Go ahead: Invite some friends out to lunch or dinner at Frontera Grill. Perhaps a few business colleagues you want to impress or some out-of-town friends visiting Chicago from LA or New York—you know, those friends who just know their city has the best Mexican food in the US? It will be all the more satisfying when you show them exactly what they’ve been missing.
When you walk into Frontera Grill, you immediately know something is different. The contemporary Mexican artwork on the walls is as innovative and inspired as the dishes. The bar, with its bright colors and modern design, epitomizes the restaurant’s nod to tradition while stepping boldly into the future. The bigger the group you are, the better—you’ll be able to try more of the dozens and dozens of dishes. If you have absolutely no idea what wine one might order with a duck carnitas tamale topped with an orange-ancho salsa, just ask the in-house sommelier. But first, grab a drink at the bar, where you can savor inventive seasonal concoctions. Think: tequila cocktails with coriander and cucumber.
Most people have heard of famed Chicago chef Rick Bayless, or you’ve perhaps seen an episode of his series on PBS. Maybe you watched him win Top Chef Masters. Frontera Grill is the kind of experience Bayless is best known for: He puts an enormous amount of research, focus, and attention into every single ingredient in his dishes. While you can taste the passion in everything on the expansive menu, you might not realize, for example, that the poblano chiles are fire-roasted for a touch of caramelized sweetness. Bayless is a stickler for balance in texture; his creamy guacamole might come topped with crunchy pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds) or pomegranate seeds. Every ingredient is sourced with the utmost dedicated research and thoughtfulness; even the honey is organic and comes in small batches, either from Bayless’s own garden or one of Chicago’s urban farms.
If you don’t get to try everything, just come back…often. The menu changes several times a season, and Frontera Grill makes the best of what is seasonal and delicious. You might find make-your-own chicken with asparagus and cream tacos in June or a hearty winter squash mole in December.
It’s not as difficult to get a reservation at Frontera Grill as you might have heard; tables often open up a few days in advance. You might have to wait a bit, but Frontera does take walk-ins. If it’s really packed, just head next-door to Bayless’ Mexican street food cafe, Xoco, where he continues his tradition of Mexican cuisine as artform.