Xoco – Authentic Mexican Street Food

Rick Bayless has been on the food scene for quite awhile, and with his latest venture, Xoco, he shows he still has plenty of innovation.  Chef Bayless is an expert on Mexican cuisine and takes pride in the authenticity of his dishes.  Chef Bayless owns three eateries in Chicago, the upscale Topolobampo, the more casual Frontera Grill, and his newest brainchild, Xoco.  Xoco means “little sister” in Mexican slang, but nothing about the flavors at Xoco are little.  The casual, laid back restaurant offers up Mexican street fare food, with incredible daily specials and a large open kitchen to watch the magic happen right before your eyes.

The only difficulty came in trying to decide what to order. The menu was large and inviting, offering a wide array of dishes and flavors. We started off simply, with chips and house made salsa.  The salsas served were a tomatillo and a 3-chile, served with freshly fried corn tortilla chips.  Both salsas were simple and well prepared.


Next we moved onto the Caldos, huge bowls of steaming hot and fragrant soups that were big enough for two.  We ordered the short rib red chile version with braised short ribs, roasted vegetables, epazote, arugula, and lime, all in a red chile broth. Perfect on the spice/heat level and full of bold flavors.  On a chilly January day, it would equal nirvana!

Onto the tortas!  Every day offers a new special torta, and we jumped on three sandwiches to get a flavor of the offerings.  The Cubana was amazing, with smoked pork loin, bacon, black beans, avocado,  Jack cheese, and a spicy and perfectly balanced chipotle mustard.  Not your typical classic Cuban sandwich but even better.  Then we moved onto the Chicken Tinga, with a great flavor balance and simple build with black beans, chicken, pickled onions, Queso Anejo, and arugula.  Finally, we finished with the Cochinita Pibil torta, stuffed with wood roasted suckling pig rubbed with achiote, black beans, pickled onions and a very spicy habanero sauce that paired nicely with the torta flavors.

By this point, stomachs were over filled and we had to pass on dessert. They did offer enticing homemade Mexican vanilla soft serve in two flavors:  chile pasilla with brownie bits (love that spicy-sweet combination!) and a maple pecan bacon streusel version with salted caramel sauce.  Ahhh, if only I could have been born with that extra stomach. To round out the dessert offerings, Xoco offered a great selection of bean-to-cup drinking chocolates.  Hot chocolate with flavors like chile and allspice in the Aztec version, or the classic thickened version called Mexico City (Champurrado) showed that chef Bayless is serious about offering great street food straight inspired by Mexico to the masses.  Hopefully next time you are in Chicago, you can check out this amazing treasure!

Happy Eating,

Chef Allison

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