Wednesday, December 30, 2009

XOCO for lunch

The holidays are busy, whether you are baking, organizing a party, or shopping for those last minute gifts. Which makes it a perfect time to relax, head out and grab a bite to eat.

My husband and I had the wonderful and rare opportunity to eat lunch out last weekend, sans children. We stopped in XOCO, Rick Bayless' newest Mexican restaurant in downtown Chicago. I heard about it recently on Twitter, and have always been a Bayless fan, though I have never eaten in his restaurants. XOCO is a "quick-service cafe," as opposed to his fancier restaurants Frontera and Topolobampo, but there is nothing compromised about the food or atmosphere. In fact, it was one of the most amazing lunches I have eaten in a cafe.

The warm atmosphere created by the bold yellow and blue walls, and modern wooden tables and chairs enveloped us as we stepped in out of the snow. The line was long, as promised, but the service was efficient. We waited about fifteen minutes to order, but once we ordered we were seated right away and served within 5 minutes.

We had a hard time choosing our lunch. The menu features oven-warmed sandwiches, grilled tortas, soups and a few sides. Homemade ice cream and a slew of house-ground cocoa beverages complete the menu. (Breakfast looks great, too!). Everything sounded delicious, from the chicken and posole soup to the prosciutto, cheddar, avocado and chipotle-mustard torta.

We started with a smoky chicken-apple chile soup. It was the daily special, and I honestly can't remember the name, but it was divine! The red broth perfectly combined sweet, smoky and spicy. Chunks of chicken and a crunch of roasted pepitas topped it off. We also ordered a side of chips and guac, and I am pleased to say that the guac didn't run out before the chips!

Our main course, sandwiches from the woodburning oven, were unbelievable. Both sandwiches started with fresh, crusty bread and were filled with savory combinations of meat, cheese and vegetables. I ordered the Gunthorp Chicken, featuring marinated chicken, with back beans, pickled onions, avocado, and a red chile salsa. My husband indulged in the Choriqueso, a sandwich of homemade chorizo sausage, roasted poblanos, jack cheese and Rick's famous tomatillo salsa.
The flavors were bright, but balanced. A bold combination of heat, sweet, pickled and sour. More amazing? The sandwiches tasted just as good heated up two days later. Yep, the servings are ample, and affordable. For all of our food, plus a beer, we spent about $35.00. Not bad.

There's more to love about XOCO. They use lots of local veggies, meats and cheeses (many from Wisconsin, too!), and organic milk. And the cooks taste the food as they make it (with a clean spoon)!

My husband and I left XOCO happy to have had time to taste our food, and happy that the food was well worth tasting. And with a renewed holiday spirit.


Sook said...

thanks for your lovely comment on my blog. Your blog looks great also! I'm excited to look through your recipes. :)

Cristie said...

I'm a Rick Bayless fan too. I got to eat at the Frontera in Chicago a few years back. Quite impressive. For a while my husband cooked meals out of Bayless' cookbook. The chipolte red sauce is easy to make and versatile to serve. Good to know that Bayless has a more affordable restaurant now. Thanks.

Fresh Local and Best said...

XOCO looks and sounds like a fantastic restaurant!

Dan said...

Rick Bayless is probably my favorite chef, but I have not had an opportunity to eat in any of his restaurants. XOCO sounds awesome, but I guess I'll settle for watching his PBS show for now.

Otehlia said...

I keep missing his PBS show. I love his cookbooks and managed to can a bunch of his tomatillo salsa.I'll have to try the other salsas. I would love to visit his other restaurants someday, too.

Lo said...

Have been totally wanting to take the drive down to visit XOCO, but haven't had the opportunity yet. Looks like the place is exactly what I'd expect. Fresh, wonderful "street food" -- exactly the sort of thing that Bayless talks about on an every day basis.