Ixcateco Grill | 3402 W. Montrose Ave. | Chicago, IL 60618 | 773-539-5887 | ixcatecogrill.com
Dinner Hours | Tuesday-Thursday 5-10 p.m. | Friday-Saturday 5-10:30 p.m. | Sunday 5-10 p.m. | Closed Monday
Brunch Hours | Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m-2:30 p.m.
ONLINE RESERVATIONS | CALL FOR RESERVATIONS: 773-539-5887 | MAJOR CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED
Servers stand erect as soldiers at Ixcateco Grill, their pressed white shirts tucked into immaculate black pants. It’s a sight you wish you’d see more often-the unmistakable feeling that the staff cares deeply about your experience at this delicious Mexican hot spot. The colorful space, painted in bright shades of orange, green, and fuchsia, only adds to the bonhomie. Chef Anselmo Ramírez, a veteran of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, knows his way around Southern Mexican food. Try the irresistible picaditas, a pair of tender little masa canoes filled with savory chicken carnitas, pickled cactus, avocado cream, and queso fresco; or the wonderfully complex and authentic pollo en mole negro, sporting that perfect, complex blend of sweet and spicy mole.Michelin Guide 2016
Ixcateco Grill isn’t reinventing Mexican cuisine but it’s a “welcome present” for Albany Park, according to Mike Sula. The new restaurant from former Frontera vet Anselmo Ramirez starts with chunky sweet-and-sour tomatillo salsa and “piercingly hot” yellow habanero salsa that “create a nice balance of pleasure and pain.” Picaditas are a “likeable bite” of masa boats piled with chicken carnitas while the signature stygian mole, paired with “moist and adequately cooked” sliced chicken breast, has “subtle” chile heat and “bitter” chocolate notesChicago Eater
When you hear buzz about a new Mexican restaurant opening in Albany Park, you may not take note. When you hear that the same restaurant has Chef/Owner Anselmo Ramirez, you add it to the list of spots to check out as soon as it opens.
If Chef Anselmo’s name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, you will definitely know the places he worked at for years – Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo and Frontera Grill. Yes, he has an excellent background as an alum of these beloved and top-notch Mexican restaurants. Chef Anselmo now brings those skills, along with his knowledge of Southern Mexican cooking, to his own restaurant, Ixcateco Grill.
We made our way over to Ixcateco on Wednesday evening and easily found street parking in the busy neighborhood. The space itself is minimal, colorful and authentic. You should note that it’s BYOB – woot! We actually didn’t bring anything along with us this time, as we had a few pre-dinner cocktails, but next time, I’m busting out my wine bag with a bottle of bubbles!
I eat Mexican food very often, ranging from plates on the fancy side from Mercadito, to a $5.99 taco dinner at Los Comales on 18th Street. I’m going to venture to say that Ixcateco is kind of a combo of the two extremes. It’s as casual and comfortable as a Pilsen restaurant is, but with service and food as great as Mercadito or other higher-end Mexican spots.
The menu features a mole that’s been simmered for two days, delicious “picaditas” and classic entrees. The ingredients that are as locally-sourced and sustainable as possible, so you know the end result is as good for you as it is delicious.
Basically everything coming out of the kitchen at Ixcateco Grill is perfectly seasoned and just delicious. If you’re in the area, pick up a bottle of wine and make your way over to this place. You will not be disappointed by the food.Craving Chicago
Albany Park may already be awash in Mexican restaurants, but Ixcateco Grill impresses in a number of ways. For one, the chef at its helm is another chef who previously worked with Bayless’ Anselmo Ramirez. But even more so, it’s the food. Inspired by the food of the central and southwestern parts of Mexico, the menu is small but flavorful, especially the mole over the chicken. The dishes here are inspired by the seasons too, making this a restaurant worth visiting again and again — and still trying something new.CBS Chicago
The list of chefs who’ve cooked under the Bayless banner and then gone out to spread the gospel of Rick is long: Kahan. Satkoff. Arreola. Valencia. Bahena. Pine. Enyart. I’m sure I’ve forgotten plenty, but there’s no arguing that this diaspora has affected the evolution of Mexican food in the United States in much the same way that Charlie Trotter’s many minions have influenced fine dining everywhere. Anselmo Ramirez, a native of the southern Mexican state of Guerrero and a longtime cook at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, is the latest to strike out on his own, bringing a somewhat dated but very much needed breath of fresh cilantro to Albany Park.
