Well even though it's not priced accordingly, it doesn't mean you can't go there for a special occasion. A few months ago, I promised my friend Maddie that I would take her out to lunch for her birthday. Not only did I eventually come through on that promise, but for the first time, I'll have a guest writer on my blog (she got something with pork in it, so I couldn't taste and describe). I was pretty wary about this because it really shows how sub par my writing is, but I think you'll all enjoy her description.
XOCO is the only Rick Bayless restaurant that you can't make a reservation at. If you could, I'm sure it'd be just like the other restaurants of his where you basically can't make one anyways cause it's too busy. They serve multiple meals a day, and by that I mean that you can only get certain parts of the menu based on what time you go. Most lunch food starts at 11AM while soups come on at 3PM. We got there right at 11 and luckily beat the lunch crowd. By the time we left around noon, there wasn't a seat in the house.
The Typical Counter Setup
The ordering is just like at Noodles, where you take a number to put at your table. Most of the seating is at one of the many counters, but if you get lucky they have a few tables. Because of the majority counter seating, I'd suggest coming in small parties. The whole process for us was very quick, and we had our food in less than 10 minutes after we ordered. Even though the place got really busy, people still seemed to get their food in an efficient manner.
One thing that's interesting is that based on the food choices, you may want to go back up after your entree and order dessert like we did. I think you can order everything at once and ask them to delay the dessert. The dessert option really makes this a great place for a long lunch, and even with some of the crowds, they don't rush you out.
The popular appetizer is clearly chips and guacamole. They serve the same guacamole from Frontera Grill, and since Maddie was going to eat there with her parents the following weekend, we decided to pass on that. We went right for the tortas (Mexican sandwiches). I got the Gunthrop Chicken. It was a spicy, pulled chicken that was tender and had clearly been stewing for quite a while. The chicken was topped with a black bean spread, pickled onions, avocado, and salsa. The bread was like a really thick and crispy ciabatta. The flavors were very clear, and the textural complexity of the torta was excellent. While I'd definitely call the torta spicy, I'd say it's manageable for most palates. If you want more spice, they have a variety of hot sauces to add on as well. Maddie got the Ahogada, and her description is pretty good....
The Gunthrop Chicken Torta
"The Ahodaga came nose-diving into a bowl of tomato broth. The broth was the star of the dish, featuring robust chunks of tomato highlighted with the clean flavor of fresh cilantro, tangy lime, and an after kick of spicy pepper seeds. The broth added both a flavor and textural component by softening the otherwise crusty bread and layering a bright tone on the sweet flavor of the carnitas. Along with the pork there was onion and black bean in the sandwich. Both of these ingredients added more to the texture than the flavor profile. The sandwich was quite delicious however I wish there had been a slightly higher meat:bread ratio. As a warning to the wise, you might want to remove the second half of the sandwich from the broth as you eat the first because after prolonged soaking the bread loses all structural integrity. While it decomposes into a delicious mush, it is a little difficult to eat."
After our tortas, we weren't really hungry, but we couldn't pass up the desserts. They have a variety of pastries, but the item to go for is the Churro. It's suggested that you pair it with the vanilla soft serve, so that's what we did. This was the best churro I've had in my life. It was sugary, fried, and guiltily satisfying, but it didn't have the overload of oil that usually comes with a churro. Have you ever dipped a french fry into a Wendy's frosty, because this was like that times infinity. The heat of the churro and the sweet cool of the soft serve made the perfect mid day treat. If that wasn't enough we also had a mug of the fresh ground hot chocolate. It had a somewhat grainy texture but was rich and creamy in a natural way. In retrospect, it probably would've been good for dipping the churro, but we ate that far too quickly to think of such wondrous combinations.
The Churro, Soft Serve, and Fresh Ground Hot Chocolate
I've been dying to get to XOCO ever since I saw Rick Bayless do a cooking demo where he served a Mexican potato soup. Also, my friend Arif, one of the biggest Jeff Eats Chicago enthusiasts, vouched for it a while ago, and he did not lead me astray. I'd really like to go back and try some of the soups. The tortas are great, but as Maddie said, the bread to meat ratio is a little off. Still, with the rustic flavor profiles appealing to both my savory needs and my sweet tooth, I feel compelled to give XOCO 4 out of 5 Pearls.
Also, I'd like to thank Maddie for writing the great food review.