Rick Bayless has done it again.
His casual style Taqueria and Brewery, Cruz Blanca Cerveceria, which opened a little over a year ago in the West Loop (904 W. Randolph) is packing them in.
The restaurant, that was four years in the making, was inspired by Emil Dercher, the brewer who left France to go to Mexico City, to sell beers under the Cruz Blanca label.
Here's what we found on a recent visit.
THE FOOD: Order the tacos. The tacos are prepared Mexican style with freshly grilled meat featuring tortilla's made with corn from Oaxaca. They are served on a paper-covered platter (see photo at top of post).
Especially delicious is the Tlayudas ($11.95) a crispy platter-style tostada with black bean spread, colby-jack and añejo cheese, grilled knob onions, güero chile and red salsa with additional toppings available (we added grilled chicken $3.00). A small but interesting choice of other platters (most $12.95) along with appetizers and salads are available.
THE BREWS: The beverage menu features a world of interpretations of classic German, Austrian, and French styles of beer. Sample craft beers made in the European tradition--Bieres de Garde and many more—with a Mexican touch. Think malts, honey and botanicals--most brewed locally. Not sure what brew...ask for a sample. Another nice feature--you can order a 1/2 beer. Wine and spirits including Margarita's are also on the menu.
THE VIBE: Friendly. There's fair weather seating on the outdoor patio. Indoors the inviting space features communal tables where you can rub shoulders with strangers that by the end of evening could become your friends. There's also seating upstairs and at the bar.
THE WAIT: Reservations are not booked so you may be in for a long wait especially on weekends. You can wait at the bar but there is limited space there. Best bet, go early or on a week night. Lunch is also an option.
THE SERVICE: Confusing. First timers would do well to check out the menu and ordering process before visiting Cruz Blanca--especially at busy times. For the most part, you order your own meal at the back of the restaurant--one counter for food--one for drinks. Then you bring your drinks and number to your table where the food will be delivered--or in other cases take a pager and pick-up your order when paged. You pay when you order. If you want another beverage or more food, you must go back to the counter to order more. If you are lucky, you may be able to flag down a server to help you as we were able to do with Anthony who was spot on--even finding us a space inside when it started to rain.
THE SOUNDTRACK: Conversational friendly with the sounds of televisions and South of the Border music.
What: Cruz Blanca Cerveceria”
Where: 904 W. Randolph St.
When: Tuesday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: 11 a.m.-midnight
Sunday: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Specials: Sunday Funday: Half-priced draft beers all day
Taco Tuesday: Half-priced tacos 4-6:30 p.m.
Wednesday-Friday: $3 brewers choice drafts 4-6:30 p.m.
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