Monday, March 18, 2013

¡Ay Chiwowa!

Location: 311 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60654
Ay Chiwowa on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
How can anyone not like an establishment with the motto "Tequila, Tacos, & Tavern"?  This new Mexican restaurant located in the River North area not only has a creative name, but excellent food and drinks.  They feature a variety of kegged cocktails assuring each drink is consistent across the board.  In terms of food, they have a great selection of Mexican cuisine made "bar friendly."  By keep their dishes on the smaller side with intense flavors, they are able to keep their prices lower and allow customers to try a variety of their offerings.  Personally, I really enjoyed their tacos and guacamole as you will read in my below descriptions.  And I really loved the three house-made sauces that can compliment many of their dishes.  In terms of staff, the waitresses were very attentive and extremely friendly.  They made frequent trips to make sure my friend and I had drinks and would always put our food orders in quickly so we wouldn't wait much.  The atmosphere is fun and loud.  The rooms is very dark and the tables are small.  It has that lounge/bar feel that is a great addition to this area of River North.  I highly suggest checking this place out... maybe not for all their food items (it can be hit or miss), but definitely for their torta and their kegged margarita!  Those are awesome!

What We Ate:

Mango Guacamole & Chips

After having a seat at our table, the waitress immediately suggested the Ay Margarita and the Mango Guacamole.  We ordered the guac which appeared within a couple of minutes.  I absolutely loved this guacamole because of both consistency and flavor.  The avocado and other typical guac vegetables were roughly cut, making it more of a chunkier guacamole.  The mango was chopped and mixed in.  It gave an amazing contrasting sweetness that paired well with the typical lime and cilantro flavors that guacamole has.  I did wish they cut the mango a little chunkier so each bite would have a more prominent mango flavor.  It comes with plenty of chips.  Also try adding one of the sauces (listed at bottom)... the chile de arbol adds a nice heat without being too overbearing on the guacamole.

Blackened Fish Tacos

After our appetizer, we decided on trying the fish tacos.  Most restaurants have great meat tacos, but fish tacos are much harder to achieve perfection.  Ay Chiwowa's fish taco was almost there.  This tilapia filet was covered in blackening seasoning and quicky sautéed.  It is served on top of a corn tortilla with a mango aioli and a corn salsa.  The reason it wasn't perfect was because they only used one corn tortilla.  I suggest they use an extra corn tortilla (2 total) like at the authentic Mexican restaurants.  Without question, I recommend this dish.  (Each order comes with two tacos)

Mole Verde Mini Tostadas

We also decided on trying the mini tostadas.  We chose the mole verde which was a tostada made with refried beans, chicken, and a mole verde.  It is served on a 2-3 inch tostada shell that reminded me of a typical nacho chip.  The chicken is added with a heavy hand... with easily a half inch of topping gracing each nacho chip.  The chicken was tender and the beans added some contrasting texture, but overall, it wasn't that great.  The mole verde was nothing special... just a very salty sauce that the chicken is swimming in.  Probably wouldn't order this again... unless I chose something other then the chicken.  (Each order comes with 3 mini tostadas)

Barbacoa Torta

Having tried many tortas throughout the city (see Torta Sanity Spectrum), I was excited to try Ay Chiwowa's version on the Mexican sandwich.  The barbacoa torta is made up of barbacoa or shredded beef, refried beans, queso fresco, salsa roja, and avocado.  It is all served on probably the best traditional bolillo bun I have ever eaten.  The bun was incredible!  They toasted it to perfection with an unreal crispy crust on the outside and the softest center.  The meat was generously applied and had a nice somewhat spicy seasoning.  A thick cut slice of both queso fresco and avocado topped the sandwich giving it both a saltiness and a creaminess.  When compared to all the tortas in the city... it is without question the 3rd best that I have tried.  A must have dish!

Chorizo con Papas Quesadilla

The quesadilla was awful.  I would never recommend this dish.  It is made using a corn tortilla and overly stuffed with queso fresco, chorizo, and maybe potatoes.  I honestly couldn't taste or see any potato. The cheese when melted and mixed with the chorizo turned the dish into a complete oily mess.  It was dripping grease and awful.  There was no taste to it except for the oily cheese.  Add some of the salsa to help break up the one-sided flavors.  Better yet... don't order this.  Maybe a suggestion for the restaurant--reduce the amount of cheese and use a flour tortilla rather than corn.  (Each order comes with one quesadilla made with a typical corn tortilla)

3 Sauces - Avocado, Peanut, Chile de Arbol

I love the restaurant's sauce concept.  Each table has all three of these sauces allowing the customer to choose which one they enjoy on the different dishes you can order.  Personally, I loved the peanut sauce... it reminded me of a chipotle peppers aioli with a very mild peanut flavor.  The chile de arbol was the best to add heat without affecting the natural flavor of the dish.  And, the avocado was nothing special.  It kind of reminded me of a watery guacamole.  Try em all!


Best word to describe this dessert is WOW!  The dessert comes with two good sized churros that are fried fresh to order.  They are rolled in a cinnamon sugar mixture and served with a hot cajeta dipping sauce.  That sauce is to die for... it is a caramel like sauce that reminds me of liquid butterscotch.  It is extremely rich and buttery and served piping hot.  The churro is perfectly cooked with a nice crispy crust on the outside and a hot soft center.  I wish we ordered more of these.  Do not leave without trying this incredible dessert.  (Each order comes with two churros)

Ay Margarita

We decided to try a couple of their kegged cocktails.  The Ay Margarita was recommended by the waitress and contains the following ingredients... avion repasado, grand marnier, lime juice, agave nectar, himalayan pink salt rim.  Personally, I haven't had that many margaritas so it is difficult to assess.  But these do the trick.  And they have various sizes depending on how many people are with you.  I highly recommend this margarita though.

Copa de Nada

The other kegged cocktail I chose was the Copa de Nada.  It has the following ingredients... disaronno, bacardi coco, bacardi oakheart, cazaderos anejos, bacardi 8-year, pineapple juice, and a fruit salsa topper.  I didn't enjoy this cocktail too much.  It is extremely sweet especially with the added fruit salsa and pineapple juice.  The salsa also clogs the straw so just be warned.  I don't like sweet drinks so I probably wouldn't order this one again.

Strawberry Jalapeño Margarita

The final drink we tried was the Strawberry Jalapeño Margarita.  Such an interesting combination that included lunazul blanco, los amantes mezcal, muddled strawberries, cilantro, jalapeño, agave, lime juice, and a strawberry slice.  The drink was interesting.  Make sure you give it a couple of swigs before judging.  At first, the margarita is very smokey.  It has like a chipotle chili flavor rather than jalapeño.  There is an underlying sweetness that shines through after a few drinks.  It is definitely interesting and something to try.

The DOs/DON'T:
- Parking on the street around here costs $4.00 per hour.  There is plenty of parking west of the restaurant on Chicago Avenue so just keep an eye out.
- Try their larger sizes on their "Kegged Cocktails".  It is an interesting concept but essentially it is like sharing a fishbowl at other places.
- DO come here to pregame... I think this is a great Chicago Bar to stop by and pregame at before heading to one of the other clubs in the city.  Or late night food anyone?

- Unless they change their quesadilla recipe, I would definitely avoid them.

How far would I walk for this food?

Let me know what everything thinks!  I highly suggest trying this place out and I know I will be back soon enough!

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