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.
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.
The wood-burning oven provides alluring aromas to whet the appetite and evoke Mexican street food ambiance.
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.
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.
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
The Milanesa Torta is prepared on the griddle with crispy chicken, black beans, artisan Jack cheese, pickled jalapenos, and tomatillo-avocado salsa.
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
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.