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Review

Sandy Noto

Garifuna Flava

Written by
Sandy Noto

There are probably hundreds of neighborhood spots in Chicago that look nearly identical to Garifuna Flava: a small dining room with white tile floors, 15 or so rearrangeable two-tops, and a TV playing Fox 32 on low volume, plus some posters that could have come straight from Belize’s tourism board. But if the board really wanted people to visit Belize, they could scrap their “colorful birds and scuba diving” campaign and roll out billboards of the food at Garifuna Flava instead.

Garifuna Flava is a Belizean restaurant that’s incredibly good at turning stewed meats into dishes you can’t stop thinking about, and it sort of feels like an algebraic equation trying to figure out what exactly goes on to make them so delicious. The stew beef and stew oxtails are must-orders, packed with more flavor per square inch (flvr/in²) than we knew was possible - they’re both rich and fall-off-your-fork tender. You can get either one for just $8-$10 or order them as a meal (which comes with a side, some fried plantains, and a salad) for $15-$18, which, by our calculation, means the flavor value quotient ([flvr/in²]/USD) is out of control.

Sandy Noto

While the stew beef and oxtails make us want to go full Will Hunting on an MIT chalkboard, all of the meat on the menu is similarly full of flavor: you won’t find anything dry or bland here. The jerk and stew chicken are both juicy and well-seasoned, and the jerk chicken tacos are a spicy answer to all the pale, boring chicken you’ve suffered through in your life. The sides section of the menu is also worth exploring, with things like a fatty pigtail that goes perfectly with the split pea stew it’s served in.

Garifuna Flava also has plenty of great seafood options, like the hudut baruru tikini, which is a cabbage and fish stew with an intense sweet and sour broth and a massive piece of kingfish lurking under the surface. It’s served with a mound of both ripe and unripe mashed plantains on the side, which soften into a dumpling-like bite when you dip a spoonful into the stew. Not everything about the experience shines as brightly, though. The beef patty is solid, but its pastry shell could be crispier and flakier, and the conch fritters are inconsistent, occasionally burnt on the outside and stringy on the inside. And while the food is definitely worth the wait here, you might also go long stretches without any water or condiments.

When it comes down to it, your calculations will probably only reveal that it’s more enjoyable to eat delicious food than to solve the equation “X = delicious.” So if you’re like us, at a certain point you’ll decide you don’t need to crack the exact combination of seasoning, time, and techniques, and you’ll just be happy Garifuna Flava exists to serve their stewed meats. You can put those math skills toward calculating the amount of money you’ll save by heading to Marquette Park instead of Belize.

Food Rundown

Sandy Noto
Panades

Crispy masa, smoky ground fish, and spicy shredded cabbage. The outside is salty and well-seasoned - like a Doritos Locos Taco shell that you won’t regret.

Sandy Noto
Hudut Baruru Tikini

If you’re into strong fish flavors, get this. Dunk the mashed plantains in the broth and repeat as needed.

Sandy Noto
Stew Beef

The menu describes this as pot roast, which is probably technically correct, but spiritually wrong. It’s so incredibly out of pot roast’s league.

Sandy Noto
Stew Oxtail

Another tender beef dish, roughly chopped and as soft and rich as a trust fund baby.

Cocktails

The tropical drinks here are sweet but not sickeningly so, and are reasonably priced at $5-$8. After your third Ambergris Breeze (named after the island in Belize, not the stuff that comes out of whales), you’ll be upset you’re not wearing flip-flops, until you walk outside and remember where you live.

Sandy Noto
Caramel Pound Cake

A hunk of vanilla-flavored comfort plastered with warm caramel.

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