Lately a number of cheffy midscale restaurants have opened there, joining the neighborhood’s abundance of taquerias, tamaleros, and South American chicken spinners. And now there’s Ramirez’s Ixcateco Grill, installed in a storefront that once housed the perpetually deserted Pollo Volador. A space that was dreary and institutionally lit has been warmed significantly by bright two-tone color schemes and vivid folkloric paintings by general manager Antone Jacobs, another Frontera vet. Also prowling the grounds is retired Topolobampo maitre d’ Lester Butcher, an elegantly dressed silver fox who lends the proceedings a dignity that the earnest but occasionally diffident servers have yet to achieve.
Ramirez, who got his start at Frontera as a dishwasher and later spent time at Prairie Grass, presents a concise menu of four appetizers and five entrees, with the usual pledges of using seasonal, local, and organic products when possible. His style of plating, particularly with regard to the entrees, is very much rooted in the mid-90s Frontera school: a piece of protein, a portion of starch, and a pool of rich, deeply pigmented mole or brightly acidic sauce ample enough for a happy while to be spent dredging it up with the thin, blistered tortillas freshly griddled—in this case by the chef’s own mother.
It’s difficult not to root for the success of this ambitious family operation (two of Ramirez’s daughters are putting in time in the front of the house too), and if there’s going to be a linchpin for that outcome it’s not going to be the conservative approach Ramirez is taking, but rather that rainbow of moles and sauces, beginning with the chunky sweet-and-sour tomatillo salsa that arrives with your basket of tortilla chips. By contrast, the accompanying yellow habanero salsa is piercingly hot—together they create a nice balance of pleasure and pain.
Ramirez’s claim to fame is his stygian mole, with subtle chile heat and bitter chocolate notes, the ideal accompaniment for relatively neutral-flavored garlic mashed potatoes and sliced chicken breast. There’s nothing wrong with that breast–it’s moist and adequately cooked–but I think in general people can agree it’s the most boring part of the chicken. Put out a couple thighs or legs and you’d have something.
The menu promises that a tatume squash stuffed with vegetables and draped with melted Chihuahua cheese will come with yellow mole, though on one visit it appeared and tasted more like a classic brick-red coloradito mole, spiced with anchos and redolent of clove and cinnamon. Thinly sliced adobo-marinated pork loin, grilled over wood and served with an intimidating mound of mashed sweet potatoes, luxuriates in an inky tomatillo-pasilla chile sauce spiked with mescal. The grill also imparts good smoke to shell-on shrimp, plated with rice and oyster mushrooms and a creamy tomato sauce that’s herbaceous with epazote. Grilled skirt steak, also marinated in adobo, receives the most minimal treatment: a side of black beans and a crushed-tomato salsa.
This abbreviated selection of entrees can be preceded by a guacamole (textbook but for the inclusion of sliced green apple); a firm, fresh tilapia ceviche; a green salad with mango, crushed cashews, and a gingery agave dressing; or picaditas, a pair of thick masa boats piled with chicken carnitas, creamy avocado sauce, pickled cactus, and crumbled fresh cheese, a likable bite one of my eating partners described as “something you’d serve at a bar mitzvah when you want to be edgy.”
Dessert is less appealing: a trio of ice creams–strawberry, coconut, and chocolate by way of Abuelita-brand cocoa—have a glossy, artificial texture that diminishes their individual flavors.
And that’s pretty much it. You can cover the menu in just a few outings, so it’s fortunate that Ramirez promises to change it up regularly. As it stands, the chef has zeroed in on the perfect location for his fledgling restaurant, BYOB for now and a tremendous value as such. It may not be the future of modern Mexican food, but for Albany Park it’s a welcome present.Chicago Reader
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 Local Tourist