Not only did we have an amazing time with friends in Chicago, we also had some great food! Whenever we visit, we like to try out new places, and XOCO has been on my list for a while. Rick Bayless is famous for his authentic Mexican restaurants, including Frontera Grill and Topolobompo in Chicago. His restaurants are always busy, and XOCO is no exception…there is usually a line out the door!
XOCO is a more casual eatery that serves authentic and delicious Mexican street food. They are committed to using local ingredients whenever possible, including their Gunthorp pasture-raised organic chicken, pastured goats from Illinois, eggs, and vegetables grown either on their rooftop or in Cabrini! They have an open kitchen with a wood burning oven where they crisp the tortas, and where they make their suckling pig for cochinita pibil.
We split two of their tortas. On the left, their Saturday special – Goat Barbacoa with braised goat, Oaxacan pasilla-tomatillo salsa, avocado, onions & cilantro. On the right, their seasonal special – Carne Asada with achiote-marinated Tallgrass flank steak, Klug Farms ramp-chimichurri, local mushrooms, homemade crema. Mmm….
We couldn’t decide which one we liked better! The flavors were just out of this world, so complex and perfectly balanced. The goat was particularly tender and the smoky Oaxacan salsa went perfectly with it. Our only complaint was that we both would rather have eaten them as tacos instead of on bread, but that’s personal preference. We’ve also tried Frontera Fresco, which is an even more casual eatery in Macy’s that serves all different kinds of tacos, and loved the food there too, but the location is more like a food court.
The unexpected star of the show was the agua del dia: horchata! I think this is the best drink I’ve had in my life: so creamy, sweet, and coconuty. That’s a word, didn’t you know? :) I don’t even like coconut, but I seriously contemplated ordering another one, it was that good!
We couldn’t leave without ordering some churros. You can order them with a side of dipping chocolate or homemade Mexican vanilla soft serve. Unfortunately, this was the only miss of the meal. They were covered in cinnamon sugar, but the taste was more savory than sweet, perhaps because of the oil it was fried in. I couldn’t get over that I was expecting something sweet, but tasting something savory. Maybe we should have ordered the chocolate dipping sauce :) I would definitely go back, or perhaps if the wait was less than an hour, try Frontera Grill the next time!
Even more sweet treats were enjoyed at Sprinkles Cupcake!
The last time we were in Chicago, we loved their pumpkin and red velvet cupcakes. Patrick was so sweet…he remembered that I liked them and made sure that we stopped here before leaving for the airport :) I chose their cinnamon sugar cupcake, which is a lightly spiced buttermilk cake with a dusting of cinnamon sugar on top.
It was between this one and their Chocolate Marshmallow – Belgian dark chocolate cake with marshmallow cream and bittersweet chocolate ganache (top left in the case). The staff was so friendly, I asked him what I should choose and he said if I preferred the cake to the frosting, he would definitely order the cinnamon sugar cupcake. He was right, the buttermilk cake was so delicious! I’m currently trying to think of how to replicate the recipe at home :)
Their Chicago mix is the most well-known, combining Caramel Crisp and Cheesecorn. It sounds weird, but it’s the perfect sweet and salty combo. This time, we went with the Kettle Corn and Caramel Crisp combo and we loved it! The caramel crisp is sweet and buttery, while the kettle corn was a nice salty balance. We made sure to bring some home for our daughter, who is a huge popcorn fan! This popcorn makes a great gift, it stays fresh for quite a while and travels well. You can also order tins online!
Hope you get a chance to try some of these places! If you’ve already been, please weigh in in the comments section and let me know what you think. We’re always on the lookout for new places to try, so please share your local favorites too! Next stop for us will be Omaha, NE :)
XOCO, 449 N Clark St, Chicago IL 60654
Sprinkles Cupcakes, 50 E Walton St, Chicago IL 60611 (multiple locations)
Garrett Popcorn, 625 N Michigan Ave, Chicago IL 60611 (multiple locations, including NY)