Frontera Grill Strategery
Hoping to get into lunch or dinner on a Tuesday with no reservation. According to the web site, it is largely first come first served, so we plan to be there at opening. Is before opening necessary? I'm not camping out, but I would like to taste some of the unique dishes on the menu. We also failed to make timely reservations at another choice, Girl and the Goat, so darn.
Well thanks, ya'll! Reporting back... On Monday mid-day I called Girl and the Goat and got a reservation for 9:00 p.m. The food was okay, but the atmosphere was 20 years younger than me. Black painted walls and conversation chilling music levels detracted from whatever enjoyment the food would have given me, but it was packed so I will not be missed in the future.
We fared better on Tuesday at Frontera, arriving at exactly the opening time, 5:20. And Danimalarkey? There were right at 30 people in the line at that time! :) I waved at you!
We sat in the bar at a high top table and had guacamole to start, which was good, but the chewy dried red pepper bits were a head scratcher. It came with fresh fried chips though and some nice tomatillo and red pepper salsas so no complaints. I had the special of the day, which being Tuesday was the slow cooked and shredded cabrito, served over very tasty corn cakes with runner beans and grated Napa cabbage. DH had the mole trio, and he proclaimed it amazing. We loved the the Agave Margarita which was dry and tart, not sweet. Earlier in the day, I logged onto a local Chicago restaurant forum and was astonished at the number of "thumbs down" reviews I saw there. Most complained about price, but really, prices for tacos in downtown Chicago are going to be higher than prices for tacos in Oaxaca, right? Our server was ever so nice and prompt and helpful. We very much enjoyed the meal, and on a return trip to Chicago will definitely go back.
So when we finished, it was but 6:30 p.m.! Even I stay up later than that. We took Danimalarkey's advice and tiptoed around the corner and down a dark alley to the hidden door to Three Dots and a Dash, manned by a door man/bouncer/carder, and down the stairs to the cellar Tiki bar. What a fun place!! The Tiki is back! By the way, Three Dots and a Dash is Morse Code for "V" and was a drink invented after WWII to commemorate Victory! Yay! I loved everything about that bar. Our server was super helpful and re-directed our Manhattan and Scotch orders to similar drinks involving exotic rums and we were not disappointed. Flagging a cab to the hotel a couple of hours later was a cinch. What a great evening. You folks are the cat's meow.
As to our other meals during our short stay, we seriously loved a lunch at The Gage Tavern at 24 South Michigan - house made sausages with house made kraut served so stylishly. We had a cup of chili at Harry Caray Tavern on Navy Pier so we could call ourselves tourists, and a really awful cobb salad at Shula's Steakhouse in the Sheraton on Water St. where business took us. Now we know not to go to the Shula's in Our Town.
It was a fabulous time in your fair city. Looking forward to returning someday. If you head to Houston, check in with the friendly folks in that CH forum, they won't steer you wrong.
Plans change, so in the event you end up going for dinnner...
I was there last Saturday, 7:15 pm walk in, the worst possible situation. They told me an hour and a half so we went next door to a bar(don't remember the name) and sat at an outside table and watched the crowd and the Northwestern/ Ohio State game on the big screen. The time flew by and we checked in on the half hour. After an hour and half that took us to our table. The food was excellent, those mole's were fantastic. It was my first time in Chicago and as a Mexican food lover,somewhat regular visitor to Mexico, and a Bayless fan, I had no problem waiting and I am glad I did. Enjoy.
Tuesday lunch at Frontera before they open is probably your best bet. Don't forget that in addition to the walk in tables in the dining room, the entire bar area (a bar and some tables) is first come, first served.
For GATG, you can order food from the bartender at the bar, OR grab one of the the lounge tables. The lounge tables have servers just like the regular tables. Those two areas are first come, first served. They also reserve some regular tables for walk ins but you might end up with a communal table. If you really want a non-communal table in the main dining area, I'd get there before 4:30pm. I've asked one of the managers there and they said before 5pm or after 10pm is best when walking in.
For future reference, GATG takes reservations 6 months ahead via phone and only 3 months ahead on OpenTable.
I work 2 blocks from Frontera and pass by often on my home from work -- at 5:15, just before they open on Tuesdays, I typically see ~30 people in line. The staff will also stagger seating so unless you're at the very front of that line, there will still be a wait even if you get there when they open. Also, I don't think they will even take your name unless your entire party is present.
If I were you, I would leave my name with at the host stand and ask about the wait (they're pretty accurate -- and I think they can call you when the table is ready but I could be making that part up). Then I'd spend that time waiting in Three Dots & A Dash, a terrific tiki bar on the same block (the entrance to Three Dots is in the alley running behind Frontera -- true story, but Rick Bayless nearly ran me over one night when I was heading to Three Dots!).
Girl & the Goat does have bar seating (no reservations), so if you arrive at/near opening you may very well be able to score a bar seat there. You can order food from the bar area.
Regarding Frontera Grill I am not sure how early you would have to arrive to be likely to score a seat. I did once try on a weekend without a reservation and when I arrived shortly before opening there already was a crazy long line. Weeknights might be better, but if it is high on your list of venues to try arriving 15 minutes or so before opening may be wise (unless someone has some recent experience with weeknights and deems it not necessary).