S and I first learned about mole, the Mexican sauce, through Top Chef Masters, which was Rick Bayless’ winning dish in the season 1 finale (erm, spoiler alert). So, when we were planning our Chicago trip, S expressed that he wanted to go to Rick Bayless’ restaurant to try the mole. Later, when we found out that our hotel is basically right next to 3 of his restaurants, we ended up going to all of them, haha. Here, I’ll recap the visits to Frontera Grill and Xoco, the more casual eateries. (Topolobampo is his fine-dining establishment.)
The most famous of Rick Bayless’ restaurants is undoubtedly Frontera Grill, which has been around since 1987! We visited for lunch on Day 4 of our trip – we secured reservations about two weeks beforehand.
We ordered a lot of food for four people, by the way.S’s sister V really wanted guacamole, and we chose the “summer” one which had melon and cucumber – I ended up really liking this guac! Normally, S and I aren’t fans of avocados because it’s so heavy and creamy (I know, I know, we don’t deserve to live in California), but the melons really lightened it up and provided a nice sweetness. I’m going to try adding melons and cucumbers to guacamole next time! I love tamales and was really happy when S suggested that we order this, because it turned out to be super delicious. The tamale didn’t have any fillings – but it didn’t need any. The masa had plenty of flavor – it made me appreciate being in the Midwest, aka land of corn, and you can really taste how fresh it is. The crema and cheese simply added some creaminess and saltiness to balance out the sweet corn. This was the simplest yet best tamale I’ve ever had. We couldn’t resist ordering the big build-it-yourself taco platter, which had steak, chicken, and pork – the steak was the best and cooked perfectly – as well as plenty of fixings and a big heap of guacamole (unfortunately, not the summer one, but it was still pretty good).
Finally, the last highlight from this meal:We couldn’t decide which mole to order, so we got the trio to taste a variety of them. Out of all of these, my favorite was actually the pumpkin seed mole, which was perfect with the roasted vegetables. But honestly, all three were delicious, complex, and hearty.
Can you believe that those were only about half of the food we ordered for our group of four? We also had garlicky mushrooms, pork in tinga poblana, and a trio of smoked chicken taquitas, ceviche tostadas, and cheese empanadas. Needless to say, we left stuffed and really happy.
445 N. Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654
http://www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/frontera-grill/Our original plan was to go over to Xoco right after Frontera Grill for dessert, but as you saw we ate too much so we decided to do some sightseeing first… Someone mentioned to me that I should probably show a couple of non-food items from Chicago, to which I responded with a blank stare. But here you go:
The Bean is definitely one of the most iconic structures in Chicago. I took way too many silly selfies here, hehe.
Not too far from The Bean is the Buckingham Fountain, which is the biggest fountain I’ve ever seen – it has a capacity of 1.5 million gallons of water!
Every hour, there is a water display. We didn’t know about it until we were there – luckily, we got to see it!
So pretty. I can seriously stare at fountains all day.
Anyway, after hitting up some touristy spots and taking lots of photos, we decided to head back to the hotel… and stop by Xoco, of course.
Xoco is an Aztec word that means “little sister” – to denote that it’s the sister restaurant to Frontera Grill (and Topolobampo). It’s actually more like a café, with breakfast items, sandwiches and soups, and desserts and pastries. We were there specifically for the churros, which are quite famous.So, of course we ordered three of them. I chose the simple cinnamon sugar-coated one but added the side of dipping chocolate. I thought that the churro was great on its own already, but the chocolate made it even better! As for the glazed ones, the pistachio had a really unique taste – almond? – that S really loved – and he doesn’t even like pistachio! We loved these churros so much that we ordered another one right then and there, and S and I ended up at Xoco for our last meal in Chicago a couple of days later…
On our last day, Chicago’s weather had dropped to 52 degrees Fahrenheit for the day’s high, and we knew we were ready to go back home to San Diego. But we also took advantage of the cold weather to buy some hot drinks from Xoco – the drinking chocolate was super rich and simply delightful. Xoco claims to be the only restaurant in Chicago with a “bean-t0-cup” program – that is, they roast and process cocoa beans at the restaurant to make their own chocolate.S and I shared two tortas. Sadly, we didn’t make it in time for the breakfast chorizo-egg torta, which was recommended to me by several people. However, both of the lunch tortas were quite good. The bread reminded me of a sourdough baguette, but less hard and chewy. The ahogada torta was a bit on the salty side – probably from the broth, actually – but the shortrib one was spot on for flavor. It’s a Thursday special, so it’s not available all the time, and I was glad that we happened to visit on a Thursday!
For our last bite in Chicago, we had another pistachio-glazed churro! I’ll spare you the picture, though. It looked just the same as the first one we had.
445 N. Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654
I was originally planning to combine my visits to Frontera Grill, Xoco, and Topolobampo into one post, but now I realize that it’d be wayyy too long… so I’ll just stop here for now. Stay tuned for posts about an epic meal at Topolobampo, amazing Italian food, fried chicken, and all sorts of other yummy things we ate in Chi-town!