Tag Archives: Rick Bayless

Your New Wednesday Plans: Tacos al Pastor at Xoco

Mexico FlagSo you don’t have plans for Wednesday night? Ok, now you do. You plan is to go get tacos al pastor at Xoco (449 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL)! Every Wednesday after 5 PM, Xoco’s main draw is the al pastor, made from layers of seasoned pork, topped with pineapple carved right off of a trompo (a giant meat cone – much like the one used to make gyros) Mexico City style. When we went to al pastor day at Xoco, Rick Bayless was even there to monitor and maintain the trompo. Nice – that’s quality assured!

Al Pastor at Xoco

Al Pastor Trompo (partially in hiding) at Xoco

It is $11 for 3 tacos on corn tortillas, which come in a basket with a small side of a spicy chipotle salsa. We thought the price was a little steep, but we figured we were paying for quality – and we were – everything was delicious! The al pastor meat was flavorful and had a deep red color with a nice crispy crust, just how we like it. Each taco was also topped with a crispy slaw (non-traditional) and slices of pineapple (traditional). Xoco’s was probably the best rendition of al pastor we had in the city so far, though it made us mostly want to go to Mexico City. The corn tortillas were a little cold, which was our only knock against the dish.

Tacos Al Pastor at Xoco

Tacos Al Pastor at Xoco

We plan on making a visit to Xoco’s Tacos al pastor a Wednesday night tradition. A trompo is the key to delicious tacos al pastor, and they are relatively rare, so finding one is a great thing. We have word that the al pastor tacos will be available at Xoco until March, so make a visit while you still can.

Tacos Al Pastor at Xoco

Tacos Al Pastor 3 for $11

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Birthday Dinner at Topolobampo

445 N Clark Street
Chicago, IL

Mexico FlagAfter two years of trying, we finally made it to Rick Bayless’ star restaurant. It was Matt’s birthday, and Lindsay planned ahead making reservations months in advance as to ensure a spot. We, like everyone else in the city, were caught off guard by the meteoric rise in Rick’s popularity following his win at the inaugural Top Chef Masters; but at the same time, we, like everyone else in the city, took a renewed interest in his food.


So many great things have been said about Topolobampo, there is no use in re-hashing them here. At the same time, the restaurant’s popularity has also brought in its share of criticism from less-than-satisified patrons. Part of this is due to location: Topolobampo shares a front door and a kitchen with Frontera Grill, Rick Bayless’ other, less formal restaurant. For this reason, many people (especially those on Yelp) claim that the food is a better value at Frontera, and that the inflated prices at Topolobampo can leave you with a big check and a less-than-full stomach of food that is the same at both restaurants. Other patrons claimed Topolobampo suffered from spotty service. We have not yet been to Frontera Grill, so we are uncomfortable making comparative claims. All we can say is that our meal was exquisite, served by a masterful waiter, and the bill was precisely what we expected (likely because, unlike so many others, we did not order any alcohol). The jamaica we got, however, was fantastic.

Dinner began with two appetizers. Matt ordered, per his biggest food crush, the trio of ceviches ($19.00), consisting of three of the restaurant’s most popular:

  • Ceviche Yucateco: steamed Mexican blue shrimp & calamari, lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jicama, cucumber & cilantro. Crispy tortilla chips (regular price $13.50);
  • Coctel de Atún Tropical : sashimi-grade Hawaiian bigeye tuna, tomatillo guacamole, mango salsa ($14.50); and
  • Ceviche Fronterizo: Lime-marinated Hawaiian albacore with tomatoes, olives, cilantro, green chile; on crispy tostaditas ($14.00).

How good were these? So well-balanced, so flavorful, and so distinct that Matt had eaten them before we had time to take a photo. The meal started off wonderfully. On to our second course:

Chile Pasilla Relleno en Nogada: Cool sweet-sour pasilla chile, fruity hedgehog mushroom filling (apples, plantain, prunes, black garlic, black olive), nogada cream (walnuts, almonds, fresh goat cheese) ($12.00). This was Lindsay’s appetizer. The mushroom filling was particularly interesting contrasted with the pasilla, which is always one of our favorites. Next, the main courses…


Cochito Chiapaneco (above) : Gunthorp suckling pig, slow-cooked with red chile & sweet spices, homemade butifarra sausage, heirloom Mexican alubia blanco beans, grilled endive, fresh garnishes ($35.00). Matt went for a more subtle dish after the boldness of the ceviche. Here, the heartiness of classic Mexican cooking comes through here in a paradoxically light and subtle dish: the flavor and texture of the cochito, fall-apart-in-your-mouth just like it should be, shines through other starchy accompaniments with just the right amount of extra notes from the chile and spices. Seemingly pricey at $35, this was actually filling and worth it.


Enfrijoladas (above): “enchiladas” bathed with a sauce of heirloom Mexican ayocote morado beans, luscious white sweet potato filling, Mexican cincho cheese, wild matsutake mushrooms, roasted red poblanos, chile-seared baby tomatoes ($25.00). Almost like a mole, Lindsay’s favorite, this vegetarian dish was a big hit on both sides: you can’t go wrong in our eyes with cheese and sweet potato filling in any context, much less one that uses them so well against the fruitiness of poblanos and roasted tomatoes.


