Back in late February, I needed to take a quick mid-week trip to Chicago for a Very Important Interview. My first night in town was spent in Wicker Park with my gracious friends Kelsey and Matt in their hipster loft, complete with super cool bikes and the most darling dog, Dina. The following morning started at Glazed and Infused before boarding the L where I might have had the best Maple Bar I’ve ever consumed (Sorry, Voodoo and Top Pot.) They call theirs a Long John (potayto, potahto) and it has all of these good air bubbles in it and is more chewy, less cakey.
The rest of the day was spent in various sessions and class visits down in Hyde Park before retiring to a generic, corporate hotel on Michigan Avenue in the early evening. I don’t have the opportunity to travel alone very often and I figured it would be a good idea to have some me time that night to prepare for the next morning.One of my favorite quotes is by Virginia Woolf. She says, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Therefore, I told myself that in order to do well the next day during this Very Important Interview I would need to eat something delicious that night for dinner. Jimmy John’s was not going to cut it.
Despite the fact that it was 1°F outside, I thought it would be a good idea to walk along the lake (see picture above) and up to River North where Rick Bayless’ casual Mexican spot, Xoco, is located. Rick Bayless is to Chicago like Tom Douglas is to Seattle or Jose Andres is to D.C. so I figured it would be a safe bet. I was right.Xoco, pronounced “Scho-Co,” is an unpretentious gem, serving up Bayless’ take on Mexican street food. You order at the counter and seat yourself while you wait for your meal. It was a bustling Tuesday night and as I sat by the window sipping my Michelada, I watched countless Chicago-regulars come in wearing their floor length down jackets to pick up their food to-go. This is always a reassuring sign. (The Michelada was A+, by the way.)
It took me a long time to settle on what to order. The Chorizo Torta! The Braised Shortribs! The Churros! The only downside to eating alone is that you don’t get to try as many things. I settled on the hot, steaming bowl of Wood-Roasted Chicken Pozole and the Almost-Naked Guacamole. (Does anyone know how to go to a Mexican restaurant and NOT get guacamole? I have yet to meet them.)The chips were great and they come with two types of salsa in addition to the guacamole: a tomatillo version and a 3-chile one. You get to choose two toppings for your guac; the guy behind the counter told me to go for the grilled onions and queso fresco, so I did as I was told and was not sorry.
The pozole was exactly what I needed, the next-best-thing to having a home cooked meal in the winter. It should also be noted that the bowl was bigger than my head. The broth was spicy and rich and I realized I could suddenly feel my fingertips again. I even proceeded to dip my chips in it when I ran out of salsa and guacamole.Slurping the dregs of my Michelada earned me a couple of glances, and then my plates were cleared. I figured I better go catch a cab and get ready for bed. But…I still hadn’t had a churro yet and how could I say no to their famous bean-to-cup drinking chocolate? Churro and to-go cup of Aztec Chocolate (made with chile and allspice) in hand, I braced myself for the bone-chilling wind and hailed the first cab I saw.
Luckily, the interview went well enough that come August, I will be living in Chicago full-time. (!!!) And I’m pretty sure it was the churro that sealed the deal. Xoco, 449 North Clark St., Chicago, IL, http://www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/xoco, Open All Day Tuesday – Saturday, Closed Sunday and Monday, No Reservations