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  XOCO [Street food-inspired Mexican]
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  • XOCO [Street food-inspired Mexican]

    Post #1 - February 8th, 2011, 12:21 pm
    Post #1 - February 8th, 2011, 12:21 pm Post #1 - February 8th, 2011, 12:21 pm
    I suspect this nomination will stir a little controversy here on the board. XOCO is not a quintessential GNR. As the successful nominator of two current GNRs (Uncle John's BBQ and Cemitas Pueblas), I think I can write with a modicum of authority on the topic. The perfect GNRs to me are those small, independent, hard-to-get-to spots helmed by dedicated, skillful people who focus on creating one or two perfect menu items that are Chicago's premium examples of those items. Places like Katy's, Zaragoza, Calumet Fisheries, Hoosier Mama, Burt's, Old Fashioned Donuts and Katsu are among my favorite Great Neighborhood Restaurants, and I think they fit the GNR mold perfectly. What I love about XOCO is that it shares many of the qualities of these GNRs: a talented chef, passionate about his craft and his specific cuisine, offering dishes that you either can't find anywhere else in the city or that are executed better than anywhere else.

    Sure, Rick Bayless doesn't need another award on his mantel, but when I look at the GNR list, XOCO is the most glaring omission. The main XOCO thread is an interesting read. It chronicles a decidedly mixed response to the restaurant mostly within the first few weeks of its opening. Gripes about high prices, long lines, labor disputes, faux authenticity, and Bayless "groupies" dominate the thread. But as it continues, high praise for the food from several LTH veterans emerges. Some examples:

    --gleam: "Very tasty torta, with moist meat, a nice habanero-based salsa (ordered 'hot'), pickled onions, and black beans. Pretty much exactly what you would expect if someone said 'cochinita pibil' to you. What made it stand out was the bread, which was fantastic"

    --GAF: "After two good days (the two day rule), perhaps XOCO deserves a GNR nomination. Time will tell."

    --happy_stomach: "The churros were not too far off from the best-churros-ever that I've eaten in Spain."

    --turkob: "This was one of the best sandwiches I've had in Chicago."

    --wino66: "The Ahogada....was extremely delicious."

    --sundevilpeg: "Dessert was close to perfect...You should go."

    --Kennyz: "This is not and has never been a street food place - it is a restaurant with dishes that are inspired by Mexican street food. The 'charm' is in the fact that the food tastes really good....As usual, the egg was perfectly poached, and the sandwich was delicious."

    --BryanZ: "The pibil was pretty awesome. That spice profile took me right back to Mexico...Also had the pork belly vermicelli caldo. The pork belly in this was pretty out of control delicious. "

    --danimalarkey: "The soup was outstanding, with a really great backbone of spice that was perfect for this dreary day and that just kept building and building. The sandwich came out a few minutes later and it was luscious, beefy, cheesy and pretty much anything you could want out of a hot sandwich. Pickeld jalepenos were a great accent and contrasted nicely with the fatty beef."

    --aschie30: "So, I settled on the short rib caldo, and it was so delicious, broth deeply layered with flavor, tender short rib, firm zucchini and roasted potato. It was such a soothing, well-balanced bowl that, in the words of Burt, 'like a dumbass,' I'd wait in that stupid line again for another bowl of soup."

    --Khaopaat: "We split a Pepito and a Cochinita Pibil... and I completely agree with the positive reviews."

    --David Hammond: "Had an ahogada for lunch today, and was very pleased that when I asked for the sauce 'hot,' it actually came that way"

    --Rene G: "A terrific bowl of soup that would be a perfect meal on a cold, blustery day...I think it's pretty much unanimous that XOCO's chocolate is superb. "

    --Vital Information: "This was one endorphin-inducing sandwich."

    --grahamhh: "At this point in my life on this day, nothing could've been more satisfying. Sesame seed-riddled broth, big hunks of soft, succulent belly meat, avocados, arugula, zucchini, noodles ... it had it all."

    --jesteinf: "I had one of the caldos...the carnitas. What a brilliant bowl of soup this was...You could taste the quality of the produce being used in this soup. The chayote provided a great textural counterpoint to everything else in this dish which tended towards the mushy (which isn't really a bad thing here). The potato-masa dumplings were phenomenal, nicely absorbing the rich and spicy broth. The pork was perfect, salty and slightly fatty. This is not meant to be street food. If anything, it's a higher end interpretation of street food (and that's a good thing IMO). Just a great dinner on a cold night."

    --dddane: "I ordered the Cochinita Pibil. The taste was off the charts."

    And I think this quote from Gary (G Wiv) sums up my nomination nicely: "One bite of rich juicy goat barbacoa, a Saturday special, loaded on a perfectly crisp wood toasted torta, with creamy avocado highlighted by onion/cilantro reminded me no matter the venue, no matter crowds, hype or incessant tweets, at the core Rick Bayless and team care deeply about what goes on the plate."

    I am proud to submit XOCO as a nominee for the GNR award.

    449 North Clark
  • Post #2 - June 24th, 2013, 7:35 am
    Post #2 - June 24th, 2013, 7:35 am Post #2 - June 24th, 2013, 7:35 am
    I'm somewhat surprised that Xoco hasn't gotten some supporters for its continued GNR status... but then I realized I didn't post on my trip there last year (but it did make my best of the year post).

    The detractors inevitably want to compare this to a hole in the wall in Pilsen. Well, it's not in Pilsen, it's in a high-rent district in Chicago (not ironically, it's Bayless' Mexican empire that's contributed to the rise of that neighborhood -- it was pretty sleazy in the early 80's). Yes, a sandwich costs $9-13, but that's a prevailing lunch rate down there.

    And the Torta Ahogada is the BEST SAMMICH EVAR!
    Succulent, creamy with cheese, spicy as all get out (if you ask for it), it's the ultimate soup-and-sandwich combo.
    I've only been once, and I don't remember what SueF had, because the Ahogada was so freakin' awesome. (I have had Tortas Fronteras a couple times at O'Hare: best airport food in the USA)

    This is what the GNRs are for: to tell people, "You're going to be in River North for lunch? Don't you dare go to the Rock 'N' Roll McDonalds -- go to Ohio House -- no wait it's not the same anymore. Ginza for sushi -- oh, you had sushi last night? Probably not as good as Ginza... oh I know, Xoco: Don't miss the hot chocolate and the Torta Ahogada."
    What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
    -- Lin Yutang
  • Post #3 - August 12th, 2013, 10:38 am
    Post #3 - August 12th, 2013, 10:38 am Post #3 - August 12th, 2013, 10:38 am
    My wife and split the Cubano torta and the goat barbacoa torta this weekend. I remain a big fan of Xoco. While I see the merits of using GNRs for focus on smaller, lesser-known restaurants, that isn't how the program is structured now. Nevertheless, when I think about what's a GNR to me, I try to balance price, expectations, neighborhood, niche, etc. In this case, while I would never plan a trip downtown just for Xoco, it is easily one of the best places to eat lunch in the area. There are not many places that cater to the masses and manage to turn out really flavorful food. I think Xoco hits their mark and so I support renewal.