As a California native, it is difficult to impress me with out-of-state Mexican food. I know, I know, I’m a snob, but it’s hard to beat California’s prime location near Mexico and fresh ingredients. Xoco Chicago, however, pleasantly surprised me with its trendy take on Mexican street food.
After living in LA, it has become difficult to impress me with Mexican food in other cities. I stumbled across Xoco one day when I was venturing around River North, however, and was intrigued by the thousands of Xoco reviews I found on Yelp. When I found out it was a Rick Bayless restaurant I decided I had to go in. After all, he’s known all around Chicago for creating great Mexican restaurants, such as Frontera Grill.
Luckily, I stopped by when it wasn’t rush hour, so I was able to find seating at the bar counter – make sure to come early, though, because I witnessed an incredibly long line forming by the time I received my food.
First off the Xoco Menu, I ordered guacamole, fully dressed, an Ahogada torta, and a hazelnut churro. The fully dressed guacamole included spicy roasted poblano, crispy fried pork skin, bacon, grilled onion, tomatoes, queso fresco, and pumpkin seeds. It was creamy, fresh, and slightly spicy: it paired with the chips so perfectly, and I dolloped the portion I didn’t finish onto my torta.
The Ahogada torta consisted of golden pork carnitas, black beans, tomato-arbol chile broth, and pickled onions. It was artfully presented in a bowl of the tomato-arbol chile broth (which you can personalize with the level of spiciness): the torta was sliced in half, with the halves standing upright in the broth. I happily dipped my torta in the broth and spread my leftover guacamole on top. The flavors were exquisite and rich: the pork was tender and juicy and paired beautifully with the beans and onions.
Finally, I got to the hazelnut churro. To be honest, I was astonished that I was even able to stuff anything else into my stomach at that point, but the churro was too tempting to pass up. The hazelnut churro is one of three flavors Xoco offers, the others being chocolate and pistachio. The churro was twisted into a loop shape and covered in hazelnut glaze and bits of hazelnut, and I also ordered a chocolate shot on the side to dip my dessert into. The churro was crispy yet light, and the hazelnut bits offered an exciting crunch to the familiar churro texture. The chocolate shot was slightly bitter and grainy – essentially Mexican chocolate – which balanced well with the churro’s sweetness.
Another reason to visit Xoco, besides the food (obviously), is that they are part of a new garden-to-table initiative. Along with other restaurants in Chicago like Lula Café and Bang Bang Pie, Xoco is growing produce on its rooftop in order to make their ingredients even fresher and their food more delicious. Garden-to-table practices are also environmentally friendly and promote sustainability initiatives. Xoco started their garden to grow salsa ingredients like tomatoes, but they have ventured into other vegetables like Chinese long beans and herbs.
Written By: Maxine Kasznia
Author bio: Maxine is a Chicago Native and UCLA grad. She has a passion for sustainable eating and loves to find the best environmentally friendly spots in every city she visits. After living in both Chicago and LA, she has an appreciation for local cuisines and continues to look for ways to expand her palate.