Chilam Balam: Local, fresh interior Mexican food

Brian Ziegler

September 09 2009 - 8:36 AM

Only open for over two weeks at the time of this writing, Chilam Balam is an East Lakeview gem situated on the cellar floor of the former  La Tavernetta.  The brightly colored walls and exposed brick make for a very intimate feel that a lot of restaurants strive for but seldom live up to.  Co-owner Soraya Rendon greeted us, and her brother took care of our order.   We were instantly charmed by the friendliness and enthusiasm, and even the details, such as the menu that appeared to be wrapped in something like corn husks, were a welcome part of the atmosphere.

Most of the items on the menu are small plates, and here we definitely wanted to try out a lot of different things.  We started out with excellent, freshly made empanadas with braised mushrooms in pipian verde (a sauce made with pumpkin seeds, chiles, and tomatillos), cheese, and a mysterious herb called epazote, containing a pungent smell similar to anise but stronger.   The empanadas were not too doughy or crusty but soft and fresh.  The delicious freshly-made corn masa memelas (a corn meal) were served goat cheese, black been puree, and a wickedly hot arbol chile salsa.  

 Next, we had grilled hanger steak that was marinated all day long, making it supple and delicate like a tenderloin or even a prime rib and not tough, as a hanger steak tends to be.  The small potatoes and guajillo chile sauce were nice touches as well.  I was happy to see the halibut used with the ceviche, as halibut has more flavor, and it was served with jicama (a root vegetable), red onion, cucumber, cilantro, avacado, and tomato over tostadas.

We cannot emphasize how the freshness and interplay of the various ingredients made a difference here.  Usually my wife and I split a dessert, but we decided we each had to have our own.  I ordered what appeared to be a cake mold of chile mixed with chocolate with a goat cheese center.  My wife had empanadas filled with peanut butter served with Oaxacan chocolate dipping sauce and a fig spread.

I was literally pining for more,even though I was full.  I thanked 23-year old chef Chuy Valencia for a great meal.  We will come back again many more times, though I am sure we will need a reservation next time.  

None of the major press caught up with this BYOB restaurant: no postings are on Metromix or the Reader, but it's only a matter of time when this place will be booked solid.

Chilam Balam
3023 N. Broadway
773-296-6901

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