There are three words that many Chicago diners dread to hear: “cash only” and “BYOB.” Despite that fact that Lakeview’s Chilam Balam invokes all three of those frightening terms, the rustic ambiance and fresh, farm-to-table inspired menu is likely to win you over.
From the outside, the cozy garden-level cafe doesn’t look like much but when you step inside, you’ll be hard pressed not to feel charmed by the colorful, rustic dining room decor. Space is tight in here, so you’ll likely hear your neighbors conversations, but the service is generally fast, friendly and efficient.
Chef Chuy Valencia, a veteran of the iconic Frontera Grill/Topolobampo and recent contestant on Top Chef Texas, is behind this seasonal, shared plates concept that includes options like blue marlin ceviche with habanero, tomato, cucumber and fresh lime; corn masa memelas stuffed with generous helpings of, black beans and aged goat cheese; and seared scallops garnished with fried parsley, bacon and preserved lemon in a spinach cream sauce.
Though the portions are fairly small, even by shared-plate standards, the food is fresh and flavorful. The grilled flank steak with roasted potatoes and crispy onion is a can’t-miss for omnivores and the arugula salad with roasted yellow beets, edamame and manchego cheese is the perfect dish to counteract some of the heavier, stick-to-your ribs fare on the menu. Another highlight? The flautas stuffed with chicken thigh, chipotle sauce and pickled vegetables (pictured above).
Though you’ll need to bring your own beer, wine or tequila if you want to imbibe, sangria, aguas frescas and limeade for margaritas are available by the pitcher for DIY mixology. There is no corkage fee, but there is a limit on the amount of wine you can bring: one bottle per two diners – to cut down on guests lingering over vino when there is a line outside on busy nights.
There is a “no reservations” policy, so plan accordingly on Friday and Saturdays: put your name on the list and head upstairs to the nearby Monsignor Murphy’s sports bar, where you can drink beers and play darts until it’s your turn for guacamole.