Loco for XOCO

Celebrity Chicago chef Rick Bayless’ XOCO attracts food lovers from all over the Chicago area and is conveniently located for downtown workers to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner. Pronounced “Sho-ko”, Xoco is Mexican slang for “little sister”. The name was inspired by XOCO’s proximity to two other Bayless award-winning restaurants, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, that are right next door. Well-known for fresh and innovative interpretations of traditional Mexican dishes, Bayless has brought the freshness and flavors of Mexican street food inside at XOCO which opened in 2010 as the newest of his restaurants on North Clark Street.

XOCO Entrance on Illinois Street, Chicago

Were We Loco?

My Chicago foodie friend suggested that we head downtown to try XOCO for lunch. I’d heard that lines can be quite long there, but we were not deterred. Were we crazy to choose XOCO for lunch on a busy weekday with the prospect of a 30 to 60 minute wait — just to order?

Were We Lucky?

Although we arrived a little before 1:00p.m., we were lucky, I think, to have just a 20 minute wait in line, which was accurately forecast by the hostess when we first walked in.

woodburning oven at XOCO

Woodburning Oven at XOCO

The wood-burning oven provides alluring aromas to whet the appetite and evoke Mexican street food ambiance.

Kitchen at XOCO

Open Kitchen at XOCO

Customers in line were patient and seemed content to wait to place their order. The employees we encountered were all very pleasant, giving the place a friendly vibe. While waiting, we had time to study the menu and enjoyed watching the cooks busy with food preparation in the open kitchen.

Farm Board at XOCO

A chalkboard listed the sustainable farms in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan that provide the fresh ingredients used at XOCO. In 2003, Bayless established the Frontera Farmer Foundation to support small Midwestern farms.

At XOCO, when you make it to the front of the line, the hostess assigns you a table. You then place your order at the counter and the hostess takes you to your table.

Outside Seating on Illinois Street

Outside Seating on Illinois Street

We had the option to sit outside or inside. It was one of those gorgeous warm, sunny days that remind me why I love Chicago in the summertime, so we opted for the sidewalk seating area on Illinois Street. Our order was then served to us at the table.

Foodie Friend’s Choice

Milanesa Torta

Milanesa Torta

The Milanesa Torta is prepared on the griddle with crispy chicken, black beans, artisan Jack cheese, pickled jalapenos, and tomatillo-avocado salsa.

My Choice

Pepito Torta

Pepito Torta

My Pepito Torta was prepared in the wood-burning oven with braised shortribs, caramelized onions, artisan Jack cheese, black beans and pickled jalapenos.

No Room for Churros


Desserts at XOCO

After the hearty and delicous tortas, we had to say no to the much-touted churros, homemade chocolate drinks and other desserts, but they looked very tempting.

My Chicago foodie friend’s track record of excellent restaurant recommendations has remained intact and XOCO gets an enthusiastic TWS thumbs up!

If you go:

XOCO is located at 449 N. Clark Street at the corner of Clark and Illinois. Valet parking is available. It is closed on Sundays and Mondays and reservations are not accepted. Take out is also available and can be ordered via email.

For more information: XOCO

Travel tip: When you’re jetsetting through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, you can experience Bayless culinary goodness at Tortas Frontera, his quick service locations in Terminal 1, Gate B11 and Terminal 3, Gate K4.

Still hungry? Check out more foodie posts at Inside Journeys website where Marcia Mayne is hosting Foodie Tuesday with her own tempting article as well as links to other delicious contributions.

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61 thoughts on “Loco for XOCO

  1. Leigh

    I’ll just have dessert please – they look so good. A twenty minute wait sounds OK to me to get food like this. I haven’t had good let alone great Mexican food in a long time.

    1. Cathy Post author

      I was thrilled that we only had to wait 20 minutes. Was prepared to wait longer and believe me, I don’t like to wait in lines for anything!

  2. Lisa | LLworldtour

    I have yet to get enough of this place! I keep bringing visitors there too…just like your foodie friend (I must meet this person!).
    Did you try the hot chocolate?! I would go out on a limb to say it’s the best in the U.S. – rich and thick and decadently delicious!
    Viva Bayless! See you next time you are in the city to eat more tasty food. 🙂

  3. Pola (@jettingaround)

    I like that place a lot! I did have to wait in a long-ish line, but it was worth it. Chicago’s neighborhoods are full of small taquerias, so I’m usually not very keen on visiting downtown Mexican spots, but this one is an exception. The tortas are great.

  4. Mary @ The World Is A Book

    Yummy! As a Southern CA resident, we love our Mexican street food so I would love to visit this place. Your Pepito Torta looks so delicious! Those desserts look sinful too! Definitely adding this to my restaurants to check out when I make it back to Chicago.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks for teaching me a new Spanish word today. I’d love to eat at Topolobampo. I’ve been to Frontera Grill next door — delicious!

    1. Cathy Post author

      I wish I would have had time to stop at one of the airport locations last time through O’Hare. Maybe he should open a few more there.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Very smart of Bayless to put those restaurants in the airport. Maybe he’ll do that in some other major airports, too. Wouldn’t that be nice?

    1. Cathy Post author

      It’s funny how there are certain types of food that seem to fit just about anywhere — Mexican food, pizza and burgers are like that for me.

  5. Pingback: History, Chicago-style | Traveling with Sweeney

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