Degus-EL-Station: Irazu

Irazu delivers Costa Rican deliciousness in Bucktown

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Your day's organized by two simple forces: the El, which determines your traveling, and food, which is delicious and keeps you from dying. Align your wanderings with your chow, with Ari Bendersky's new column, Degus-EL-Station.

    

Degustation: a culinary term meaning "a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods."

    El: that noisy rail jalopy that takes you to other hoods on the cheap.

    NEXT STOP: Western (Blue Line)

    WHERE TO EAT: Irazu, 1865 N. Milwaukee Ave, 773-252-5687 Leave the Western Blue Line station, head south down Milwaukee, walk about half a block and enter into one of the best meals of your life.

    COST: $15

    Touted as the first Costa Rican restaurant in Chicago, Irazu (named for a famed volcano in the Central American country) has been delighting diners in Bucktown for nearly 20 years—long before the neighborhood was gentrified. Owned by the Cerdas family, Irazu is a true mom-and-pop family joint, and one I've been visiting since '95.

    Irazu attracts a diverse crowd looking for fulfilling food with fresh ingredients and flavors that pop. The restaurant serves two of my favorite dishes in all of Chicago: the shredded chicken burrito ( rice, black beans, sour cream and cheese for $6, with avocado added) and the avena oatmeal shake. Sounds odd, tastes great.

    Some of the house specials include the Costa Rican sandwich, thinly sliced beef on French bread with cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard and Lizano sauce; the casado, an authentic dish served with white rice, black beans, sweet plantains, an over-easy egg and cabbage salad with a choice of different meat or vegetables; or any number of vegetarian dishes, including chile rellenos. And don't forget to order the fresh guacamole and chips—and get it spicy (ooh, my lips are burning just thinking about it).

    The restaurant gets busy every night (except Sunday when its closed) so don't be surprised by the wait. It's BYO, so grab a bottle of wine or a six-pack from Red & White across the street. Ask for some chips and salsa and relax. It'll be your turn soon enough.

    Ari Bendersky is a food, wine and lifestyle journalist and the creator of SomethingGlorious.com. He also contributes articles locally to Huffington Post, Time Out Chicago, Michigan Avenue, Concierge Preferred, Tasting Table and more. Follow him on twitter.