January 21, 2013

449 North Clark Street Chicago, IL | www.fronterafiesta.com

Having previously dined at Topolobampo and experiencing the culinary skill of Chef Rick Bayless, I could not return to Chicago without visiting one of his other establishments. Located just two doors down from the “fine dining” setting of Topolobampo, Xoco showcases the more casual side of Mexican cuisine with a special focus on tortas. Do not let the seemingly simple concept of sandwiches fool you, as there is a ton of flavor to be had here.

Not an hour had passed by from checking into our hotel when we hit the road for a short walk over to Clark Street to get to Xoco before opening time. We arrived about fifteen minutes ahead of the start of lunch service and found a small line already forming. Once inside you are shown to the order line with menus up on the wall. The process is relatively quick and easy although by the time we placed our order and grabbed a table the line had grown to over twenty hungry customers.

Armed with an order number we sat down and sipped at a very refreshing watermelon-lime drink. A few minutes later, the seating area now completely packed, our first few snacks began arriving from the kitchen.

Guacamole & Chips – Freshly made chips, two salsas, Frontera guacamole

Chips, salsa, and guacamole are always a welcomed snack and Xoco’s versions are no exception. The crunch of freshly made chips combined with the heat of the salsa and creaminess of the guacamole work very well to awaken the palate.

Chicharrones – Tamazula hot sauce, queso añejo, onions, cilantro, lime

Our second snack was a varied mixture of flavors conveyed on crunchy pork rinds. The pork rinds themselves are airy and crisp, each bite delivering a little fattiness. The balance of mild heat, bright citrus, and savory cheese really sing, making you want to go back for more. This is likely one of the best interpretations of chicharrones I’ve had.

Ahogada Torta – Golden pork carnitas, black beans, tomato broth, spicy arbol chile sauce, pickled onions

Among the other food bloggers I follow this is probably the most talked about dish at Xoco. Chef Bayless’ interpretation of this “drowned” sandwich is every bit as delicious as I had anticipated. The combination of ingredients in the sandwich is delightfully savory and complex. As the tomato broth soaks into the sandwich it adds a punch of heat and acidity, further deepening the flavor. This sandwich is undoubtedly one of the best I’ve ever had.

Cochinita Pibil Torta – Wood-roasted suckling pig with achiote, black beans, pickled onion, habanero

Showcasing a somewhat similar mixture of flavor as the ahogada torta, the cochinita pibil ups the heat factor by a good margin with the use of habanero. The great pork flavor of the suckling pig is magnified by the roasting process. The slight bitterness and earthy flavor of achiote adds another layer of complexity to each bite.


My recommendation for any would-be patron of Xoco (and I do strongly recommend going) is to get there early or place a to-go order as tables are in short supply. By the time we were finished with our meal the full lunch rush had hit and a line had formed out the door. Additionally, travelers with a layover in O’Hare can stop by Tortas Frontera for some similar offerings. Although, sadly the ahogada torta is not offered at the airport.

I was once again impressed with Chef Bayless’ mastery of Mexican cuisine, which ranges from elevated fine dining to casual street-foods. The various dishes we tasted during our visit to Xoco were deceptively simple at first look yet delightfully complex, layered with many flavors. I have not had the opportunity to travel to Mexico but if my experiences at Topolobampo and Xoco are indicative of the cuisine to be had I’ll have to consider it for an upcoming trip.

449 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60654

XOCO on Urbanspoon

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