Mystery House

Best. Lunch. Ever.

It’s hard to find bad food in Chicago.  There must be some, but after four or five trips to the city, we’ve yet to locate it.  Even in a good-food-city, some things stand out.

We had tried several times, on different visits, to get into Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill.  I’ve loved his cookbooks and perspective on Mexican cuisine (which is one of my top three favorites) for ages, and wanted to try the restaurant.  But even when we called more than a month ahead, getting a dinner reservation proved to be impossible.*

That, however, was during the boom, when everybody at least thought they had money for expensive restaurants all the time.  When we discovered that Frontera was only five blocks from our hotel, we crossed our fingers that perhaps the recession might be on our side, and trotted on down just as they were opening for lunch.

There was a line half a block long outside, waiting for the door to open.

If the recession was hitting Chicago, it missed Frontera.  Nevertheless, we got in.  (The M.E. snuck a photo with his iPhone to prove it.  I scrubbed out the face of the notorious Sandal Sock Woman, so that I can talk about her footwear.  White athletic socks.  With big ugly sandals.  In a very, very cute restaurant.  Tsk.)  Good thing we arrived right when they opened, because within half an hour, the place was completely slammed.


After that, no more pictures.  Sorry.  The food was too amazing.  We just wanted to eat it, not photograph it.

There was a little cup of spicy peanuts and pumpkinseeds to munch while we decided what to eat.

There were margaritas — one with some kind of special tequila I can’t remember, the other with cucumber.  Yes, cucumber!  It was fabulous.

There was a trio of ceviches served in tiny martini glasses:  Hawaiian sunfish, shrimp and calamari, tuna.  Impossibly good, all of them.  (But the sunfish was my favorite.)  Neither of us had ever had ceviche this good, anywhere.

I could have eaten ceviche all afternoon, but we moved on to the main course instead.  The M.E. had goat enchiladas in an incredibly delicious, complex sauce, with black beans and cute little handmade tortillas.  I had (sustainably caught) swordfish in a chile-cream sauce with red rice and some sort of delightful little greens.  It was the most buttery, rich fish you can imagine.  Rich and fatty like a well-marbled steak.

We had no room for dessert, even though a goat’s milk cajeta ice cream was on the menu.  Dang it.

Cute place with tons of wonderful Mexican folk art on the walls; perfect service by a smart, friendly waitress; astonishingly good food which was worth every cent…..I have to say, more than a few of the celebrity chefs who are all over the TV these days are full of hot air and not paying much attention to their restaurants, but Rick Bayless is obviously the real deal.  We’ve been to some great restaurants, and Frontera has won a slot on our short list of The Best of the Best.

I so want dessert next time.  I swear, I won’t eat for a week before or after.

*Typepad is being a buggy little snot about font sizes today!


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  1. * cursingmama says:

    We’ve tried to get reservations before too with no luck…next time I just may try this “show up anyway” tactic. Have been dying to eat his food since watching his PBS shows YEARS ago.

    Posted 8 years, 11 months ago
  2. * Cheryl S. says:

    Mmmm. I am so envious!

    Posted 8 years, 11 months ago
  3. * Lorette says:

    Yum, that sounds divine. Maybe it’s time for a trip to Chicago.
    And I wear socks with sandals, but they’re hand knit flashy socks and Birkenstocks. That’s considered fashionable in the Pacific NW.

    Posted 8 years, 11 months ago
  4. * setembrina says:

    i can NOT believe you did not take any photo’s of your dish!!!
    shame on you BOTH!!!!!!!!
    and futhermore, I am deeply vert with envy

    Posted 8 years, 11 months ago
  5. * Lisa says:

    That is my absolutely all-time favorite restaurant, and I live in a city with excellent Mexican food.

    Posted 8 years, 11 months ago
  6. * Carrie K says:

    Typepad is often a buggy snot.
    Oh my, that sounds fabulous! Why do I read your blog before dinner? Starving now and I should hit the gym first……

    Posted 8 years, 11 months ago
  7. * Kathleen says:

    oh the envy….I’m so jealous! I’d love to sample some of the Frontera food! But being 5,000 miles away on another continent, that’s probably next to impossible. The next best thing IS to have the cookbooks, and I do have one of them.
    I love sandal socks, but not big white ones. I like handknit with wild colors. They are the ONLY thing to wear with those big sandals (she said smugly…) ;o)

    Posted 8 years, 11 months ago

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