XOCO River North
Chicago is full of incredible places to eat; from high end to cheap eats the options are boundless. What makes XOCO one of the best places in town is its ability to bring the quality and flavor of fine dining to the masses. Esteemed chef Rick Bayless opened the café-style place adjacent to his Frontera Grill and Topolobambo, where reservations are hard to come by, and prices are not always budget friendly. XOCO, pronounced “SCHO-ko” and is the Aztec word for ‘little sister’, brings to the ‘walk in off the street’ customer the Mexican flavors Bayless is synonymous with. Open from morning to night, you could happily eat three meals a day here.
The emphasis here is on traditional Mexican street food. The array of torta options and steaming bowls of caldos, cover the savory side of the menu with gusto, but for the sweet tooths out there, the Mexican hot chocolate and churros will not disappoint. The pick of XOCO‘s menu is the Ahogada – torta filled with pork carnitas and black beans, planted in a bowl of tomato-arbol chile broth. It is the best soup & sandwich combination you can ever imagine, it rivals grilled cheese in tomato soup any day – and we all know that is the best food pairing ever invented so this is serious food flavor bonanza. The delicate broth adds flavor without being overpowering, the crisp bread of the torta soaks in the broth just enough to help you bite through the chewy bread, but not so much that it becomes soggy. I love this dish so much I have a photo of it on my phone, like it was my kid. I’m serious.
A second location recently opened in Wicker Park, expanding the Bayless enclave to the Northwest. The XOCO Bistro space is larger and brighter than the River North location, with huge windows allowing light to pour in. The bright blue paint used as accent color appears in both locations, signalling a distinct Mexican flair. Slight changes have been made since its opening in mid 2104, with a new name to start the new year – XOCO Bistro has a slightly different menu more suited to the locals of Wicker Park, with more typical Mexican dishes being added. There is also emphasis on wine, and tequila & mezcal cocktails on their beverages menu.
Both locations offer daily specials, as well as changing seasonal offerings to suit the Chicago weather.
To avoid disappointment, I warn you, both locations are closed on Mondays, and River North is also closed on Sundays – so if you’re traveling to Chicago, plan ahead.