Friday, November 27, 2009

Xoco in Chicago

This is Rick Bayless's new venture -- he's the genius chef behind Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, the regional Mexican restaurants on North Clark Street in Chicago. Xoco (pronounced choh-ko) is a slang word for little sister, a waiter at Frontera told us. It's right next door to those great Bayless landmarks. Photos show my perfect sandwich and salad and an exterior of the storefront.
While waiting in line to have dinner at Frontera last week, we chatted with a couple who recommended Xoco for breakfast. I didn't think we'd fit it in at all, but on our last day in town I gave up on the Michigan Avenue shopping scene--to crowded--and headed on over. I arrived right at noon, just before the line started snaking out the door.
As with all Bayless's restaurants, it was worth the wait.
This is ultra-casual--you order at a counter, they give you a number, and when there's a spot for your party at a counter or table, they bring your food to you. The choices at lunch center on tortas (really good sandwiches on amazingly yummy rolls), either baked in a woodburning oven or grilled.
I decided on the Woodland mushroom baked torta: woodland roasted mushrooms, goat cheese, black beans, arugula and chile salsa. I also got a side salad of romaine, arugula, jicama and cucumbers--and I'm so glad for that because it came with the best salad dressing I have had in living memory! (I asked the cook about it later and got the ingredients: olive oil, lime juice, cilantro, pureed avocado and a little sour cream. She did not give me proportions but I am going to try making it.)
The sandwich could not have been better.
The menu also includes six entrees served only after 3 PM (night comes early in Chicago--remember it's on central time and closer to the north pole). All those sound fabulous--dishes such as pork belly vermicelli, seafood stew (shrimp, mussels, catfish, red chile, potatoes, onions, etc.), wood-roasted chicken pozole, short ribs, and so on.
One more thing you must know. Xoco also features "bean-to-cup chocolate" drinks with "Mexican cacao beans ground on premises."
I want to go back to Chicago soon if only to eat here at least a couple more times. Bueno!

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