Chocolate, Oaxaca: Warm chocolate mesquite cakes, Mexican vanilla bean ice cream (infused with aromatic rosita de cacao), sweet masa pudding (nicuatole), toasted almond, cocoa nibs, masa crisps ($12.00). Dessert, Oaxacan chocolate cake, accented with nicuatole: a dish that we recently actually made in Oaxaca. Delectable.

At this point stuffed and very happy, we were surprised to see our server approach with some chocolate truffles and fruity gummy candy – an unexpected and appreciated touch.Topolo4

Dinner at Topolobampo changes seasonally, so you are sure to experience something new and great on your trip. When we have the chance to go back again, we will, as this was one of the few splurge dinners we have truly enjoyed.

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Rick Bayless Teaches Us To Make Guacamole

“Everything is better with bacon.” – Rick Bayless

We were lucky enough to catch Chicago’s own Rick Bayless at a cooking demonstration during the Printer’s Row Lit Fest a few weeks ago. Originally we had considered not even going – too hot, too crowded, we thought – but were shocked when we arrived just a few minutes early to find a few open seats. Stay we did, and we are glad, because over the next fifteen minutes Rick Bayless absolutely blew our minds making a simple bowl of guacamole. Here’s some of his key thoughts, which we have already started incorporating into our home-made guacs:

1. Avocados are amazing. Use Hass avocados – they were bred specifically for guacamole-like uses. They are one of the few fruits that does not ripen on the tree. Amazingly, if picked and left at below 50 degrees, they will never ripen. What this means is that when you buy them at the grocery store they have been pre-refrigerated, and so will not ripen for another 3-5 days. The takeaway: you cannot use an avocado the day you buy it. When buying an avocado, check to make sure the stem is still intact (it will be brown inside otherwise), and afterwards you can store them up to a year in the fridge and they will never go bad. They are ripe when you have left them out for 3-5 days and the top by the stem is squishy.

2. Lime juice and avocado pits: you’re using too much! Leaving avocado pits in the fruit or in guacamole does not help them stay fresh. Neither does adding lime juice. And adding too much of either makes the guacamole taste less like avocado and more like something else. To keep it fresh, only temperature matters. And getting rid of the rumors helps you highlight the other ingredients.

3. Use white onions. They taste better, they are crispier, and it is a sin against cooking to use red or Spanish ones. He said this and he meant it. If you are concerned about them being too overwhelming in the dish, here is how to fix it: Cutting white onions causes chemicals in two different sections of the membrane to interact, producing a kind of sulfuric acid. To stop the reaction, just run them under cold water – this is called “deflaming” the onion in Mexico. It is for this reason…

4. Do not make guacamole in a molcajete! Crushing the onions with the stone mortar and pestle will just re-break the onion membrane and thus ruin all the good washing work you did. Better to make the guacamole in another bowl (mixing it), and then serve it in a molcajete for maximum classiness.

5. Guacamole is largely an American invention, as the USA is largely, as Mr. Bayless put it, “a chip-and-dip culture.” Mexican guacamole is very simple: avocado, garlic, a little lime juice, and perhaps salt and pepper. That’s because it is meant to be used on foods in concert with other accompaniments: fresh cilantro, salsas, etc. When you realize how American guacamole is, you realize that you don’t have to be dependent on stereotypically Mexican ingredients, which brings us to point 6….

6. Avocados are adaptable. They go with sweet, sour, and savory, and do it well. Americans tend to be too limited in how they use avocados, and they tend to not be particularly knowledgeable about the ones they are using. Rick Bayless made a salsa with tomatoes, cilantro, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, and – wait for it – bacon. (He even held up a piece of bacon and said “everything is better with bacon.”) Another great combination he recommended: watermelon cubs, habaneros, and mint. Mangoes are great as well in guacamole. Most of us don’t think to use these ingredients, but trust us, they are killer.

You’re welcome!

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A new place for Rick Bayless: Xoco

Mexico FlagMaster of Mexican food, Rick Bayless is opening a quick-service takeout place, Xoco, on the near north side, adjacent to his other restaurants. According to Bayless’ blog, xoco is slang for “little sister.” The spot is going to feature Mexico-city-style street food. Given that it’s a takeout place – we’re figuring it’ll be more in our price point than stalwarts Topolobampo and Frontera Grill. Tasting Table has an awesome preview of Xoco, with a preview of the menu – including churros made with Oaxacan chocolate and barbacoa tortas. Natural Home Magazine has an interview that highlights the sustainability of the new resto. Opening is slated for the last week in August, according to Bayless’  Twitter.

[Update August 25] We have a confirmed opening date – September 8th.
[Update August 28] We even have a menu, from Thrillist.

449 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL

Also, here’s an Oldie but a goodie – Rick Bayless eats his way across Pilsen – from Time Out Chicago.

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