xoco by rick bayless is possibly one of the restaurants that i recommend most to my friends. my first visit to xoco (it's pronounced as SHO-koh, if you are wondering) was about a year ago in sept 2009 and i was blown away by the food minus some.
xoco is an addition to rick bayless' accomplished restaurants including frontera grill (which i heard you need to make reservation months ahead for a table) and tapolobampo. located at the corner of clark and illinois (about a three block walk from the grand red line station), xoco's menu is inspired by mexican street foods namely tortas, caldos, churros and hot chocolate. this is a way to enjoy complexity of flavors and textures, a signature of rick bayless' cooking style, at a more casual setting.
from previous post
ryan and i have been meaning to return here for a second time but has always postponed it since it was smacked in the middle of downtown and we were too lazy to take the train down during the weekends. but last month, we finally gave in to our cravings and found ourselves waiting in line for those scrumptious sandwiches. my third visit was last weekend with a friend of mine who came to visit me at my new apartment in downtown so he suggested xoco to which i immediately agreed upon.
last month | this was the long awaited return to xoco and we only had to wait for a 15-20 minutes when we got there at about just in time to beat the crowd because shortly after, the line was starting to form out the door. good thing for the wait since i had to decide what i wanted for lunch that day...it was between the seafood caldos (meal-in-a-bowl) or one of the two tortas (mexican sub) - ahogada or gunthrop chicken. ryan had been finding reviews on the food here and discovered that the tortas from the woodburning oven is definitely better than the ones from the griddle.. so woodburning > griddle tortas.
so when i thought i have decided on getting the ahogada, but then i came across their daily specials menu just below their regular menu and saw:
"saturday | goat barbacoa: Oaxacan pasilla-tomato salsa, avocado, onions and cilantro "
that was what i wanted...for sure.
except when it was my turn to order... i don't remember what the reason was but there was none for me
:( so back to plan B with my original order.
what we ordered that day:
chips&guacamole | decided to give this another try. ryan wasn't too fond of it the first time we had it cos it had too much lime. but this time it was done just right. slightly chunky but at the same time buttery and having just the right amount of seasoning which goes well with the freshly fried tortilla chips...yummy! ($4)
choriqueso | homemade chorizo sausage, roasted poblano, artisan jack cheese, tomatillo salsa
ryan's favorite sandwich ($8). what he loves about this sandwich is the intense flavor and spice from the chorizo which is paired with the slight sweetness from the roasted poblano. all these served between two pieces of crunchy bread. i definitely love the flavors of this sandwich but the only drawback is that some bites are somewhat dry to my liking. it is served with a side of tomatillo salsa. i prefer the sandwich without dipping into the salsa.
ahogada | golden pork carnitas, black beans, tomato broth, spicy arbol chile sauce, pickled onions
this sandwich is available for dine in only ($9.50). why? just cos it's special..hehe.. the real reason is because this sandwich is served in a bowl with a spicy tomato broth. ryan has read that this was quite the popular sandwich. you can opt to get the broth either mild, medium or spicy to go with the sandwich. i went with ahogada without black beans (my aversion for black beans is here to stay) served with the spicy tomato broth (which is supposed to be the way to go). it looked delicious when this sandwich came to our table. meat was succulent and moist but ryan and i agreed that it was lacking something - he pinpoint that it was lacking something earthy in the sandwich and sure enough it was probably because i had it without the black beans. so it didn't have the same complexity of flavors as the other sandwich did. the spicy broth was slightly hot but a tad too vinegar-y. not a favorite of mine. but my friend's bf loves it though.
other dishes | for drinks, we tried this drink which was papaya&mint drink which was refreshing for the hot summer weather. i thought it wasn't too bad considering i don't like mint in drinks.
we also ordered the classic hot chocolate but was somewhat disappointed because it wasn't the same one as we had before. it was oddly slightly grainy and it didn't have the same smoothness. and of course, one of the best reasons to come to xoco for... churros! warm fried dough, soft on the inside, crispy on the outside with the additional crunch and sweetness from the cinammon sugar paired best with good hot chocolate. delicious! we ordered three each since it was either three for $3 or $1.25 each. you have the option to ask to have these fried fresh after your main meal or you can get it at served at the same time as your sandwiches if you like to start your meal with dessert. churros <3. they've also introduced vanilla soft serve ice cream you can enjoy with your churros if you would like something cold with the warm crispy goodness.
from previous post
last weekend | third visit was with a friend on saturday for lunch time. we got there at about 12:30 pm. and yet again, we were lucky to get there before the afternoon crowd came swarming in because the wait was minimal (about 15 minutes). this time i was determined to get the goat barbacoa that escaped me the last time!
goat barbacoa | oaxacan pasilla-tomato salsa, avocado, onions and cilantro
O-M-G! huge favoriteeeeeeeeeeee! love love love this sandwich. i like this better than the choriqueso which i love too. moist, succulent, melt-in-your-mouth, flavorful goat meat stacked in between crispy bread topped with the buttery-ness of the avacado and the freshness fo the diced onions and cilantro. what gives this sandwich ($12) the edge over the choriqueso sandwich is the fact that it is moist all over. awesome flavor with subtle smokiness all around when this masterpiece is grilled in the woodburning oven to give you the ultimate sandwich. i kept saying that i am gonna be back again for this sandwich so a lot of my saturdays will be xoco day. haha. it was hard to stop eating it after half my sandwich but i had to save room for my churros and my drink. the agua de fresa that i paired my lunch with was watermelon with lime which was refreshing and cooling for the hot and humid saturday afternoon. i'd say it was an amazing summer day lunch.
if you are wondering what barbacoa is, it is actually meat or whole sheep slow-cooked over an open fire, or more traditionally, in a hole dug in the ground covered with maguey leaves (taken from wikipedia). i am guessing it was probably slow-cooked over an open fire at this place.
i looked up on the menu and these are the list of xoco daily specials:
tuesday | carnitas: guacamole (mexican oregano, roasted garlic), pickled manzano chiles and red onions, black beans.
wednesday | pork belly: dark salsa negra glaze, bacon, arugula, queso anejo
thursday | mole poblano: braised pork, wood-grilled onions, crunchy fresh garnishes, fresh cheese
friday | shrimp and bacalao: roasted tomato, manzanilla olives, capers, piquillo peppers
one thing that i recently found out is that if you want to get these sandwiches to go, you can just skip the line, walk up to the counter and place your order. all you have to do after is wait for your food to be ready. most of the waiting in line is for the limited tables at this petite restaurant where the maitre'd will hand the customer a number before they can step up to the counter to order. once they've paid, they will be shown where to sit - most of the time sharing tables with other customers. xoco has also added tables by the sidewalk since the beginning of summer this year for customer who prefers to enjoy their lunch out in the good weather days.
oh and one important thing to remember is xoco is closed on sundays and mondays. no reservations allowed either.
i really can't wait for my next visit to xoco. maybe the weekend after next :) goat barbacoa, here i come....again! hehe
disclaimer this is written based on my personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may vary for others
note | i reused some photos from my previous post (as captioned) since i didn't take enough pictures during my last two visits.