Aug 212012

Celebrity Chicago chef Rick Bayless’ XOCO attracts food lovers from all over the Chicago area and is conveniently located for downtown workers to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner. Pronounced “Sho-ko”, Xoco is Mexican slang for “little sister”. The name was inspired by XOCO’s proximity to two other Bayless award-winning restaurants, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, that are right next door. Well-known for fresh and innovative interpretations of traditional Mexican dishes, Bayless has brought the freshness and flavors of Mexican street food inside at XOCO which opened in 2010 as the newest of his restaurants on North Clark Street.

XOCO Entrance on Illinois Street, Chicago

Were We Loco?

My Chicago foodie friend suggested that we head downtown to try XOCO for lunch. I’d heard that lines can be quite long there, but we were not deterred. Were we crazy to choose XOCO for lunch on a busy weekday with the prospect of a 30 to 60 minute wait — just to order?

Were We Lucky?

Although we arrived a little before 1:00p.m., we were lucky, I think, to have just a 20 minute wait in line, which was accurately forecast by the hostess when we first walked in.

woodburning oven at XOCO

Woodburning Oven at XOCO

The wood-burning oven provides alluring aromas to whet the appetite and evoke Mexican street food ambiance.

Kitchen at XOCO

Open Kitchen at XOCO

Customers in line were patient and seemed content to wait to place their order. The employees we encountered were all very pleasant, giving the place a friendly vibe. While waiting, we had time to study the menu and enjoyed watching the cooks busy with food preparation in the open kitchen.

Farm Board at XOCO

A chalkboard listed the sustainable farms in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan that provide the fresh ingredients used at XOCO. In 2003, Bayless established the Frontera Farmer Foundation to support small Midwestern farms.

At XOCO, when you make it to the front of the line, the hostess assigns you a table. You then place your order at the counter and the hostess takes you to your table.

Outside Seating on Illinois Street

Outside Seating on Illinois Street

We had the option to sit outside or inside. It was one of those gorgeous warm, sunny days that remind me why I love Chicago in the summertime, so we opted for the sidewalk seating area on Illinois Street. Our order was then served to us at the table.

Foodie Friend’s Choice

Milanesa Torta

Milanesa Torta

The Milanesa Torta is prepared on the griddle with crispy chicken, black beans, artisan Jack cheese, pickled jalapenos, and tomatillo-avocado salsa.

My Choice

Pepito Torta

Pepito Torta

My Pepito Torta was prepared in the wood-burning oven with braised shortribs, caramelized onions, artisan Jack cheese, black beans and pickled jalapenos.

No Room for Churros


Desserts at XOCO

After the hearty and delicous tortas, we had to say no to the much-touted churros, homemade chocolate drinks and other desserts, but they looked very tempting.

My Chicago foodie friend’s track record of excellent restaurant recommendations has remained intact and XOCO gets an enthusiastic TWS thumbs up!

If you go:

XOCO is located at 449 N. Clark Street at the corner of Clark and Illinois. Valet parking is available. It is closed on Sundays and Mondays and reservations are not accepted. Take out is also available and can be ordered via email.

For more information: XOCO

Travel tip: When you’re jetsetting through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, you can experience Bayless culinary goodness at Tortas Frontera, his quick service locations in Terminal 1, Gate B11 and Terminal 3, Gate K4.

Still hungry? Check out more foodie posts at Inside Journeys website where Marcia Mayne is hosting Foodie Tuesday with her own tempting article as well as links to other delicious contributions.

  61 Responses to “Loco for XOCO”

  1. I’ll just have dessert please – they look so good. A twenty minute wait sounds OK to me to get food like this. I haven’t had good let alone great Mexican food in a long time.

    • I was thrilled that we only had to wait 20 minutes. Was prepared to wait longer and believe me, I don’t like to wait in lines for anything!

  2. I have yet to get enough of this place! I keep bringing visitors there too…just like your foodie friend (I must meet this person!).
    Did you try the hot chocolate?! I would go out on a limb to say it’s the best in the U.S. – rich and thick and decadently delicious!
    Viva Bayless! See you next time you are in the city to eat more tasty food. πŸ™‚

  3. Oh man, I’d probably want to go to Chicago right now just to eat what you have pictured here.

  4. I like that place a lot! I did have to wait in a long-ish line, but it was worth it. Chicago’s neighborhoods are full of small taquerias, so I’m usually not very keen on visiting downtown Mexican spots, but this one is an exception. The tortas are great.

