This is the second post in the Weekend Trip to Chicago series.
You can see evidence of Celebrity chef Rick Bayless all over Chicago.
The moment you land at O’Hare airport, you’ll see his ever popular tortas shop right in the terminal. It almost always has a long line, which is why the best way to get your sandwich fast is to order it on the app (perhaps just as your plane lands) and pick it up when you actually get off the plane (yes, that’s what Bryan does!)
Rick Bayless, an American chef who is a well-known expert on Mexican cuisine, competed on Iron Chef America in 2005 against Bobby Flay, won Top Chef Masters in 2009, and has served as a judge for Top Chef.
In Chicago, he has an empire of restaurants, everything from the fast-casual Xoco and the bustling and well-known Frontera Grill to the more upscale, 1-Michelin starred Topolobampo.
It was Labor Day weekend. Reservations were insanely hard to get. We couldn’t get a dinner reservation at Topolobampo but found once available on Friday at lunch, which we immediately booked.
The lunch menu at Topolobampo is definitely simpler and scaled down compared to the dinner menu. They understand that time is of the essence, and thus they even offer a “Topolo in 60”, a three-course menu for $25 that only takes an hour total.
We ended up ordering one “Topolo in 60” tasting and then ordered a couple other dishes to supplement. I like the fact that the whole table does not need to order the same thing.
TOPOLO in 60
There are typically 2-3 choices under the Starters section of the Topolo in 60 menu. When we were there, we could choose between a soup, a salad, or a ceviche. We decided to try the Sopa Azteca – a dark flavorful broth (infused with pasilla chile), served with wood-grilled chicken, avocado, Meadow Valley Farm Jack cheese, crema, and a masa crisp.
For the main course part of the Topolo in 60 menu we chose the Chilaquiles Yucatecos, crispy tortillas, roasted tomato-habanero sauce, frizzled egg, avocado, and frisee salad.
Dessert was lovely. Sopa de Frutas included guava sorbet and fresh fruit served with a sparkling ponche “broth”. It was light, refreshing, and not too sweet.
OTHER MENU ITEMS
From the “Appetizers to Share” section of the menu, we also ordered Wood Grilled Quesadillas ($18), which consisted of wheat flour tortillas filled with Bayless Garden greens, braised shortrib, spinach, charred tomato “salsa huevona”, and a side of salsa.
From the Main Course section of the menu, we ordered the Featured Fish served with Mole Otonal and cauliflower rice.
We also tried the Carne Asada ($29.50), wood grilled Creekstone ribeye steak served with spicy salsa huevona, sweet corn tamal, homemade crema & fresh cheese, and grilled knob onions.
Before we left, we had to try Rick Bayless’s legendary Oaxacan black mole, a complex Mexican chile sauce that uses twenty-seven (!) ingredients. Our food-obsessed friends had told us about this Oaxacan mole. We asked the server about it, and he was nice enough to bring over a bowl full of the mole for us to try.
It was fascinating. I couldn’t taste all 27 ingredients. In fact, I could maybe name two or three. I know, it’s sad. I remember saying that I could taste chipotle (or some sort of smoky pepper), raisins, and maybe that was it (!).
For dessert, on top of the lovely sorbet from the tasting menu, our friend also ordered a cute nostalgic ice cream sundae, complete with colored sprinkles!
Another excellent dessert was this corn-themed trio: corn ice cream, corn cake, and fresh corn. It was an exotic mix of sweet and savory, including cilantro and chopped jalapeno peppers. It was really, really good.
General Thoughts about Topolobampo Chicago
We really enjoyed our lunch at Topolobampo. The quality of the ingredients was excellent, and the flavors were vibrant and flavorful. In general, execution of the dishes was quite good. We would later try Frontera Grill (Bayless’s more casual restaurant), and unanimously decide that we preferred the food at Topolobampo, which we found more refined and elegant. I would actually love to come back during dinner. I’m sure it would be really interesting to try the larger variety of Mexican haute cuisine that’s offered during dinner. After all, high-end Mexican is something that’s relatively hard to find in the United States.
445 North Clark Street