Over spring break to celebrate my birthday, my family treated me to a dinner at my all time favorite restaurant, Frontera Grill, located on N Clark Street in Chicago, Illinois. Developed in 1987 by the famous Rick Bayless, he sought to create a restaurant that “tasted and felt like their travels. So they hung colorful Mexican folk art on the walls, turned up the Mariachi music and packed the menu with the foods that reminded them of their travels”(1) through Mexico. Rick Bayless has rightfully received the Outstanding Restaurant James Beard Award in 2007 as well as the Most Popular Chicago Restaurant Zagat in 2010 with a 3-Star Green Certification from the Green Restaurant Association. Frontera Grill is one of the top rated restaurants in Chicago as people find themselves returning for the lively atmosphere, incredible service, and the overwhelmingly delicious, authentic Mexican cuisine.
The evening began with a small bowl of what our waiter said to be “Pepitas and fava beans pan fried with chili spices and lime juice”. These nuts were the perfect foreshadowing of the meal to come, spicy yet earthy flavors with a bright accent from the added citrus juice.
Immediately when we were seated we put in an order of the Frontera Guacamole as well as the Just-Made Tortilla Chips and Two Salsas, a must have at any Mexican restaurant. The guacamole was simple yet decadent, made with perfectly ripe avocados, cilantro, lime, green chile, and tomato. The two salsas packed complex and fresh flavors. The first salsa (the red) being made of three chiles: cascabel, morita, and guajillo with garlic while the green consisted of roasted tomatillo with serrano and cilantro. The three-chile salsa had deep peppery flavor with a kick of heat among the fire-roasted chiles. The green was fresh from the cilantro with a touch of heat from the Serrano pepper.
For appetizers we ordered the Ceviche Trio, which consisted of the Frontera (with albacore, tomato, and olive), Yucatecan (shrimp, squid, orange and cucumber), and the Tropical Tuna of (yellow fin, avocado-tomatillo, and tropical fruit salsa). Each containing their own tender fish that soaked up all the vibrant flavors of different citrus juices. Along with the ceviche, we ordered the Smoked Chicken Taquitos which was perfectly moist, shredded chicken wrapped in the house made tortillas and fried to a crisp. Served with the Frontera guacamole, roasted tomatillo salsa, homemade crema, and anejo cheese for creamy and rich textures against the crisp taquitos.
Annnnnd there’s more, for the entrees we ordered the Mole Poblano Enchiladas, Enchiladas a la Plaza, the Carnes al Carbon para tacos, and the Duck in Coloradito Mole. Pictured furthest to the left are the Mole Poblano Enchiladas which were stuffed with shredded chicken and roasted red onion, topped with a slightly sweet and spicy, but mostly smoky poblano mole sauce, finished with radishes and onion for added crunch. The Enchiladas a la Plaza were comprised of red chile seared tortillas on top of a tangy cabbage and onion salad with spicy potatoes, carrots, and mushrooms for a rich earthiness, topped with house made cheese for a little creaminess. By far my favorite dish of the night, these enchiladas had it all from the spicy, smoky flavor of the enchiladas and vegetables to the crisp and fresh tangy salad, to the smoothness of the cheese. It was a perfect combination of flavor and texture. Next were the Carnes al Carbon para tacos which were wood grilled skirt steak marinated in garlic and spices alongside roasted poblanos, smoky refried beans, served with more guacamole and fresh homemade tortillas. And finally the last entrée was the Duck in Coloradito Mole being a perfectly tender duck meat served with corn maza tamale bites and a lighter, yet sweet and spicy and little bit smoky of a mole sauce. All of the entrees were exquisite in their own ways, no one left hungry or disappointed in the slightest.
As for dessert we ordered the Frothy Mexican Hot Chocolate, which was a rustic Oaxacan dark-roast chocolate steamed with hot milk. Extremely decadent and creamy, yet not too sweet from the dark roasted chocolate, it was a delicious way to end the meal. But it’s not over yet! For my birthday our waiter brought out the Frontera’s Chocolate Pecan Pie topped with Kahlua whipped cream, which is easily one of the best desserts, I’ve ever had. A rich and chocolaty pie base with pecan under tones atop a perfectly butter piecrust all topped with a bitter yet sweet coffee liqueur whipped cream. And of course a chocolate drizzle saying “Happy Birthday” to topped it all off. Does it get any better? No.
Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill has the crown for authentic Mexican food in Chicago, leaving us with full bellies and more than satisfied taste buds. The exotic and energetic atmosphere will give an experience that goes above and beyond expectations. You’ll find yourself coming for the food, yet staying for the authenticity, and an unforgettable delicious dining experience.
1. Frontera Grill. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2016, from http://www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/frontera-grill/