  5. Yummy! As a Southern CA resident, we love our Mexican street food so I would love to visit this place. Your Pepito Torta looks so delicious! Those desserts look sinful too! Definitely adding this to my restaurants to check out when I make it back to Chicago.

  6. The food looks amazing and so good that they’re supporting local far projects. I love that woodburning oven. There are lots of these in Turkey and the food tastes great from them.

    • Woodburning ovens create great aromas and give a place such an inviting atmosphere. I hope to sample food in Turkey someday!

  7. Definitely my kind of place! I must get to Chicago!!!

  8. Looks delicious!!

  9. This looks pretty delicious and well worth the wait as long as you are not starving. πŸ˜‰

  10. Love when restaurants get their food locally. The food looks and sounds delicious.

  11. We had the pleasure of dining at Topolobampo a few years back and it was an amazing meal. Mexican food is our week spot, and we especially love Oaxacan food, so we are like mantequilla in Rick’s hands. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks for teaching me a new Spanish word today. I’d love to eat at Topolobampo. I’ve been to Frontera Grill next door — delicious!

  12. I’m another Mexican foodie! Honestly, can’t get enough of it. So yes I would love to go to any of Rick’s restaurants. Yummo, this looks wonderful!

  13. I am so hungry and reading/looking at this post is making me even hungrier! Was just in Chicago — wish I had read this sooner!

  14. I’ve heard of this place but your photos brought it to life for me! Okay, those tortas were beauties. Great post – I’ll definitely refer to it again before a trip to Chicago.

  15. Sounds amazing. I love that they list the sustainable farms where they get their food from.

  16. Oh my goodness- I would love to eat here! And no room for churros?! How is that possible?!!! πŸ™‚

  17. Looks really good, Cathy. One to add to the food and travel list, then!

  18. Wow! Everything looks amazing. They need to open a location in Los Angeles.

  19. My mouth is watering looking at your pictures. I’ve always enjoyed Bayless’s PBS show, but I’ve never actually had any of his food.

  20. YUM! I remember having some awesome Mexican food in several places in Chicago – it’s a good place for it =) This all looks delicious

  21. Nom nom! Mexican food is quite rare here in Europe, so this would be something to try in Chicago for sure. Even if just at the airport.

    • I wish I would have had time to stop at one of the airport locations last time through O’Hare. Maybe he should open a few more there.

  22. Mmm, can I please order all three of those desserts right now? This place looks amazing! I really like the board that lists where some of their ingredients come from.

  23. I know I’m from New Mexico and biased and all, but I need this food now!!

  24. Hmmmm, delicious! I love everything that comes out of a wood burning oven πŸ™‚ What a find!

  25. Dribble. That’s about as eloquent as I’m going to get on this. Mexican food seems to have really stepped it up a gear in the last few years.

  26. That place looks fantastic! And good to know where to find tasty Mexican at the airport too, since that is a common spot for a layover.

    • Very smart of Bayless to put those restaurants in the airport. Maybe he’ll do that in some other major airports, too. Wouldn’t that be nice?

  27. It seems a great place to visit and I love the Torta meal
    that’s yummy I am sure!

  28. Mexican food is what I crave most while traveling!

    • It’s funny how there are certain types of food that seem to fit just about anywhere — Mexican food, pizza and burgers are like that for me.

  29. You missed out on CHURROS?!!! Say it ain’t so! The restaurant sounds delicious. There are a few celebrity restaurants I’ve been to that are THAT superb.

  30. So so jealous. I would love to go there.

  31. […] but when in Chicago, I recommend that you experience some of the city’s delicious pizza, Mexican Street Food or other local […]

  32. I really want to try the deep dish pizza when we go to Chicago, but now I may have to try this place too! I’m pretty impatient with waiting to eat though. πŸ˜‰

  33. Looks like a great place and the pictures are mouth-watering!

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