People often ask where I eat when I'm not in food blogger mode. Well, the truth is I'm almost always in food blogger mode these days... even when I force myself to go to a restaurant sans camera, I still end up mentally composing food photo after photo (I can't help myself!). However, there are a few special restaurants I go to so frequently that I actually do manage slip out of blogger mode at some point (especially after a cocktail or two ;-)). Some of these restaurants are neighborhood favorites, some come with a heavy dash of nostalgia, and others are new favorites I've discovered via my awesome foodie group. To me, these restaurants strike the perfect balance of food, ambiance, and service; despite all of the choices in the city, they keep me coming back for more above all others. One of these restaurants (and the newest addition to my list!) is Crīo, a Latin-inspired hidden gem along the sleepy stretch of Clybourn Ave in Lincoln Park.
Open since 2014, Crīo quickly established itself as one of my favorites after a fantastic birthday dinner I shared with a few foodie friends. Since then, I've had the opportunity to dine at Crīo numerous times and even befriend some of the amazing staff along the way. It's one of those restaurants that keeps me coming back for more, thanks to the combination of the atmosphere (it's both edgy and homey), the attention paid to detail in everything from the artwork on the walls to the garnishes on the plate, and of course, the fantastic food.
Recently, Gigi (another harcore Crīo lover) and I had the opportunity to stop by the restaurant during off-hours to sample, shoot, and even head into the kitchen with the executive chef to learn how he executes some of his most popular dishes. Of course, this was a foodie dream come true for us! While I have to say it was a little strange at first being in one of my favorite restaurants without any other diners, it was also completely awesome to have free rein to move around the space, arrange dishes as we pleased, and laugh the afternoon away as we stuffed ourselves with some amazing food and drinks.
The space is filled with bright colors and artwork from local artists. The gorgeous wall-sized mural is a favorite of everyone who walks through the door - I'm always an advocate of bold glasses and bright red lipstick!
Mussels con Chorizo with tomatillo sauce and epazote. When Jaime (one of the owners) asked us if there were any particular dishes we wanted to shoot, I immediately shouted out that we needed the amazing mussels - not only are these slightly spicy and bold mussels my favorite appetizer at Crīo, but also, they're my favorite mussels in the entire city! Pro tip: don't skip over the swoon-worthy chorizo-laden broth at the bottom of the pot!
Slow Braised Brisket Empanadas with caramelized onions. Yes, it's true that I'm not a fan of onions, but these empanadas were so good that I actually a few of them (shocking!). The juicy brisket is especially tasty, but you can't go wrong with any of their empanadas; I also love the corn, poblano pepper & chihuahua cheese option.
Don't you just love it when your lovely Guava Beer matches the even lovelier artwork?
She didn't want to miss out on the fun. ;-)
After our first round of appetizers, Executive Chef/owner (and badass boxer!) Daniel Carbajal invited us back into his kitchen to watch the magic happen. He greeted us with plate of piping hot Sweet Fried Plantains (yum!) and then got busy with the execution of his popular Portabella Burger.
Chef Daniel grills each component of the burger individually before assembly (why didn't I ever think to grill my avocado?!).
I loved the addition of the sweet/smoky habernaro agave mayo!
The final product: Grilled Portabella Burger with red peppers, onions, avocado, habanero agave mayo, and loads of blue cheese
We paired the burger with the Vero Mango (another delicious sweet/spicy pairing).
Fresa Salad: mixed greens with strawberries, honey pecans, and queso fresco, drizzled with balsamic reduction
This fruity Strawberry Mojito was my favorite cocktail of the afternoon. The drink contained large chunks of lime, mint & strawberry (ensuring I got a little of everything with every sip) with a heavy dose of rum - such a perfect summer cocktail!
Chorizo Burger with poblano salsa, chihuahua cheese, fried pork skins, served with chimichurri fries. This is one of the few items on the menu that I hadn't tried during a previous visit - now, I can't believe I waited so long! I loved the addition of the chorizo (the same delicious chorizo used in the mussels) and the crunchy chicharrones.
We ended our epic foodie afternoon with another favorite: Steak Frites with housemade chimichurri sauce. This tender steak covered with extra garlicky chimichurri is most definitely one of their standout dishes; in fact, it was the first entrée I ever tried and one that almost always order when I stop by for dinner!
You can try all of this deliciousness and more at Crīo (and if you haven't already, you absolutely should!): 2506 N. Clybourn Ave., Chicago, IL.