Drink of the week:
A pitcher of red sangria at Cafe Iberico
, 739 N. LaSalle Dr., on a Saturday night.
The damage: $11.95 for a pitcher of red or white sangria that pours four to five generous glasses.
Thousands of bars in Chicago, why this one? Cafe Iberico need not purchase ad space or air time. From the looks of its inconspicuous exterior, the place seems to suggest that it barely needs a sign. I generally loathe restaurants that refuse reservations then make you wait more than two hours for a table. But a place this packed is packed for a reason. My rationale: cheap, delicious tapas and sangria.
How it went down: Do not go to Iberico at 8 p.m. on a Saturday without a plan. Though the restaurant is huge, its bar is useless for waiting unless you make a living by cramming into small spaces a la a magician's assistant. My group headed to The Kerryman a few blocks away, and when we eventually ended up back at Iberico, we felt buzzed and hungered for tortilla Espanola and red sangria.
I've tasted sangria flavored with everything from gin to Squirt. Iberico opts for a sweeter concoction: a mix of Rioja, wine from Spain's Rio Oja region; triple sec; orange juice and Fanta Orange. Since three out of the four ingredients have an orange flavor, it's no surprise that Iberico's sangria tastes of tangy citrus. The orange flavor doesn't overwhelm, but it does mask the alcohol, which makes the vino go down so fast you start speaking Spanish to your Bulgarian waiter.
Would I want to become a regular? If Iberico ever hires traffic cops to manage crowd flow, I'd go back more often. I've eaten tapas in bodegas in Spain, and Iberico's 25 cold and hot tapas taste truly authentic. Its tender pulpo a la plancha, grilled octopus with fries, comes seasoned in a savory marinade, and the grilled shrimp leaves a pool of garlicky olive oil that's perfect for dipping your bread in. For dessert, I used my straw to stab the chopped oranges, pears and lemons that bobbed in the sangria pitcher.
Though the waiters running by with 10 plates per arm make the place lively, I've never been fond of Iberico's cafeteria-like decor. Still, at the end of the night, or, technically, the beginning of the next day, since it was well past midnight, we only shelled out $25 per person for a ridiculous amount of food and drink. Is it worth the wait? After four glasses of sangria, what wait?
Dana Kavan scours the city for drink deals so good you'll offer to buy a round and creative libations that outshine your average on-the-rocks concoctions. Want to give Dana tips on where to rack up a bar tab? Share your finds before her next night out.