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Review

Sandy Noto

Bayan Ko

$$$$
Written by
Sandy Noto

Here at The Infatuation, we get a lot of requests for something we’ve come to call the SCRPRTCUWAFF - or “super cute reasonably priced restaurant to catch up with a few friends.” And this little restaurant in Ravenswood is pretty much a perfect example.

As we explain in our guide, SCRPRTCUWAFFs are places that are kind of quiet (but not boring), relatively small, and generally not located in neighborhoods full of tourists with rolling luggage. They also have entrees that are mostly under $20. And Bayan Ko satisfies all these criteria. It’s in a quiet, residential neighborhood, the space has interesting touches (like a huge orchid mural on the wall), and almost everything on the menu costs less than $17. Plus, it’s BYOB, and the service - from the chef to the people in the kitchen who’ll say “hi” as you walk by them to get to the bathroom - is incredibly friendly.

See the full list of Chicago’s Best Restaurants Of 2019.

The menu here is short, so deciding what to eat won’t take too long, and you can focus on catching up with friends/recapping that terrible date with the dolphin trainer from the Shedd. The food is both Filipino and Cuban, but there’s more of the former than the latter - like a delicious kare kare (peanut stew) made with tender oxtail and long beans, and a crispy pork belly served with a tangy papaya slaw, both of which need to be on your table. As for the Cuban portion of the menu, the ropa vieja is fantastic - it’s made with perfectly seasoned shredded brisket, and it’s a dish you’re going to want all to yourself.

But like your friend’s long, tedious story about PR-ing while running the Shamrock Shuffle, not everything here is a hit. For example, the luglug (with saffron, scallops, uni, chicharrons, and a raw egg yolk) and the vegetable pancit (with cabbage, mushrooms, and carrots) are both extremely rich and, unlike the perfectly balanced kare kare and lechon, also kind of one-note. After a few bites, you’ll probably be done with both of them, which is a shame when everything else is so good.

You might already have a reliable SCRPRTCUWAFF. But maybe you’re tired of going someplace where your group can boredly finish each other’s food orders like you’re in a loveless marriage. So if you haven’t been already, consider making Bayan Ko your new spot. Just be sure to bring plenty of wine, and spend the entire night unpacking exactly what happened with that dolphin trainer.

Food Rundown

Sandy Noto
Croqueta Tots

We’d happily eat these little fried balls of pork every day. The slightly sweet jufran aioli that comes with them is also great.

Oxtail Kare Kare

After a bad week, we want to be face down in Bayan Ko’s kare kare. It’s a peanut stew, filled with tender bone-in oxtail and long beans that help break up the richness. A salty, fermented shrimp paste comes on the side.

Sandy Noto
Ropa Vieja

The ropa vieja is one of the tastiest things here, period. Bayan Ko’s version is made with shredded brisket (that’s perfectly seasoned), and comes with maduros, rice, and black beans. A bite of all those things together will momentarily make you forget that your car was towed this morning.

Mussels

Even if you’re not a fan of mussels, you should give this dish a try. The rich coconut broth has plenty of lemongrass to brighten it up, and there’s also a little bit of chili to add heat. Use the rice to soak everything up.

Bayan Lechon

The pork belly skin is nice and crispy (and might get stuck in your teeth), and there’s a sweet and tangy papaya salad that goes perfectly with the meat. The pork liver sauce adds another delicious level of flavor.

Cubano

Most of the food here is perfect for sharing with a small group. But if you don’t like sharing (or you just really like well-made sandwiches), you’ll enjoy the Cubano. There’s a generous amount of pork shoulder, ham, and Swiss, and we really like the fluffy bread. That said, we’d rather get the ropa vieja or the kare kare.

Sandy Noto
Luglug

The luglug here is made with saffron, scallops, uni, chicharrons, and a raw egg yolk. The noodles are cooked nicely, and there’s the perfect amount of saffron. But the combination of so many rich ingredients ends up tasting very heavy.

Pancit

This is one of the few vegetarian options on the menu, and it involves noodles stir-fried with cabbage, shiitake, carrots, and sesame soy sauce. Like the luglug, it’s heavy, and ultimately also kind of boring.

Sandy Noto
Ube Sundae

There are only two desserts to choose from, an ube sundae and flan. Get the sundae. The ube ice cream is creamy and delicious, and the sundae involves some flan anyway (as well as red bean, black sea salt, and coconut).

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