Long wait at Frontera -- nearby replacement?
I plan on going to Frontera Grill on Friday night for dinner with my girlfriend.
I am not going to be there when the doors open, and am concerned it is going to be a 2 hour wait when I arrive.
Any somewhat nearby alternatives -- definitely want to stick with Mexican food, and needs to be somewhere that has GREAT food like Frontera.
445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654
Here's what's close by. XOCO is Rick Bayless's restaurant for Mexican street food, and it's right around the corner from Frontera Grill. No reservations and waits may be long, but you'll be there anyway. Look at the website menu to get a better idea of the food, because it's very different from Frontera. www.rickbayless.com/restaurants Mercadito is a few blocks away. (I haven't been there.) www.mercaditochicago.com Salpicon is about a mile away, and is very good. www.salpicon.com
Of course, the problem you may run into is that, as a walk-in at any other place, you may encounter a long wait too. Instead of taking your chances on Frontera Grill, you may want to consider going somewhere else where you can make a reservation in advance. Mercadito and Salpicon both accept reservations on Opentable.
If you really want GREAT Mexican food, the best Mexican restaurants I have been to in the city, other than Frontera/Topolo, are a bit further: Mundial Cocina Mestiza ( www.mundialcocinamestiza.com ) in Pilsen, about three miles southwest of the Loop; Mixteco Grill ( http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura... ) on the north side, about six miles north of the Loop; and Mexique ( www.mexiquechicago.com ) in West Town, three miles northwest of the Loop. You can make reservations by phone at any of these three, or on Opentable for Mexique. You can get to any of them by cab, of course; by public transit, Mundial is near the 18th Street stop on the CTA Pink Line, Mixteco is near the Montrose stop on the Brown Line, and Mexique is about a half mile from the Division or Chicago stops on the Blue Line but may be easier via the #66 CTA bus that goes up Chicago Avenue.
First I'd say don't be discouraged about Frontera - we have always gotten tables at a relatively reasonable wait but Xoco is so much fun so a great backup if you are open to street food.
I've been to Mercadito several times and liked the food a lot but in the evenings it can be more bar scene than resto experience. Walk by, see what you think ... Xoco is always just a block away.
Mercadito does tacos, ceviches, salsas galore ... nicely served, high quality, very tasty ... we always get a sampler of the salsas to start and it's fun to compare and contrast.
108 W. Kinzie, Chicago, IL 60610
449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654
The original poster has probably had dinner by now, but for people with similar questions in the future, I offer this:
Frontera is very good, but I wouldn't classify it as "great." Just my opinion. I do understand the attraction - given the marketing efforts of the Bayless enterprises.
Re: Xoco: the outdoor seating in warmer weather has been a positive development and lessens the wait for tables in the undersized interior space. People patronizing the place are probably a couple of cuts above what you'll find sitting in Frontera, early in the evening (I think Frontera is a better experience once you get the tourist rush out the door and the restaurant has the opportunity to settle down and better concentrate). Xoco doesn't serve "street food" as one finds in Mexico ("lighter fare", yes). Saying it does is one of the marketing gimmicks of Bayless. Yes, two or three items on the menu might be found sold in mercados or at street stands in Mexico, but probably 95% of the items are a Bayless "take" on untraditional Mexican food offerings. High priced as it is for what you get, I think many people will enjoy Xoco more than Frontera (during the nicer outdoor weather periods).
Re: Mercadito: I find it a lounge - bar - that just happens to serve food as an aside, not as a principal focus. Those folks are all about selling high-priced liquor and drinks and concentration on the food-side of the menu is an afterthought. That's my impression after visiting a couple of times.
Salpicón on Wells St. in Old Town has almost always satisfied me. The kitchen is creative (in ways similar to how Bayless is creative), food quality is high, service is good. I've always thought that the restaurant deserved to be better patronized. I haven't eaten there, though, for at least the past 12-months. :-(
If dining inside Frontera is a priority for you then accept that there is likely to be a wait and make the best of the situation. Since Bayless won that televised chef cook-off the patronage has probably doubled (from the number of persons served previously), stressing the entire operation. The staff has done a pretty good job handling the change in operations.
Enjoy your food, wherever you sit yourself down!
Christopher Borelli, the talented Chicago Tribune food writer, has written one of the best articles about Bayless and his restaurants, including Xoco based on his interviews with Bayless. In that lengthy story Bayless admitted that what he's doing at Xoco isn't really "street food" as you'll find in Mexico. He's added very liberal interpretations to the point that I doubt many Mexicans in Mexico would eat that food. High quality ingredients, dedicated staff, expensive build-out ... yes ... but the marketing hype Bayless uses always claiming that he's brought Mexican "street food" to Chicago is just spin. Yes, there are several exceptions to what I'm saying, on the menu - but they're just that ... exceptions. Most of the Xoco customers wouldn't know the difference, though. The highest compliments I've read, consistently, about the food is that ... the bread products (from LaBriola) are outstanding. Go to Chipotle, it's presentation is more accurate, quality is high and prices are reasonable.