Xoco, the new fast-food concept by Rick Bayless, has been open for a few weeks, and we couldn’t wait to try it. Fortunately, the arrival of Boston’s very own Food Monkey Mike Prerau provided us with a perfect excuse to go.
We met up with Mike and his friend Nick around 5pm. It was a good thing we arrived early because it gets very busy, there’s a lack of low tables, and people (including us) like to linger. Xoco may be a fast food concept, but the folks who enjoy Rick’s cuisine aren’t in that mode, which translates into crazy lines at the front of the house.
Here’s how I think it works: if you have a number, then you can order and keep going back to order more food as long as you have it. However, if you don’t have a number, then you have to stand in line for a table. Once you get a table, then you’re given a number. If you’re there for to-go food, I guess you mix between the two lines because there doesn’t appear to be room for a third. It’s a little confusing so there’s a dedicated line wrangler who tells you where to stand and when to sit. Truly, I haven’t had that much line drama since my last visit to Disneyland.
The flow could be forgiven if the food was as awesome as Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. Though it’s good, I don’t think it’s near Rick’s other efforts. Some things were as expected — the guacamole is incredible and Bayless does something to salsa that elevates it to va-va-voom. Others at our table raved over the shortrib torta (sandwich) with its pickled jalapenos and the varieties of hot chocolate.
Unfortunately, most things were just okay. The woodland-mushroom torta I had was heavily crusted, laden with goat cheese, and sank in my stomach. The caldos (soups) were a tad salty for my taste and didn’t satisfy my notion of to-die-for soup — and at these prices they should. The churros that we ordered for dessert were served cold and there weren’t any waiters around to check on the quality of what was delivered. Tsk, tsk.
To get the full experience, you can expect to pay around $20 a person at minimum. That marginally qualifies as a cheap eat and certainly doesn’t meet my notion of what fast food, street food, or snacks should cost. I know it’s Rick Bayless, but c’mon.
Looking over the breakfast menu, the prices and options seem to be in line with what I’d expect to pay for breakfast downtown. I’m interested enough to try a morning run to Xoco, but plan to skip the long lines and over-priced food in the evening.
449 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60654
Online buzz about Xoco: