We had to wait in line for an hour. It was worth it.
This summer we took a low-key vacation, visiting family in the Midwest. Our first stop was Chicago, which is such a great food city and one the few places with good Mexican in this part of the country. Okay, it’s the only place.
My main Chicago food goal was to try one of Rick Bayless’ restaurants. So focused, we were, that we pretty much stepped off the plane and into the around-the-block line at XOCO, Bayless’ ode to Mexican street food.
Until you actually get your food, the XOCO experience is torturous, with the line situated so that you’re forced to gape at the sidewalk diners already relishing crusty tortas, meaty caldos (soups), “bean-to-cup” chocolate and churros that you want to reach out and grab. I did my best to focus on the menu, but trust me, narrowing it down was no simple task.
We started with chips and guacamole, which I’ve always heard is a standout at Bayless’ Frontera Grill. The chips were just crispy and warm, and the guac was flavorful, but I think when you grow up in LA, and Mexican at that, it’s hard to be ultra-impressed with guacamole. Nevertheless, it was a good start.
Next came the soup. There are six on the menu, and they all have their charms. After a lengthy debate of Pork Belly Fideos vs. Carnitas (with potato-masa dumplings!), the pork belly won. This soup (pictured at the top of the post) doesn’t mess around—it’s damn serious, from its deep, rich color to its bold, smoky flavor. The whole thing just kind of slaps you in the face, but it hurts so good. The slices of pork belly are cooked to fatty/crispy perfection and the noodles are toasty brown. Avocado, mushrooms and zucchini even it all out. Just writing about it is making me yearn.
We also tried the Pibil Torta because I find it too difficult to not order conchinita pibil (slow-roasted suckling pig) when it’s on a menu. The meat was moist and juicy, so we didn’t have to suffer a dry torta. The black bean spread was a nice touch, and the pickled onions perked things up, as did the habanero salsa that comes on the side. All this is cooked in a woodburning oven, for a super crispy finish.
Even thought chile pasilla brownies and bacon streusel were offered, we kept it classic with a churro with a side of soft serve ice cream. Wow! I love the texture of soft serve, but the taste is always so fake, so this handmade Mexican vanilla was a real treat. You could even see the vanilla bean flakes in the swirl.
449 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60654