But I hate Illinois Nazis.
Anyway, on from a fairly undiscovered Detroit pupusa joint to a rather throroughly found Chicago mexican sandwich and soup place owned by a celebrity chef. Don't let it be said we don't cover all the bases!
We were in Chicago for a quick weekend visit after the movie Logan was working on in Michigan wrapped up, and we totally dragged my brother to Xoco for a giant late lunch.
Lucky thing we got there late, too, because even then the line to get in and taste of the sandwiches was formidable.
And the line doesn't just magically end when you get inside. No, there you have to watch others sucessfully ordering and eating their food while you wait to get up to the counter.
At least while you're waiting in this line there's lots to look at. You can ogle the aguas frescas on jewel-toned display in their clear cylinders.
You can watch people quickly and competently assembling a large array of ridiculously delicious-looking food, too, which makes deciding on a final order all the more difficult.
Oh yeah, there's also dessert to eyeball as well, though I'd tell you the thing to get is churros, lots and lots of them. There's a churro-frying station you can see from outside.
And then, suddenly, it's your turn to order and the heat and the pressure is ON. Which is probably how we ended up getting an appetizer, three sandwiches, a giant bowl of soup, and a dessert for three people.
After we placed our order, a very nice and very busy lady led us to a tall counter where we'd be eating. The system seems to work fairly well, in that by the time you're ready to eat in you will most likely have a table, but the system was also seen to break down on a couple of occasions. Maybe they need to take a recon trip up the road to Hot Doug's for a lesson on how to work the line so tables always open up at the right time.
The boys were fortunate that our order of slap-fresh avocado-rich guacamole and two piquant salsas arrived at the table quickly, since true hanger (see: hunger & anger) was beginning to settle in at my spot on the counter.
Quick aside: I love warm chips. It's like warm bread, you know? Just seems fresher and more welcoming.
My beer arrived nice and fast, too.
And then, suddenly our table was covered with food.
A torta ahogada, rich with fatty but not at all greasy pork carnitas, a spread of black beans, and pickled onions. This deliciousness was sitting attentively, upright in a pool of surprisingly spicy tomato broth. Fancy, yet totally down-home. And did I mention tasty?
Caldo verde, the daily soup special, with perfectly cooked local chicken for savoriness, roasted poblanos for a bit of heat, mushrooms for earthiness, chayote for texture, chochoyotes (masa dumplings) for toothiness and starch, and greens for bite. This was a damn fine soup, if I may say so.
The torta milanesa was just a perfectly put together example of a fried sandwich, one I've had in several places in Austin that serve it with varying degrees of success and sogginess. Xoco's was a satisfying mix of textures; crispy chicken, soft beans, melty cheese - and a goot hit of spice from their tomatillo-avocado salsa and pickled jalapenos. The picture we got isn't at a very good angle, so you'll just have to trust me on this one.
The last sandwich was the pepito, with slow-cooked shortribs, caramelized onions and Jack cheese. It was I'm sure an awesome example of its type, but I preferred the other sandwiches. Perhaps I wasn't in a shortrib mood, which is not to dis the pepito torta. You should still order it. If you like shortribs, I mean. And maybe haven't ordered half the menu already.
And then, ha ha ahem, we ordered a dessert. They were frying the churros right in front of us and had a menu blurb detailing how their chocolate beans were ground in house! How could we resist that?! And, I mean, if we were ordering the churros, it was only fair to get a soft-serve vanilla ice cream to dip them in. Right? And shouldn't we try a full cup of chocolate, I mean to give it a fair tasting without limiting ourselves to just the little churro dipping cup?
What else could we possibly have done, I ask you?!
I'm going to suggest you also do this if you go to Xoco. That chocolate is super-rich, though - I don't think there was any possible way I could have finished a cup on my own. As it was, the three of us left a good inch or so of the beverage in the bottom of the mug. Don't get mad, we felt really badly about it.
So, yeah, dammit, the empire of Rick Bayless lives up to the hype. These sandwiches were worth every minute of our wait in line on a cool Chicago winter day (meaning it was 30 outside intead of -5). And I'd wait in that line again in a heartbeat.
Kisses and thanks, Rick!
Xoco is at 449 N. Clark in Chicago. No reservations, closed Sunday and Monday.