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Apr 12, 2011 12:04 PM

Good Mexican eats around Mag Mile

Looking for a good and fun Mexican place in/around the Magnificent Mile. Something similar to the Cafe Ibierco vibe (but w/ better food). Thanks

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  1. For lunch, try Frontera Grill (445 N. Clark St) or Xoco, which is less expensive, (449 N. Clark St), both owned by Rick Bayless. For dinner, go to Mercadito (108 W. Kinzie St) Great vibe & amazing food! All of these restaurants are about 5 blocks west of the Mag Mile.

    108 W. Kinzie, Chicago, IL 60610

    449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

    4 Replies
    1. re: kzerom

      Rick Bayless was instrumental in making Chicago THE place for creative provincial Mexican cuisine in this country. His restaurants, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, are excellent for lunch or for dinner, but you just have to understand the situation regarding prices, reservations, etc. Topolobampo accepts reservations on (as well as over the phone) like most restaurants. They open the book three months in advance, and dinner reservations fill up quickly shortly after that, so it's tough to get one with short notice. At lunchtime, reservations fill up a few weeks in advance, so you can find them more easily than at dinner. Frontera Grill accepts only a handful of reservations and only over the phone, and keeps most of the dining room available for walk-in customers. As a result, you can expect to encounter long waits (one to two hours) at Frontera Grill unless you arrive 15-20 minutes before they open the doors. Also, Topolobampo is a lot more expensive than Frontera Grill at dinnertime, but the prices are very similar for lunch. I think Topolobampo is a great option for lunch, if you can get a reservation. For dinner, if you don't have a reservation and you don't want to eat early at Frontera, I would go elsewhere - more about that in a moment. I'm not all that impressed with XOCO, Bayless's third restaurant (all in the same location); the food is good but, unlike Topolobampo and Frontera Grill, it's not all that different from what you can find in cities across the U.S.

      If you want to eat creative Mexican food near the Mag Mile and you don't have a reservation at a Bayless place, I recommend Salpicon in Old Town, just a short walk from the north end of the Mag Mile. The food is excellent. It's open for dinner and Sunday brunch, and takes reservations on

      If you don't mind traveling a little ways from the Mag Mile, here are two places that I adore for creative Mexican fare. Mexique is in West Town, two miles west of the Water Tower (which is on the Mag Mile). You can take a cab or the #66 CTA bus up Chicago Avenue. Mexique features Mexican food with a subtle French influence, in a lively bistro setting. It's open for weekday lunch, Saturday/Sunday brunch, and dinner, and accepts reservations on Opentable.

      My other favorite is Mundial Cocina Mestiza, which is in the Pilsen neighborhood about four miles southwest of the Mag Mile. It's easy to get to via the el (our elevated subway), since it's right near the 18th Street station on the CTA Pink Line. The food is very creative and the setting is bistro-ish. It's open for weekday lunch, Saturday/Sunday brunch, and dinner, and accepts reservations but only over the phone.

      I haven't been to Mercadito. The menu just hasn't impressed me enough to go, since it seems not all that different from the conventional Mexican food you find in most cities (which is not a surprise, since it's a chain that started in New York). Compare the menu on their website ( ) with the ones for the Bayless restaurants, Salpicon, Mexique, and Mundial to help you make your decision.

      1. re: nsxtasy

        I've been to Mercadito. The downside is that the place feels a little corporate and manufactured like a chain - an upscale chain, but a chain. The food is not nearly as inventive or regional as Bayless or some of our other really good Mexican options. Still, I enjoyed the food for what it was and some of it was rather but it is good and not totally without creativity or inspiration. Also the drinks were tasty and enjoyable.

        I just don't share your appreciation for Salpicon. I haven't been there for a long time, but I haven't been there because I wasn't all the impressed when I was there.

        My vote would be for Mexique, which really is Mexican with a French influence and is not all that far from Michigan Avenue.

        1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

        108 W. Kinzie, Chicago, IL 60610

        1. re: chicgail

          Agreed, Salpicon is dreadful. Avoid at all costs.

          1. re: chicgail

            I like Salpicon; it's been very good, the times that I've eaten there. It's not my top pick, though; I'd rank the creative Mexican places something like this:

            1. Mundial Cocina Mestiza
            2. (tie) Mexique
            2. (tie) Topolobampo/Frontera Grill
            4. Mixteco Grill
            5. Salpicon

            But the differences between them are small. In my experience, they all have good, creative food and are pleasant places to be (excluding long waits for a table with no reservation at Frontera).

            However, people aren't always willing to inconvenience themselves to go to a place that's a tiny bit better rather than one that is a lot more convenient. Including me! Even though I've been back to Mundial more than the others - it really is THAT good - there are times when I want a place that's closer to home or closer to where I happen to be at any particular time. Like most of us here (I would imagine), I usually want the best place possible, but there are times when I'm willing to take convenience over a place that might be marginally better. I don't think you lose a lot if you're at the north end of the Mag Mile and you want to walk a few blocks to Salpicon. Heck, for that matter, if I were visiting Chicago and staying near the south end of the Mag Mile, I might be considering walking to Mercadito, especially if I were short on time or if I didn't want to travel a long distance in a strange city. These are all good places - and as usual in Chicago, the dilemma is having to decide among too many good choices!

      2. We ended up going to Xoco and it didn't disappoint. We had the ahogado torta in the tomato broth and it was the ultimate comfort food. We split the short rib caldos and that was also packed w/ a ton of flavor. Exactly what we needed after a long day at work for a training.

        We tried the Jolly Pumpkin and the Night Stalker beer and enjoyed the Night Stalker stout much more. How can you go wrong when you drink something called the Night Stalker (not to be confused w/ the Night Train).

        The wait at 730 on a Tuesday was approx 30 mins and it went by quickly w/ the help of some Night Stalker. Thanks for the rec.

        449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

        1 Reply
        1. re: FoodFanNYC

          No problem. Glad you enjoyed yourself!