It’s a good thing that Wholly Frijoles is BYOB as the luxury of being able to bring and drink whatever you want goes a long way to helping to overcome the restaurant’s weak service. If you have time for a leisurely dinner and drinks, the excellent food makes it well worth a trip.
The spot at 3908 W. Touhy Ave. in Lincolnwood is cheerfully decorated with orange walls covered with bright-colored paintings, hanging masks and sombreros. Plants hang by the windows and are arranged throughout the small space. The restaurant was utterly packed at 7 p.m. Friday, with several large groups waiting for tables by the door.
As a party for two, we managed to get a seat almost immediately. Wholly Frijoles uses its space as efficiently as possible by crowding tables so closely that you’re nearly sharing your dinner with the nearby tables. Over the course of our meal, we fielded questions from a neighboring group about what we were eating and got recommendations on what to order. The space brings out a mix of couples and groups of all ages taking advantage of the BYOB policy with bottles of mixed margaritas, wine and Corona beer.
Service was mediocre at best. We were content with the quite good warm chips and thick mildly spicy salsa while we waited for a server to come and give us a menu and a corkscrew so we could open our own wine bottle. We asked for recommendations but her opinions were vague, largely asking us what we might like and naming a few items on the menu without much elaboration on what they were like or why she would choose them.
I went with the camarones bien macho ($13.95), which she had mentioned, and my boyfriend ordered the grilled skirt steak and enchilada combo ($13.95). Both dishes come with a cup of soup or salad, so we decided to try the former, which was white corn soup that day, and the tortilla soup ($2 a la carte).
I was disappointed with the corn soup, which was actually mushy hominy corn rather than what I was expected. Even though I enjoyed the crunchy shredded cabbage and strong cilantro flavor, I left my soup largely uneaten. The tortilla soup was much better, a thick and moderately spiced blend of roasted vegetables topped with a bit of sour cream and tortilla strips.
Our entrees were both excellent and beautifully presented. The shrimp are marinated in lime, tequila and garlic and sautéed with spicy chile. The large, succulent shrimp has a great after burn and were served divided up by hot peppers on a bed of mashed potatoes that nicely soaked up the spice.
The skirt steak was juicy and tender, filled with flavor that blended well with the serving of yellow rice. The chicken enchilada with salsa verde was also very good, made extra hearty by the addition of potatoes with the meat. There was enough food that we had a little meat and enchilada to take home.
We would have been an easy sell for dessert, but again our server wasn’t much help. We were considering a dish featuring sautéed bananas and mangos or the coconut flan ($4.95). She warned us that the fruit dish was very sweet, but couldn’t advise if we should still get it or the flan and just listed off the most popular options of the mango cheesecake ($4.95) and fried ice cream ($5.25). But both seemed a little rich to us after a big meal, so we just finished our chips and salsa and left.