Xoco – Chicago
For a few months now, there’s been one place in Chicago that I’ve really wanted to get to. I’m a huge fan of Rick Bayless and when J’s mom told me he opened a street food Mexican restaurant right next to his Topolobampo restaurant on the Near North Side, I knew we had to get down there.
It worked out perfectly that we ate dinner right around the corner from Topolo, so I drug my family another two blocks farther away from the parking garage our car was parked in for dessert.
Xoco (pronounced Sho-ko) is on the corner of North Clark Street and Illinois Street in Chicago’s Near North Side neighborhood. The entrance is actually on Illinois Street, but the show is on Clark Street. It’s there that you can stand at the windows and watch workers make home-made churros and grind coco beans for the hot chocolate. My family was super confused. They’re not foodies. They have no idea who Rick Bayless is and they thought the coco beans that were being grined didn’t look so appetizing. J and I were super excited that 1.) we found the place and 2.) there wasn’t a line out the door. The rest of our group, could have cared less.
J, my sister-in-law, and I left my brother, mom, and dad out on the street and went to get in line. We entered the store and took a place in what we thought was the line against the wall. After a few minutes, a lady comes over and asks if we are dining in or grabbing something to go. We tell her we just want some churros and hot chocolate to go. She hands us a purple ticket and tells us we can cut to the front of the line. Everyone in line is waiting for a table. Since we were grabbing to go, we could go to the register and just put in our order. We were all confused. Did she just tell us to cut in line?
We hesitantly made our way to the front and waited. Once the cashier was done with the order she was working on, she turned to J. We put in an order for six churros (3 for $3), two Aztec hot chocolates and one authentic hot chocolate. We paid at the register ($15.05) and headed down the counter to wait for our order.
I read somewhere else that Xoco is like an upscale Chipotle. That’s kind of dumbing it down. The kitchen is pretty small and you can sit there and watch your food being made. Beside the pastries that we were there for, they do have a menu of tortas and caldos. All are made to order. They’re proud of their bean-to-cup hot chocolate which is pretty rare, so we were super excited about that.
If you chose to stay, there is a very small dining area. It’s like a long hallway with tables on one-side. You could end up waiting a while if you choose to stay. You order the at the counter like you would if you were getting something to go, but instead of a purple tag, you get a white tag with a number that you put on your table. Waiters/Waitresses then bring your food to the table.
We stood there for about ten minutes or so. The guy who I’m assuming is a kitchen manager or executive chef looked at me and asked what our number was. He thought we had been waiting too long, so he went looking for our order. The churros were done, but the hot chocolate was still being made. We didn’t make a big deal about it and weren’t upset, but he apologized a couple times for the wait. He handed us the churros in two bags and said the hot chocolate was coming.
A few minutes later, three to-go cups of hot chocolate were delivered to the counter and we were on our way. We got back outside to my family who was still waiting and wondering what the heck the big deal was. I immediately went for my hot chocolate. The Aztec hot chocolate had chie and allspice in it in addition to the fresh ground chocolate. In my head, I had the day all planned out and the hot chocolate was going to be a capper to a cold day of Christmas shopping. Unfortunately, or fortunately I guess, it wasn’t a cold day. It was still 45 degrees at 7:00. Still, the hot chocolate was amazing. It wasn’t spicy hot, but it had a little sweet kick to it. J was expecting it to be spicy, but to me, it tasted like a chocolate bar with ancho chili powder. It was delicious. When you got to the bottom of the cup, you started to get some pieces of the cocoa beans and some of the chili powder with what was left of the liquid.
We handed a churro to my mom and the first thing out of her mouth was “This is much better than a ballpark churro.” All I could do was laugh to myself. Here’s a churro from one of the premiere Mexican chefs in the country…and she compared it to Taco John’s. That’s why I love my mom.
J and I actually waited until we got home to eat them. They were amazing. The churros had been twisted into the shape of a little bow. They were covered in sugar and little pieces of cocoa. We only had three and we polished them off in a hurry. I was nice and split the third one down the middle so we could both have one and a half. I think we both would have liked to take the whole thing for ourselves.
Xoco was worth it. I was a little worried on a holiday weekend about getting in, but it wasn’t too bad. Even if we had stayed to eat, I don’t think it would have been a very long wait. We only got churros and hot chocolate, but that is what I really wanted to get there for. It’s sort of like dinner and a show. You can get your churros and your drink then go back out to Clark Street and watch cooks make them for other people.