Frontera Grill is located in the heart of Chicago on Clark Street, near the head of the Chicago River and in the River North part of the city. It’s owned by Rick Bayless, an internationally-known chef who has won awards from the James Beard Foundation and won the first season of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters. He’s considered by many to be one of the finest chefs in the country, and arguably the world’s best when it comes to preparing Mexican cuisine.
He’s also the younger brother of ESPN’s Skip Bayless but we won’t hold that against him - it’s not Rick’s fault.
We had lunch at Frontera Grill during our first day in the city. We had been walking around and there were a few restaurants we were interested in trying but we knew we wanted to eat at Frontera Grill sometime during our trip and the host won us over immediately. While we were standing outside looking at the menu, he came out to greet us and invited us to come inside to look at a menu and told us about some of the specials the chef had prepared for the day.
His friendly approach was simply the start of wonderful service and hospitality by a staff that understood the importance of knowing its product and providing outstanding customer service. The food is amazing at Frontera Grill and the service is just as good.
We were seated at a table outside because it was a nice day and (helpful food blogging tip) the lighting outside offered better opportunities for taking pictures of our food.
The menu at Frontera Grill changes regularly so I don’t know if the things I’m writing about stay on the menu but I’m sure everything is delicious and creative.
We ordered an appetizer of chips and salsa, which featured freshly-made tortilla chips and two different kinds of salsa. The red was a three chile salsa and the green was a tomatillo salsa with serrano and cilantro. The green salsa had a mild spice and a great fresh flavor from the cilantro.
Everything was plated beautifully and looked incredibly appetizing. My first bite was of the lamb in the Oaxacan black mole.
OOOOOOOO. M. G.
We have a winner for Best Thing I Ever Ate: Mexican.
There was a depth of flavor in this dish that I have a difficult time putting into words. There were meaty elements from the tender lamb and smoky, sweet spices I’d never tasted in Mexican food before. I don’t know if there was any dark chocolate but it almost reminded me of a rich, dark stew with notes of cocoa. I hesitate to even guess at any of the ingredients and spices because I don’t want to get it wrong and misrepresent the chef.
This Oaxacan black mole offered a rich and home-y flavor that had me feeling like I was enjoying a dish of Mexican comfort food, if there is such a thing. And scooping some on a fresh corn tortilla was heavenly. I used my finger to make sure I got every bit of the mole out of the small skillet it was served in. I’m not joking and I don’t even care if you’re judging me right now. Not even a little bit.
And as the waiter suggested, the Modern Black Beans were an excellent side for the mole trio. The beans were hearty and the crunch of the onions with the soft cheese was delicious. It also served as a nice dip for our tortilla chips. (If you can’t tell, our table looked like it was a feast for 10 people even though it was just me and Nicole.)
Nicole ordered the ceviche trio, which was also outstanding. The fresh seafood and the intense flavors of citrus were enough to make this non-ceviche lover a big fan. I particularly liked the Tropical Tuna Cocktail - big eye tuna, avocado, tomatillo, and tropical fruit salsa.
You could taste such an amazing difference between everything at Frontera Grill and the food you’d find at most Mexican restaurants. There’s a level of sophistication to it that elevates Mexican cuisine to a level that’s on par with any other type of food in the world. The total bill was around $75 for the two of us, which is an expensive lunch, but still well worth it.
It was the best Mexican food I’ve ever had and it ranks right up there with any cuisine. With these extraordinary dishes, it’s clear to see why Rick Bayless is a world-class chef.
After our lunch, I actually said “Hello” to Rick as he was hustling around the restaurant. He quickly responded and I was hoping to chat with him for a couple minutes and thank him for an incredible meal. Unfortunately, he was in a hurry and quickly scurried off to the kitchen after saying “Hi.”
No problem - the kitchen is absolutely where he’s meant to be.