes prepared as they are in Mexico.
Chef Ramirez started his career as a dishwasher at Chef Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill and, within seven months, was promoted to line cook. He worked through the ranks in Frontera Grill’s kitchen for seven years, and then was promoted to Bayless’ famed four-star Topolobampo restaurant. He is not only talented, but a warm and friendly person who involves his whole family in his inviting and relaxed restaurant.
The menu is limited, but focused, with a delicious touch of sophistication that reflects Ramirez’ experience. He uses fresh, locally sourced organic or sustainably raised ingredients when possible, and he adds or adapts menu items regularly to showcase the bounty of the season.
Soon after being sat, warm corn tortilla chips, hand made by Chef Ramirez’ grandmother, are delivered to the table with fresh Tomatillo salsa. We added to that an order of guacamole, which Chef Ramirez told me was his favorite dish on the menu because of the ingredients and simplicity.
We then tried the ceviche, which was my least favorite item that we tried. While the flavors were nice, the Tilapia, marinated in lime juice, along with celery, cilantro, Serrano chiles, tomatoes and Tomatillos, was bit tough, and overall a tad too salty for my taste.
However, the Picaditas made up for it, and were probably my favorite thing that I tried. Two corn masa canoes were filled with slow roasted poultry carnitas, avocado cream sauce, and garnished with queso ranchero and pickled cactus. The flavors were just outstanding and the chicken perfectly seasoned and tender.
For our first entree, we tried the famed Pollo En Mole Negro – perfectly roasted chicken served in black mole, accompanied by chunky garlic mashed potatoes. Larry, the extremely pleasant General Manager, who joined Chef Ramirez from Frontera Grill, explained that the mole is cooked over flame for 5 to 6 hours, and if it cooks for even 9 minutes too long, the entire batch has to be discarded. So far, not once has Chef Ramirez had to throw away his mole negro. Warm corn tortillas, also hand made in house and served on the side, were helpful in sopping up the spicy mole, and I also really enjoyed the garlic-laced mashed potatoes.
As good as the chicken was, my favorite entree was the Langostinos al Ajo – wood grilled prawns served in a garlic sauce with tomatoes, onions, avocado and garlic chives over a bed of white rice.
Good thing there is always room for dessert, because though we were quite full, we still had to try the Tres Leches cake, which did not disappoint. Chef Ramirez soaks his cake extra long to achieve an extremely moist and luscious result, which is not too sweet. The drizzle of chocolate over the cake brought it all together. Just divine.
Overall, our entire time at Ixcateco Grill was wonderful. From the extremely warm and hospitable service, to the well-executed and delicious food, to the relaxed and simple atmosphere, Ixcateco Grill is the perfect spot for an authentic southern Mexican meal with friends or family. The addition of the BYO policy, allowing for a favorite bottle of wine or cerveza, just heightens the homey and approachable feel of the restaurant. Chef Ramirez truly wants his guests to feel at home at Ixcateco Grill.
Ixcateco Grill is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, and reservations are accepted. Chef Ramirez is currently working on a brunch menu, as well, and I cannot wait to try it! During our dinner, every table in the restaurant was consistently filled with couples, families, and groups of friends. Plenty of street parking is available.
3402 West Montrose, Chicago, Illinois 60618
While my meal was complimentary, all opinions expressed herein are my own.