Frontera Grill Still All It's Cracked Up To Be?
I'm here for a bit of the old crowd sourcing wisdom.
I used to live in Chicago for several years and I enjoyed Frontera Grill very, very much. I have now been away for several years and I am taking my girlfriend to Chicago for a little getaway. She has never been to the city and is a huge Rick Bayless fan. Obviously Frontera Grill was going to be on my list of things to do but many of the more recent reviews of Frontera have had me worried.
I don't know how much I trust Yelp but there seem to be a lot of disappointing stories. Mind you I am well aware of the wait times to get in and I'm not worried about that. What does worry me is some of the complaints about food and service. What do you all think? Is it just unsophisticated Yelpers who finally found out about Frontera? Or has the restaurant really been slipping?
Nobody goes there anymore. It's too popular.
The food is still as excellent as ever. To avoid long waits, I suggest a weekday lunch at the bar. The earlier in the week , the easier it seems to be able to find a seat. Sitting at the bar also gives you the added advantage of ordering off of either the Topolobompo or Frontera menu. The pork Milenesa lunch special on Tuesday is a personal favorite.
I went to Topolobampo fairly recently and loved it. I thought it was as good as ever.
You're probably familiar with Topolobampo, maybe not XOCO, so just to review each of the three...
Topolobampo is in one dining room inside Frontera Grill. It has a separate menu; the prices are similar to Frontera's at lunchtime, but significantly more expensive for dinner, and they also offer a tasting menu at dinner. They serve lunch Tuesday through Friday, dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Topolobampo accepts reservations in advance, on Opentable.com as well as over the phone; dinner reservations fill quickly shortly after they open the book three months in advance, but lunch reservations are usually available until a couple of weeks out.
Frontera Grill now accepts a handful of reservations, only over the phone, and holds most of the dining room available for walk-in traffic. Many people arrive 15 minutes before they open the doors, to avoid long waits to be seated; otherwise waits may be 90 minutes or more on weekends (including Saturday brunch). If you sit at the bar in Frontera Grill, you can order from either menu, Frontera Grill's or Topolobampo's.
XOCO is around the corner from Frontera Grill. They have a limited menu leaning more towards "street food" rather than contemporary Mexican finer dining. They're open in the mornings through dinner hours. Lots of people go there for hot chocolate (several kinds) and churros for breakfast. Like Frontera, it's closed Sundays and Mondays.
You can find current menus and hours on Bayless's website at www.rickbayless.com/restaurants
Rick Bayless is no longer the only game in town when it comes to contemporary Mexican cuisine. New places continue to open, and I've found delicious, creative Mexican menus elsewhere, most notably Mundial Cocina Mestiza, Mexique, and Mixteco Grill. However, since your GF is such a huge Bayless fan, to me this is a no-brainer: take her to one of the Bayless restaurants. I would definitely choose Topolobampo or Frontera Grill over XOCO, since they serve the creative contemporary cuisine that made Rick Bayless famous, rather than the more common street food. (Or, if your schedule permits, you could even go more than once, maybe breakfast at XOCO, lunch/dinner at Topolobampo or Frontera Grill.)
You don't mention how soon you're coming. If at all possible, if I were you, I would try to get a reservation. If you can get one at Frontera, fine, but they're not easy to snag, as noted above. Otherwise, I would try for a reservation at Topolobampo, even if it's only for lunch rather than dinner. If you have to go without a reservation, the best times to go to avoid long waits is either before they open the doors (as noted above) or after the lunch rush (someone here mentioned that they seat people for lunch until 2:00 and waits are not bad if you arrive at 1:30).
Personally, I do not think Frontera has been slipping at all. But certain websites attract complaints more so than people who really enjoyed a place, and don't have many recent posts from regulars who return to a place frequently.
Good luck, and enjoy it!
I really appreciate this thoughtful response. I think it's what I needed to hear. I won't be there until december so I may try to make reservations (I didn't know you could do that now, you still couldn't when I moved away). That said, I really don't mind the thought of doing some sampling in the bar for an hour while waiting for a table. If the largest complaint is really the wait time, I wont be deterred.
I do know Topolobampo very well, but the truth is that it's just a little more than I really want to spend. Lunch though, could be something to consider.
Anyhow, thanks again for this response.
It's not what it used to be, and if you're not in the mood to line up 30 mins prior to opening, that's a lot of hype to live up to. It's not bad by any means, but whenever a celeb chef begins spreading the reaches of their empire, quality will undoubtedly suffer... and it has. That said, I went to XOCO the other day and the short rib Pepito, guac and chips, churros et al. were as good as ever. I would recommend XOCO for an early lunch, or mid-afternoon snack, and plan better meals elsewhere. I just don't think Frontera Grill is worth the wait.