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Frontera Fresco: Loop-Top notch Mexican for those in a hurry
Last visit November 2009
I haven't been to celebrity chef Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill or Topolobampo in years, the more casual Frontera Grill has a no reservation policy and long waits and Topolobampo is a little more expensive than what I usually want to spend on Mexican cuisine. So I read with interest that Bayless was opening up an express version of Frontera Grill on the 7th floor of the Marshall Field's (now Macy's) on State Street, could it be that you could now get a fast, inexpensive, and still high quality meal from Chef Bayless?
My question was answered on a recent visit to Marshall Field's (now Macy's) with Kat (keida84) on our stop to see the Christmas tree in the nearby Walnut Room after touring the Art Institute. And the answer was YES!
The 7th floor is home to the Walnut Room and Seven on State, a gourmet food court (there's also one in the basement). Don't let the long line dissuade you from stopping here, the line moved very quickly and alhought the food is made to order it's done very quickly. Seating is like a food court but the food is served on nice plates with proper utensils.
Open from 11 am-4 pm Monday-Saturday
Favorite Dish: The menu is very compact, you can choose from several different kinds of tortas (sandwich), huaraches (Mexican corn flatbread with toppings), quesadillas (grilled flour tortillas with filling), tamales and tortilla soup. I opted for a Torta Cubana, a grilled Mexican sandwich with smoked pork loin and smoked bacon topped with avocado, black bean spread, dressed greens, pickled tomato and smoky chipotle or creamy cilantro. It was very tasty and filling. Kat's grilled chicken quesadilla also looked quite yummy!
If you add a drink, your meal should come out to about $10 per person.
Frontera Grill: Rick Bayless' landmark (River North)
Rick Bayless is the celebrity chef who did so much to liberate Mexican food from the culinary barrios in the 1980s and early 1990s. Frontera is perhaps his most famous restaurant. My friends who have been coming here for years tell me that theGrill has lost some of the edge which it once enjoyed, but for an out-of-towner from the Mexican food dessert of the Lake Superior northwoods, there is some excellent eating to be had here. This is a very popular place, and there always seems to be a happy crowd here. Frontera has a beautiful colored dining room that puts you in the mood of the Yucatan, something which is especially attractive on one of those dreary Chicago winter days. (Frontera is next door to a "sister" restaurant, Topolobambo, which shares its kitchen but has a decidely more formal and elegant ambience.)
(Frontera Grill received a "Bib Gourmand" in the 2012 Michelin Guide to Chicago Restaurants.)
Favorite Dish: Try the fish! It's always fresh and interestingly prepared. And although it's not exactly a dish, Frontera is justly famous for their tasty margaritas.
- Food and Dining
Frontera Grill and Topolobampo: Gourmet Mexican
Fantastic Mexican food in the Magnificent Mile area. You need reservations for Topolobampo (which is known for unique, upscale Mexican). Frontera is their less expensive "Cantina" and they don't take reservations so plan to wait. Owner, Rick Bayless, takes the staff of Topolobampo to Mexico every Summer to learn more about the cuisine and work on his new menus, which are constantly changing. The staff is well versed in the culture and menu and happy to help if you can't make up your mind!
Favorite Dish: The menu changes occasionally so you can always try something new. They also feature an extensive tequila menu, so go ahead and order that second margarita!
Frontera Grill: Celebrity chef Rick Bayless
Rick Bayless has created unique mexican dishes. He is clearly a celebrity who has TV shows, multiple cook books, and restaurants. But unlike other celebrity chefs, his restaurant -- Frontera grill -- has a distinct earthy atmosphere. If you like Mexican food, you will enjoy this restaurant. And if you are lucky, you might also get hold of Rick Bayless~
I like his TV shows: http://www.rickbayless.com/
Only drawback is that you have to wait in line way before 5pm to get a table, which is just annoying. My out-of-town friend wanted to go Frontera grill, and I had to wait over an hour to get us a table, just so you know.
Frontera Grill / Topolobambo: Great Mexican food in Chicago??
I had read about this place, and am a fan of Rick Bayless' TV shows and cookbooks, so I felt it was my duty to seek it out and try it for myself.
It's only a couple of blocks from our hotel (The Monaco) so we walked and "only" had to wait for 45 minutes... Oh well, at least we were VERY hungry when we were seated. It is highly colorful place, with plenty to look at while you're waiting. I felt the main room was somewhat smaller than what I was expecting, but once we sat down, it didn't matter at all.
This isn't your typical Mexican food, but much more regional, focusing on the different states, rather than the burrito, taco, enchilada combo plates that you see at most "American" Mexican places.
Favorite Dish: mmm...best torilla soup I've ever had, and I've tried it at many places in the US.
Overall a high quality restaurant, great energy in the dining room, and skillful service. We’d definitely go back.
Oh, I almost forgot. During our meal, Rick Bayless came out and walked around to check up on everybody. He was wearing his chef whites! He was actually cooking that night. He came by to our table and he signed one of his books for us and chatted us up for a few minutes. It was nice to see a "celebrity chef" actually working in his own restaurant.
