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Aug 19, 2002 10:11 AM

frontera vs. ixcapuzalco

  • z

whenever a visitor comes to town, one of the standard recommendations is you have to go to frontera grill/topolobampo.

I can't speak for topolobampo, but i had the opportunity to have dinner at both frontera and the ixca again recently, and I 'd have to say that i far, far preferred ixcapuzalco.

why - the sauces. Not just the moles that bahena is famous for, but all of the sauces had a depth, richness and complexity that was lacking in anything we ate at frontera. Even the drizzling sauce for the fantastic ceviche was great. it seems at frontera now, that often the sauces relied upon are the bottled on that bayless pushes and while these are ok, they are made for the mass market, this had not been my impression the last time i visited there which i think was before the marketing/bottling campaign began

I also much preffered the service there, no 'tude whatsoever (which we did run into at frontera) as well as the huge tequila selection - and for this tequila neophyte a waiter who was able to recommend a couple different tequilas which pointed out the smoothness and differences of flavors available.

a while back there had been a discussion of ixca and it's overpricedness, and a few recommendations by rene of dishes there. The menu has changed somewhat since then but the standout dish for most every one at the table were the lamb chops in a deep, smoky,haunting red chile sauce that was literally wiped off the plate with anything handy. Also tasted were the carne asada, duck in almendro (sp?) sauce, quail in mole rojo, garlicky sea bass in banana leaf as well as numerous appetizers.

among the desserts theres a chocolate cake that's baked to order and the waitstaff will tell you it will take 15 minutes - it's worth the wait

in comparison to frontera, I found ixca in no way overpriced

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  1. I agree. I've only eaten at Frontera once, and given all the hype I was disappointed--both in value/taste of food (plus I got slightly ill and I believe it was the halibut) and in the overbearing attitude. Great restaurants care about feeding people, and make you feel glad that you've found them, not that you should be grateful you got in.

    I've eaten at ixcapuzalco a few times and always found it to be outstanding. I know people will quibble about the price for that location, but not I. Frontera's prices no longer are driven by location, but by Bayless hype. Location plays into it in the sense that River North is a dining destination neighborhood, so it is full of people who are willing to wait forever in line, which just drives the hype.

    8 Replies
    1. re: annieb

      I ate at Chilpancingo, Geno (Ixcapazulco) Bahena's fancier place in River North, a couple of weeks ago, which is too long for me to remember details accurately (since we did the tasting menu and had a couple of dozen dishes between us), but I will say that I was impressed with the flavorfulness of a number of dishes (although by the end, we saw the same moles twice or more). I haven't eaten at all these places enough to make an in-depth characterization but I'm inclined to say that Bahena's cooking has the edge in novelty (and not in a showy fusion way, in a digging up more authentic recipes never tried by gringos before way).

      I was also struck by the fact that we had very polished Mexican waiters who could talk about dishes relating to where they were from and so on. We're so used to the silent Hispanic supporting cast behind the Anglo waiter in fine restaurants, it was a genuine pleasure to see skilled Mexican waiters getting the chance to be the stars (and wax pretentiously about the food just like their Anglo counterparts at other nice places).

      And while Chilpancingo was more than Ix..., I felt it was fairly priced.

      1. re: Mike G

        Without considerations of price or location, do you prefer Chilpancingo or Ixcapuzalco? Too close to call?

        1. re: Harry V.

          Well, I haven't eaten at both enough to have a firm opinion, but I think price and location ARE the considerations, the food's very similar otherwise. The guacamole, which we got as an amuse-bouche before the dinner, was to my taste identical to Ix.'s, for instance.

          Things were prepared a little more finely at Chilpancingo, and the accoutrements were fancier; you probably can get snazzier tequilas at Chil.-- but that might just make the same moles on a slightly less upscale cut of meat seem like more of a deal to you at Ix., depending on your own way of looking at these things. (I suspect Vital Info would come down on the Ix. side of the price/value equation, for instance.)

          In this case, it seemed a natural place to take someone for a fancy birthday dinner who has enjoyed Ix., so more than just food was involved in making the choice. I will say that several things elicited comments from people as being "the best [something Mexican] I've ever had," such the coconut-flavored flan. And I liked the room, it was definitely a more comfortable and intimate place than, say, Hat Dance/Nacional 27 has ever been, or than most of the River North hot spots seem to me.

          1. re: Mike G

            Sorry, I guess my browser truncates headers with more than one colon in them, so I just want to make it clear that when I say "both" in the previous message I mean Chilpancingo and Ixcapuzalco, not Ix and Frontera as the header suggests.

            1. re: Harry V.

              Okay, settle this for me: Which one has braised lengua, and if more than one does, who does it best?

              1. re: Bob Libkind

                Probably none, with Ix. the most likely. If you want peasant food, you gotta go to the authentic places in the old neighborhood. These tend toward fine dining establishments, so offer what Americans consider quality meats, whatever else they may do to them.

              2. re: Harry V.

                I'm sure either could do a braised lengua to perfection, but so can may local taquerias and especially places on Maxwell street. I'm not sure that's the right criteria.

          2. I think the food at Ixca is every bit as good if not better than that at Frontera. Thed coml;exity of the moiles there is something that I haven't experienced since my travels deep into Mexico.

            To me, the servings seem extremely generous thus justifying the high-end entree price of $20.00.

            I must add that, on my last visit, Ixca still had not overcome its reputation for inconsistent service. My duck mole arrived 30 minutes after ordering while the couple at the table next to mine who arrived after we did were served the same dish in approximately 10 minutes (and before us). Go figure.