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tortas, caldos and churros—oh my!

April 5, 2010

I’ve mentioned before and I’ll mention again that one of the major things I miss about Chicago is access to good Mexican food.  Of course, this didn’t start in Switzerland.  I missed it when I lived in Boston too.

A quick stop in Chicago on my way to Miami last week for work, my sister insisted that we try out the latest brainchild of Rick Bayless, Xoco (pronounced choe-ko).  I invited a friend that I rarely get to catch up with in person and started to get excited.  I was told by both my sister and friend “We need to get there really early, the line gets out of control and they don’t take reservations.”

There was little exaggeration behind this.  We arrived at 6:15 and the line was already stacking up.  We were told it would be able a 30 minute wait.  Now, wait for what you might ask?  To order.  Here’s how it works (and it’s rather ingenious and I still don’t get how it all comes together).  You talk to the hostess upon arrival (make sure your full party is there), she tells you how long it’s going to be and you wait in line, giving you time to review the menu which happens to be a chalkboard.

That was the line at 6:15!

Standing in line through is entertainment in and of itself.  There’s inevitably the buzz of everyone else standing in line talking about which of the amazing dishes to order but also it’s an open kitchen, so you have a ring-side seats to see everything that’s going on from.   Watching just how unbelievably streamlined the process of putting together each plate was amazing.  Not to mention just how clean it was!

You finally get to the front of the line, place your order, take a number and are taken to a table that has somehow magically appeared.  My order?  A pepito torta (sandwich) (braised Tallgrass shortribs, caramelized onion, artisan Jack cheese, black beans, pickled jalapenos) and a nice tall glass of hibiscus and lemongrass agua fresca.

The pepito!

Aguas frescas

No meal is ever complete without dessert.  Perfectly timed to arrive after our dinner came a dish of churros hot chocolate.  The cacao beans are roasted on site and it’s wonderfully flavored.  There are a few choices, but inevitably, I went with the Aztec. Fresh-ground chocolate + water + chile + allspice=amazing.

So, there you are.  Get there early and get there hungry.  And leave room for dessert!

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