Contemporary Mexican Street Fare
While I was whiling away enjoying the scenic view from a bench at the Navy Pier, life has whispered that it has seen better days!
"Like What???" I told in utter disbelief.
Well, I don't think I got the reply back but I do guess that my life rotates around the palate tantalizing delicacies rather than the picturesque sceneries. My story in a nutshell!
Well, moving ahead it was lunch time and I am in Downtown Chicago where the top restaurants churn out the tastiest dishes that you could get by the culinary experts.
I am visiting one such place today which is quite popular in the city and the chef himself is known as the best in Chicago.
The restaurant is Xoco. Situated on North Clark St in Downtown Chicago, this place is owned by none other than Rick Bayless. The culinary star whose expertise in traditional Mexican cuisine won accolades around the globe has his restaurants set up in the heart of Chicago and I am honored to visit one of them today. This place specializes in authentic Mexican street cuisine and I am psyched to try them out.
Visited around noon and this place was jam packed but the servers do make it a point to get everyone seated in this tiny spot as you stand in line to order.
Being a Saturday, I ordered one of their special tortas followed by the rest of the order and was waiting to be seated. I am quite impressed with the wait-time being less than 15 minutes given the rush.
The orders were eventually brought and the first one was,
Fully Dressed Guacamole. As the adage goes "When in Rome...", ordering a guacamole just made sense.
This guac is freshly made to order and comes with spicy roasted poblanos, grilled onion, smoked bacon, local tomatoes and paired with fresh queso fresco and topped with pumpkin seeds. The guacamole in itself is ripe and tastes perfect with the nachos they provide, however what makes this dish excel are the addons we get with it. The poblanos and onions with the fresh cheese is exemplary. A perfect start!
Got my next order,
It was Tlayuda. One of their bestsellers and this vibrant dish had to make its way on my table. As they stated, it was gigantic. This humongous wood-fired corn masa tostada has everything a foodie would crave for. Layered with Oaxacan black bean spread and then with Samuel's Jack Cheese, this tostada is then fused with three-chile salsa, poblano rajas and finally topped with anejo cheese. Phew!
Carved with a pizza slicer, it is surely mistaken for a pizza but in no way does it resemble the flavor nor the grandeur this dish possesses.
Took a slice off it and dipped in the guac I ordered from earlier. This is surely a chef's marvel. I have never had anything like it and the flavors just burst all the way. The black bean spread is quite creamy and when paired with the spicy salsa and the cheeses, this is bound to impress. The tostada in itself was crispy and complemented the toppings quite well. This dish is a must try!
Moving on with the special of the day,
This would be Goat Barbacoa Torta. I have always wanted to try the authentic tortas that Mexico has to offer and many recommended me that goat meat enhances the flavor of these sandwiches and I happened to be at the right place at the right time as they serve these only on Saturdays.
The tortas come with a crispy white sandwich roll which is remarkably soft inside which suggests the freshness this place oozes. The stuffing comprises of braised goat, avocado, onions and cilantro with Oaxacan pasilla-tomatillo salsa on the side. The braised goat is cooked overnight and is a strenuous process, hence its availability limited to Saturdays.
Poured the salsa amidst the meat and took a nice crunchy bite off the torta. The goat meat is heavenly and the toppings are enhanced to the epitome even with their simplicity. The spicy and tangy salsa paired well with the goat meat and I just can't get enough of it. The bread, the toppings, the meat, everything were in the right place for a perfect meal. Make sure you visit this place on a Saturday to try this gem!
While I was enjoying these dishes, the server recommended me to try their in house churned hot chocolate drinks made from scratch.
Sold! These two hot chocolates made their way onto my table and the smell just penetrates through my senses.
Tried the first one on the left, which would be Aztec Hot Chocolate. This freshly grounded chocolate pairs with water, chile and allspice. Took a sip and was amazed at the texture and flavor this drink produces. The sweet and spicy flavor which tingles your palate is substantial enough to fall in love with it. It was also creamy considering it was only water added with chocolate to it.
The next one would be the Classic Hot Chocolate. This is a mild version with a chocolate shot and whole milk. I wouldn't go for this considering it was overtly sweet. This drink was more richer and creamier, given the whole milk. However, the former has impressed me a lot and I would recommend the same!
Moving on to the last order of the day,
This was Woodland Mushroom Torta. Served in the same crispy sandwich roll, this torta comes with wood-roasted River Valley Ranch mushrooms, chipotle-garlic mojo, black beans and wild arugula topped with goat cheese from Prairie Fruits Farm, served with a side of three-chile salsa. Without wasting any time, I took a bite of this torta only to be amazed with the flavors it plays around with. The mushrooms are astonishingly rich in flavor and the garlic mojo accompanied it quite well. Add the salsa for the spice quotient and you are all set for a masterpiece. A true vegetarian classic on the cards!
A place worthy of accolades, not for the Rick Bayless factor but for the flavor and quality it generates!
449 N Clark St Chicago, IL 60654
Value For Money: 8/10