Rick Bayless is Top Chef!!

It has been some time and I have no explanation except, life has gotten in the way. I just got back from Chicago- one of the greatest cities I have ever spent time in. I went for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting and to present (gasp now) at NCTE’s Annual Convention. Nerves were on high, but I was more than excited about the food scene in Chicago. Mostly because of the 3 Bayless restaurant hotspots.

My husband being the planning, diligent, god-like man that he is, tried to get us a reservation at Frontera Grill, but to no avail. They were booked way out so we decided to go and wait for a table- probably not a good idea unless you have 3 hours to spare tightly crammed into the tiny bar area. Next door to Frontera is Bayliss’ less fancy sister XOCO. It is a walk up line with limited seating. My group decided to give it a try since we were famished; it was amazing!

We sidled up to the line and the most gracious, knowledgeable manager came over to us in line to get us a drink while we waited and answer any questions we had. He helped us understand how to order and what were the do-not-miss items. It helped that he was an English major also 🙂

My husband and I decided to do our usual routine: order a couple of items and eat lover’s style. We ordered a Torta Cubana, Torta Choriqueso, Carnitas Caldo, and a black and white flan for dessert. Wow, did we go right! It was alot of food and one couple could definitely split one torta and one caldo, but it was all delicious. Our dining partners ordered the Pork Belly Caldo and it was the most perfectly prepared pork belly I have ever experienced. Up until this point, pork belly had come as gelatinous globules, not crispy enough on the outside, too mushy on the inside- not delectable. This was perfectly crispy on the outside, gently smooth on the inside, portions of pork belly floating amidst rich broth, pickled jalapenos, earthy mushrooms, avocado, crispy noodles and a hint of lime. It was a wow dining moment for me and everything I had expected from  a Bayless establishment.

The prices were extremely reasonable and the atmosphere was boisterous and lively. The staff was attentive and helpful. Ingredients are touted as locally sourced. It was the best, hands-down dining I experienced in Chicago. Go hungry!

XOCO on Urbanspoon

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