Frontera Grill: Gourmet Mexican
The chef of this restaurant has his own cooking show called, Mexico: One plate at a time. Chef Rick Bayless travels around Mexico learning the local cuisine. Then he breaks down the preparation details during the opposite portion of the show. The technique and ingredients are super interesting. And these favors can be found on the seasonal menu at his restaurants.
The restaurant is rather small. But the menu is rather large. The portions are on the small side as well. The paintings on the walls were beautiful.
Favorite Dish: We had the goat enchiladas with a chili peanut sauce. We got the appetizer sampler which had the most amazing shredded beef. We had the pork tacos, which were grilled pork and delicious. And to cap off the meal with vanilla and chocolate flan. The flavor was good, but I thought the texture was almost too soft.
- Food and Dining
Frontera Grill / Topolobambo: PERHAPS AMERICA'S BEST MEXICAN
Rick Bayless, the Godfather of nuevo Mexican cuisine, has created two uniquely different restaurants in the same building. Topolobambo is the expensive, gourmet, reservations only dining destination, and Frontera Grill is the margarita swilling, casual, fun bastion of good Mexican cooking. Both establishments provide some of the best "south of the border" food you will ever taste. I have experienced Mexican food in Mexico, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Antonio, and nothing comes close to the delectable creations emerging from the creativity of Bayless and his proteges (Salpicon etc.) Chef Bayless is a wonderful host and in spite of his recognition and accolades, remains down to earth, welcoming and warm. While Topolobampo sometimes has its ups and downs due to experimentation and creativity, Frontera Grill will never let you down.
Favorite Dish: I love mole. OLE!
Frontera Grill/Topolobambo: Haute Mexican Cuisine
This isn't your sombrero-wearing, enchilidada-eating, frozen margarita-drinking mexican restaurant.
Frontera Grill and Topolobambo serve fine Mexican cuisine created by Rick Bayless who has travelled all over Mexico discovering the cuisine.
This fine Mexican dining will give you a new appreciation for the complexity of flavors, balance of spice and subtleities that are beyond the typical Mexican experience.
Favorite Dish: Everything is delicious here!!! Try it all.
Have the waiter shake up a margarita in front of you. It is quite a treat!
- Food and Dining
Frontera Grill / Topolobambo: The mixed appetizer platter is wonderful
This is a great restaurant. Frontera is much cheaper than Topo, both have excellent food. However, if you want to splurge go to Topo. If you go for lunch it will be less expensive. The margaritias are really excellent. Be prepared for a wait even with reservations. You often have to call several weeks in advance for Topo, but we've had luck calling the day of and gotten in because of cancellations.
Favorite Dish: We really love almost every dish we have tried in both restaurants.
Frontera Grill: Modern Mexican at its BEST!
Make reservations!!! If you can't show up at the restaurant at least 1/2 hour before it opens, we got there at 4:30pm (opens at 5pm) on a Saturday and there were already 20 people in front of us, and its closed on Sundays.
The ambience is great (modern Mexican)
I LOOOOVE Rick Bayless and the food is fresh, edgy and delicious
Favorite Dish: Enchiladas de Mole Poblano: Homemade tortillas rolled around Gunthorp free-range chicken, doused with Mexicos most famous mole. Black beans. 18.00 (THE MOLE IS DELICIOUS)
Platanos con Crema: Sweet fried plantains with homemade sour cream & fresh cheese (MELTS IN YOUR MOUTH)
The comboniation appetizer platter: Ceviche/quacamale/salad/
Frontera Grill: Great Mexican
There is a reason that this place has won the James Beard Foundation Award. The food and service is superb. We ate outdoors on a beautiful June day and found it much to our liking. The food is well prepared and you leave wanting to go back again. It is owned by famed chef Rick Bayless who is the brother of Skip Bayless of ESPN and sports journalism fame.
Great food and great atmosphere. Not only was the food good but so was the people watching. I will make sure to go back again the next time I visit Chicago.
Frontera Grill: James Beard Winner!
I was very excited about going with my family to Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill. We enjoyed Saturday morning Brunch at an outdoor table. The bar, restaurant, gifts, awards specifically the James Beard was memorable.
Perhaps I talked up the James Beard; the "Oscar of Food" & our teens were very critical. They weren't impressed with the cold chips & guacamole. They felt that they waited too long from water & refills. Our entrees were very good; I enjoyed & would have liked to go back!
Frontera Grill and its sister...
Frontera Grill and its sister (which shares an adjacent space) Topolobampo
These are the best Mexican restaurants in this city. They may well be the best Mexican restaurants in the United States. The owners, Rick Bayless, and his wife Deann, spent years traveling and learning cooking in Mexico. Then they came here and opened two places: Frontera Grill (casual) and Topolobampo (haute cuisine). They are separated by a wall. Frontera does not take reservations for groups less than six; Topolobampo takes reservations for any group. Frontera is reasonably priced; Topolobampo is expensive. The dishes are much more 'relaxed' at Frontera and much more 'haute' at Topolobampo but you won't have anything less than a fabulous time at either.
WARNING: Frontera has been mobbed since the day it opened. Plan on spending at least an hour waiting at the wonderful bar. Unless you arrive when it opens, you'll wait. And it's well worth it, in my un-humble opinion.
Favorite Dish: Anything. Truly anything.
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