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Restaurant Spotlight: Frontera Grill

Rick Bayless is Chicago’s king of Mexican food. After trying his food at his O’Hare airport locations (which are amazing and nothing like the Wolfgang Puck airport crap) I have been eager to go to his restaurants in Chicago’s River North. I am sure frequent readers of this blog know about my taco obsession, and I don’t know if I can express how excited I was to try Frontera Grill or how much I loved it.

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20121128-085255.jpgCharles and I started with the guacamole, which is some of the best in Chicago. It had a nice lime flavor, some green chile for a little kick, and not too much onion or cilantro. The chips are homemade, crisp, not greasy, and have just the right amount of salt. The chips are available in Chicago area grocery stores – I buy them all the time. We did make a mistake in ordering guacamole before we chose an entrée, since we got more guac with our tacos, in the future we will think things through more.

Charles tried some ceviche. He said it was quite good. I dislike seafood, so I skipped this.

My personal goal when I visit a Mexican restaurant is to eat as many different tacos as I can. It drives me nuts when menus make this difficult. At the trendy Mercadito, you have to order tacos in multiples of 4. I find this to be infuriating and it is the reason I have never been back. I was thrilled that Frontera catered perfectly to my desire to try a variety of tacos.

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Listen to me: every Mexican restaurant should have a sampler platter on the menu. They are the best. I order it whenever I can. Frontera offers a taco trio, and it was the perfect amount for two, considering we had a couple apps and ordered a side. At $36 the trio includes chicken, steak, and pork with grilled onions, peppers and a side of guac. I loved getting to try the different meats. I especially enjoyed the steak. I ordered a side of black beans because they are one of my favorite vegetables, and re fried beans are the perfect taco glue. Yes, I eat so many tacos that I have developed a technique to eating a taco without it falling apart. If you put re fried beans around the edges of your taco it holds everything in place.

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By the end of this feast I was quite full, but I absolutely had to try the Mexican hot chocolate, which just made the list of the country’s best hot chocolate. (Yes, I keep up on such things). It was sweet, slightly spicy, and rich. It was the perfect end to the meal. I highly recommend trying it.

20121128-085353.jpgThere is a reason Rick Bayless has a line of Frontera products at grocery stores. His cuisine is just that fantastic. Bold flavors, just enough spice, and nothing overly complicated. If you are in the Chicago area his products are in most grocery stores. I love the chips and salsas, and use them often. My favorite products are his seasoning sauces and slow cooker sauces. They are a huge time saver and are far superior to other store bought sauces.

It is worth noting that Rick Bayless has a trio of restaurants in River North all conveniently placed in a row. There is Xoco, the street food joint, Frontera is casual traditional Mexican, and Topolobampo is the most elegant and expensive eatery of the three. Charles and I have also been to Xoco and loved it. It is inexpensive (maybe $10-20 a person) and has top notch food. The trick is to go in pairs, since they do not take reservations. The space has counter seating, and tables. It is much quicker to get a spot at the counter if there are only two of you.

Rick Bayless is a household name in the Chicago area, and his restaurants offer some of the best Mexican food I have ever had. I am sure I will be returning to Frontera and Xoco time and time again.

thekittchen