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'Top Chef Master' Rick Bayless Cooks Up Mexican Street Food At Chicago's New 'Xoco'

Where: 449 N. Clark St. [map], Chicago, IL, United States, 60654
November 11, 2009 at 9:14 AM | by | ()

After winning Bravo's first Top Chef Masters, Rick Bayless didn't sit around resting on his 27-ingredient mole. Instead, he went to work and recently opened Xoco (pronounced "Shoh-koh"), Mexican slang for "little sister." It's a fitting name, since the Mexican street food restaurant sits next to its upscale big sisters, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, in Chicago's River North 'hood.

The line to get in the no-reservations restaurant is out the door for lunch and dinner, so we decided to avoid the crowds and get some breakfast chow. It was a good decision, since there weren't too many people there and we didn't have a problem snagging our own table in the 40-seat cafe, which has mostly bar-like seating.

We experience the flavor, after the jump.

What a way to start the day. Swap your daily coffee for one of the Mexican hot chocolates. You won't find powdered Swiss Miss here; Bayless grinds the cacao beans on the premises and the result is a thick drink that's like melted chocolate in a cup. Our favorite of the Mexican hot chocolates was the super-rich Barcelona, to which we added homemade dulce de leche. The Almendrado, with a shot of chocolate and almond milk, was good but less rich. Okay, so they aren't exactly a caffeine replacement. They are more like desserts. A perfect pairing for the drinks is the fresh hot churros rolled in cinnamon sugar. We'd eat these delectable treats every morning if we could.

For a more substantial meal, order up the empanada and the savory bread pudding. It may sound like a lot, but both come in small portions. The flaky empanada is filled with poblano peppers and scrambled eggs. The bread pudding looks more like a quiche, but it's creamy with cheese, small chunks of ham and poblano. The chorizo egg torta was a less successful dish. The sammie's spicy chorizo, poblano, cheese and avocado got lost in the big thick bread, so we ate it open-faced instead to taste more of the flavors.

Looking at the lunch and dinner menus, they focus on tortas like the cochinita pibil, a wood-roasted pig with achiote, black beans, pickled onion and habanero, as well as caldos (soup), like a shortrib red chile soup with roasted veggies, epazote, wild arugula and lime. All of the meals use ingredients from local farms and some even come from Bayless's own home garden and the rooftop garden at Frontera.

Though we didn't spot him there during our visit, Bayless supposedly mans the stove at Xoco frequently, so be sure to check whether the Top Chef Master frying your churros. But don't just visit to get a peek at the celeb chef. This little sister's cuisine can stand on its own among her siblings' food.

Related Stories:
· Experience A 'Top Chef Masters' Meal At Rick Bayless's Chicago Restaurants [Jaunted]
· Top Chef Travel Coverage [Jaunted]
· All Food Travel Coverage [Jaunted]

[Photos: Jennifer Kester]

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