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Rick Bayless strategies?

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I am a foodie from Minneapolis coming down for my annual Windy City holiday. Never have made it to Rick Bayless' restaurants, and will go there this time.

Any strong feelings for one place over the other? Dishes to recommend? When's the best time of day to arrive, or are reservations needed?

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  1. Reservations are a must unless you are willing to eat at 5:00 PM. We prefer the Topolobampo side. It is quieter, a bit more haute, and quite intimate. If there is mamey ice cream on the menu for dessert, order it and ask that it be topped with dark chocolate sauce. Heaven! The guac is most excellent and so are the Margritas.

    1. We called at 8:00 am the day we wanted to go to Frontera and got reservations for 6:30. We also had an option of 8:30. It was one of the best meals I have ever had (duck in mole sauce).

      1 Reply
      1. re: lbs

        Second on the duck. The servings are kind of small, so splurge a little or you might leave a bit unsatisfied. We walked in at about 6, put our name in, went and had a beer across the street, and when we returned an hour later, our table was ready. Service was very efficient and helpful. The waiter steered me to the duck and he was right. My friend had snapper, I think, and loved it. Everything was perfect, if a little more casual than I expected.

      2. While there are tons of threads on the board regarding Bayless, my two cents

        If you don't have a reservation for Frontera, go anyway and they tell you two hours - don't believe them. They often over-estimate the time to the point of absurdity.

        If you can find a spot in the bar, or at the bar, grab it. The service is still fine, and so's the food.

        If you don't mind the noise, Frontera is fun.

        If they have a roasted tomato soup, go for it. The one with morels isn't as good as the plain, in my opinion.

        1 Reply
        1. re: mike_d

          Just ate there for brunch on Saturday - we were told 1 hour wait but we sat at the bar and had a really nice brunch. The people behind us were told 1.30 hours and were seated within about 20 minutes. Very good food and realy nice service.

        2. For my visit to Frontera we ate at lunch time since we were bringing our baby, and we prefer going out for lunches with her to try not to inconvenience other another diners dinner. People seem to be be more forgiving of a baby at lunchtime.

          We made our same day 12:30 p.m. reservation at 11:00 a.m. as we were driving downtown on a Thursday. The food was great, and the service was good as well. I would reccomend a few tequila flights, I had the reposado flight, & the mezcal flight, and loved every sip of the fine tequilas.

          Enjoy your visit.

          1 Reply
          1. re: swsidejim

            If you want to get a real sense of what Bayless has achieved (raising Mexican food in the US to the very highest level), Topolobampo is definitely the place to go, with the tasting menu a particularly good choice. Also, you can reserve well ahead of time there, and the restaurant is much quieter (especially if you're not right next to the opening to Frontera). Lunch at Topolo is an especially good deal, although there's less choice than at dinner,and they don't offer the tasting menu. My favorite way to go to Frontera is at the Saturday brunch. They open at 10:30, and if you arrive then (or even a bit after) you probably won't have a wait. There are some excellent egg dishes that aren't available any other time, as well as a some lunch choices. At either restaurant, the Aztec (tortilla) soup is always great, as are most of the desserts (which vary from month to month). They're also very good with fish, and mole sauces are superb. But I've never been disappointed by anything at Topolo and very seldom at Frontera.

          2. Mrs. wak and I strolled in on a Thrusday night around 7:00 and were seated immediately, although that may not be a typical experience. In general, if you call first thing in the moring (8-8:30 am) you can often get a same day reservation. If you are with a group of 5-10 you can make reservations in advance.

            Or if you want to splurge a little, go to Topolobampo where you can make reservations.

            In general, if you stay away from the prime dining hours (7:30-9:00 Fri and Sat) I wouldn't think the wait would be too bad.

            On my last visit I had a grass feb Rib Steak that was outstanding.

            1. Personally, I prefer Frontera. If you can get a reservation, great, but really....don't sweat it. Last time I was there (a Saturday night with six people) we were told 2 - 2 1/2 hours and we waited just about one....you may see a line around the block if you show up before 5 pm - my advice is don't worry and just wait.

              1. My main piece of advice is that if you are hitting Topolo to recreate some experience you had in D.F. at someplace like Aguila y Sol or El Bajio... lower your expectations, the food is somewhat dumbed down at Topolo... and that is particularly true for the Duck in Guasmole. In fact, it didn't hold a candle to the execution of that same dish in an average, homey Pueblan fonda.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                  Could you elaborate on the references you made? What does D.F. refer to? Whatever it is, I haven't been there in general, let alone Aguila y Sol or El Bajilo - I'm thinking I'd like to go.

                  1. re: pgokey

                    D.F. = Distrito Federal, aka the Mexican Federal District, aka Mexico City.

                2. frontera is easier to get into - they take same day reservations only starting at 8:30am.

                  1. Donate $1,200 to WBEZ (NPR) here and Rick will prepare a meal for you at his house. I think the date is July 19. If you really want the whole experience.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Pete Oldtown

                      Given the cost of traveling to Mexico... it just might be worth it. I found Topolo to be a bit tame & conditioned by the typical patrons (very conservative types)... not at all what I expected from Bayless given his show & cookbooks. I bet in the confines of his own home, with a willing participant... the experience would be umpteenth times better than at the restaurant.