It’s 2021 — over the last few months we’ve seen a ton of restaurants metaphorically rise from the ashes and re-open after months (years!) of closure. But it’s still rare to see a restaurant literally rise from the ashes. That’s exactly what Solazo has done. The West Elsdon restaurant, formerly known as El Solazo, closed two years ago after a fire. Owner Pepe Barajas took the opportunity not only to re-build, but to re-concept, with a slightly more upscale menu and a fairly epic agave and cocktail program.

El Solazo was definitely one of those hidden gems that diners from all across the city travelled to visit (I had a few memorable visits myself). It got a lot of press, including many TV spots, but after a long, long run, it was definitely ready for a refresh. “There were a lot of things we always wanted to do with Solazo so the fire actually presented an opportunity for us,” says Barajas. “There were a lot of issues with the space that we were able to fix, like plumbing and electrical stuff. Aside from that, we got to add a bar and large patio for outdoor seating. We have a loyal following from the neighborhood so we wanted to be sure to offer some fan favorites, but with a new and improved vibe that encourages our customers to maybe try something new.”

Barajas also owns La Josie in the West Loop and wanted to bring a little bit of that energy to the new version of Solazo. “We’ve seen people get excited about our beverage program at La Josie and knew the West Elsdon neighborhood, where I grew up, needed this.”

As far as I’m concerned, the most exciting part of the new Solazo is the agave program. “I really like to support these families who have been distilling wild agaves in Mexico for generations, specifically in Jalisco,” explains Barajas. “There are so many options that people who enjoy tequila may not even know about, like mezcal and raicilla. We like to get our bar staff involved and work on educating our customers and sharing that passion.” Solazo’s bar will feature plenty of those lesser-known agave spirits, like bacanora, which tastes like a cross between mezcal and tequila. With more than 100 different agave spirits, Solazo will be a must visit for mezcal and tequila lovers.

Solazo also features flavorful modern Mexican dishes at a price point that won’t break the bank. Check out a taco filled with beer-battered Baja California striped bass, served with napa cabbage, pickled jalapenos, and agave cilantro aioli, or a tiger shrimp ceviche with cilantro, avocado, and chili piquin. I’m particularly excited for a taco stuffed with oyster mushrooms, serrano chiles, roasted corn, and huitlacoche.

Solazo has been open since late September. The restaurant is currently open just Thursday to Sunday, and be sure to check hours before you go. 5600 S. Pulaski Rd., West Elsdon