Sometimes it’s fun to explore the flavors of a country before your trip. And, often times equally amusing to find that certain dishes bring back memories after your return. If you’re in the Chicago area, Irazu restaurant in Wicker Park is the place to scratch that itch. Browse this fantastic breakdown of typical Costa Rican foods by region provided by Irazu Chicago, and don’t forget to make a stop next time you’re in the city!
Food of the Central Valley
As the country’s commercial hub, the greater metropolitan area of the Central Valley unites a variety of Costa Rica’s regional influences. This, of course, is reflected in their local food. Nearly all of the country’s fresh produce and provisions find their way to the local farmer’s markets, restaurants, and homes. As a result, the city’s cuisine is diverse and eclectic. Chifrijo, Arroz con Pollo, and Empanadas are all staples that can be found in every kitchen.
Food of the Northern Plains
Small family-owned farms, outdoor wood-burning stoves, homegrown food, and a strong emphasis on tradition characterize the food of the Northern Plains of Costa Rica. This region’s hills and grasslands are home to large herds of animals, which in turn produce meat for most of the country. The Sabaneros, who work with the grazing animals in this area, know how to give these animals the best quality of life possible in order to honor nature’s cycle of life.
Food of the Pacific Coast
Fishing communities in small coastal towns can be found all along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. This allows for a wide selection of fresh and locally sourced seafood, which can make it to every household by lunchtime. This great assortment of seafood, often times referred to as “fruits of the ocean”, includes a colorful array of red snapper, sea bass, clams, shrimp, tuna, octopus, and a variety of other fish and seafood from the Pacific.
Food of the Caribbean Coast
Due to the blending of cultures along the Caribbean Coast, Limón has a strong Afro-Caribbean heritage. This cultural fusion is strongly evidenced in their local food and cuisine. Coconut milk has become a staple in many dishes, along with other spices such as cinnamon, ginger, curry, and thyme brought to the Caribbean by Dutch spice traders. The integration of local tropical produce such as bananas, plantains, and pineapple also play a big part in their distinguished flavors.
This content and photos were provided by Henry Cerdas at Irazu Chicago. All of these regional and bold flavors are featured on Irazu’s menu, which you can visit in Wicker Park, Chicago!
Henry Cerdas has always had his feet firmly planted in his dual citizen, bi-cultural roots. As a Chicago-born, Cubs-loving, Tico (Costa Rican), he spoke English at school and Spanish in his childhood home, enjoyed a good Chicago hot dog, and daily was fed the aromatic and savory Costa Rican dishes cooked by his mother. In 1990, his mother channeled her desire to work independently and opened Irazu. Henry helped out at the restaurant over the years focusing much of his time traveling around the world and completing a degree in International Business Management. In 2009, Henry left his corporate job and took the restaurant over from his parents.
Although not a chef, Henry is a culinary entrepreneur who has been inspired by his mother’s cooking. He understands how to balance the desires of contemporary palates with traditionally derived recipes. Over time, he has evolved these recipes and the overall menu, appealing to vegetarian and vegan diets as well as expanding fish and seafood offerings.
Henry and Irazu have been featured on the Food Network, invited to the James Beard, Chef’s Night Out Gala, and have been recognized by Guy Fieri and others as one of the go-to restaurants in Chicago.
When not at the restaurant, Henry spends time with his wife and two children traveling to all ends of the earth where they delight in a broad range of culinary experiences from street food to fine dining and everything in between.