Yes, Virginia, you can eat inexpensively in downtown Chicago. You don’t even have to settle for a hotdog, Italian beef, or a quarter pounder from the Rock ‘N Roll McDonald’s. You can get completely stuffed on Spanish tapas and soused on sangria for about $20.
The good thing about tapas, and the reason for the cuisine’s popularity, is the ability to try several different dishes. One of the original restaurants of this type, Cafe Iberico’s been serving tapas since before tapas were cool. Their dishes range from the expected Marinated Spanish Olives (aceitunas alinadas) to the very-American-seeming Chicken and Ham Puffs. Yes, these are deep-fried rolls of chicken and ham served with a white cream sauce. Since I’m from Indiana I naturally love ’em.
They also serve grilled octopus, which does not taste like chicken and is actually one of my favorites. I also love love love the Queso de Cabra (baked goat cheese in a tomato basil sauce), the grilled mushrooms, the smoked salmon, and the spicy potatoes. The grilled shrimp always sounds really good, but the couple of times I’ve had it it’s been overcooked. There are so many items to choose from it doesn’t really bother me, so instead I’ll get the chicken brochette with carmelized onions and rice. There are standard menu items, but they also feature weekly specials to mix it up a bit.
For those who don’t like to share their food, Cafe Iberico has several salads and entrees to choose from, including Paella. Desserts feature flan, of course, and last time I went there with a birthday group they served the Platano Al Caramelo – sauteed banana with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. WOW!
Cafe Iberico is not the place to go for a romantic date. For one reason, they don’t take reservations on Friday and Saturday at all, and the rest of the week only for parties of 6 or more. Another reason is it’s a casual atmosphere and it can get pretty loud. That being said, it’s a great restaurant for a get-together with friends over a pitcher of really good sangria.
I think that’s why I like the place so much. The surroundings are comfortable and amiable and I’m sharing good food and drinks with good friends. If I don’t like something they’ve picked there are several other dishes in front of me to choose from. The service is a little slow, but since I can walk out of there full and happy for less than a cover charge in a River North hotspot, who am I to complain?
739 N LaSalle
Mon – Thur 11am to 11:30pm
Fri 11am to 1:30am
Sat Noon to 1:30am
Sun Noon to 11pm