910 W. Buena Avenue
Chicago, IL 60613
www.baronbuena.com

They say that food is as much a visual medium as it is a taste-based one. While I normally would agree wholeheartedly, my logic of “if it looks good, it probably tastes good” ran into a wall when I dined at the Bar on Buena a few nights ago. While I can say that I enjoyed my meal very much and my beer even more, I can’t rightly say if the food I ordered looked any certain way – mainly because I couldn’t really see it at all. As the picture accompanying this review points out, visuals aren’t particularly important to the Bar on Buena, at least not after sunset.

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A small, inconspicuous spot located, as its name implies, on Buena Avenue in Chicago’s Buena Park neighborhood, the Bar on Buena is easy to walk by without noticing. I, in fact, did so for the two years I spent living on the very same street not even a block away from this little bar & grill where it sits tucked between a liquor store and walk-up residences. A charming neighborhood spot that I always see people going in and out of, I finally stopped in for dinner and a drink. Immediately upon entering the bar I had to grab on to my dining partner’s elbow so as not to lose him in the crowded darkness. Though the Bar is a relatively small place as it is, they seemed to have only installed enough lighting to illuminate 1/8 of the room. Throughout the entire restaurant there are only eight small hanging lamps, each positioned around the edges of the room at random intervals, leaving the center tables trapped in a cavernous black hole. Naturally, we were seated in the heart of this darkness, left with only a small candle to provide enough light to read the menu. Like most of the diners around us, we ended up using our phones as makeshift flashlights as we struggled to read exactly what we might be able to order.

We went with a burger and a veggie burrito, pretty standard fare. Dubbed the B.O.B Burger, this entree is a take on the spot’s basic patty, Burger on Buena, and is topped with Red Dragon cheddar, pancetta and a fried egg. While the menu boasts it as “the burger to end all burgers,” we thought it was so-so. A nicely grilled patty, yes, topped with an egg fried to the exact right amount of gooeyness, but the welsh-style cheddar was hardly present, a major disappointment for my beer-cheese loving friend. My veggie burrito was good, but not great. Supposedly made with jalapeño rice, this burrito was relatively bland, probably because it was proportionally more cheese than anything else. It wasn’t bad by any means but I would be more likely to recommend this burrito to someone who doesn’t like vegetables but knows they should trick themselves into eating some than I would to a veggie lover.

Small dissatisfactions aside, I really can’t complain about this understated spot. It carries a great beer list with a beer-of-the-month program that highlights a range of up to 10 specialty beers at discounted prices and it feels like a place you can comfortably hang out with friends at. Their tap consists of 19 faucets, they’ve got specialty whiskey and beer flights for curious drinkers to test drive and thanks to a large cooler, carry 100 different beers on any given night. Despite what is possibly the most insanely small kitchen I have ever seen – it is literally a small partitioned corner of the bar – they crank out some pretty decent food and offer a menu wide enough to entice exploration. Just a stone’s throw from Wrigleyville and a sea of Bud Light, this little bar is a safe haven for lovers of a filling meal and crafty brews. And if you’re looking for such a place to practice being blind in, the Bar on Buena is totally it.

[Photo: Sandy Sabel]

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