Finally, Nick and I got to experience Rick Bayless’ popular new, (more affordable) Mexican eatery XOCO for brunch (Pronounced Sho-Co)!
I have been dying to experience Rick’s take on (non-burrito) Mexican cuisine, and to try to figure out THE top chef masters’ culinary magic.
On a Saturday at 12:30 (brunch time), the wait was around 45 minutes. Nick and I stood in line the whole time watching the chefs cook in open kitchen beside us and pretending to ignore our growling tummies. Near the windows, Rick Bayless had thoughtfully put up some cook books of his as if he anticipated our wait would happen. There were also 3 blackboards with the exact same message in case you miss the first 2. Bravo.
Not so thoughtful: There was only 1 cash register open (there were 2 total) and it literally took the whole 45 minutes to work through about 15 parties. I assume it was a combo of a small kitchen (1 little wood burning oven only!) that prevented too many chefs to be in the kitchen at once AND that people took their sweet time ordering.
They have an extensive menu or tortas (Mexican sandwiches) either oven-grilled or from the griddle. They also have soups served after 3pm and a mini selection of sides – a salad, chips and salsa or chips and guac. My favorite part is their list of desserts and hot chocolates! Their “bean-to-cup chocolates” are made from Mexican cacao beans ground on premises. I caught a picture of the churning chocolate machine…smells so good when you’re hungry.
Thoughtful: A fountain of complimentary water AND another tap of sparkling water!
We were seated after ordering – something I appreciate is not having to fight over seats with other diners. Xoco has worked out a system where you order only after you get a place card from the server (they make sure you get one before you order!).
We started off with Guacamole and Chips at $4. If you want salsa, you gotta order it separately. Yes, you’re charged for it separately too!
Tastiness: A! for how crunchy the chips were and the lovely guac didn’t disappoint though it wasn’t a rock star. They were not greasy at all and not overly salted (a pitfall for many Mexican places). The guacamole was fresh, creamy, smooth, delicious, but not so much better than chipotle’s or Adobo Grill. I actually think it tasted better when I added the Rick Bayless brand of hot sauce sitting on the table. I would highly recommend you do so too!
For my main, I went for the Gunthrop Chicken $8.50 – Wood-roasted red chile chicken pickled white onions, black beans, avocado, tomatillo salsa.
Tastiness: B+. I thought after reading the ingredients this would be a smoky, bold flavorful sandwich…which is wasn’t quite. It looks great however and I did love the toasted crunchy crusty bread (except one might say that it is REALLY dry without sauce.) In general, the seasonings seemed to be lacking in many of the torta ingredients! I wasn’t a fan of the pickled onions because they didn’t add much flavor (surprisingly! I love onions and I like pickled vegetables!). I was really disappointed that the chicken was a little greasy didn’t have more flavor. The avocado was ripe and creamy and there were less black beans than I had liked.. I ended up dipping my sandwich into Nick’s tomato broth to soften the bread and give it more flavor. The salsa went better with the chips! (I feel like I’m going to get beaten up for writing this.)
Nick went for the Ahogada $9.50 – Golden pork carnitas, black beans, tomato broth, spicy arbol chile sauce, pickled onions
Tastiness: B. Nick’s biggest complaint was that the bread got WAY too soggy soaking in the soup. It would be smart to serve this torta with a plate on the side so diners can remove the sandwich from soaking while they eat the other half. The flavors were good, but I felt the pork was a little gamey. I was a sucker for the presentation though.
For dessert, Xoco is actually so thoughtful as to bring the chocolate and churros hot to the table if you ordered it! You have to remember to ask for it when they take your plates away though.
To end our meal, Nick and I picked the Aztec Hot Chocolate $2.50 – Fresh-ground chocolate + water + chile + all spice. I was so excited about it I knocked the cup and some precious cocoa spilled onto the table 😦
Tastiness: A. This isn’t your traditional creamy rich hot chocolate. Instead, it is literally semi-sweet cocoa powder with hot water kicked up with some spice. I loved the bitterness of the drink and thought it went perfectly with the churros. I didn’t miss milk or creaminess in this at all! It’s a perfect drink to end a meal. Slightly sweet without overdoing it, comforting on the stomach and the taste buds.
And of course, the famous CHURROS!!! They deserve cap locks because these were the best churros I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. Never mind how authentic they are. For $3, you get 3 piping hot churros!
Tastiness: A. I wouldn’t consider myself a huge churro lover, but I enjoy them from time to time when I’m reliving my childhood at an amusement part. Rick’s churros are churros to be remembered. These had a cakey, moist, soft interior that melts in your mouth, which is contrasted by the perfect crunch that makes up the crust of the churro. I have to admit there was a little bit of a sugar overdose, and there was a tad too much grease on the inside, but this is a treat worth indulging in! Without the hot chocolate, this dish would have been too sweet and rich, but with the drink’s semi-sweet and bitterness, they complimented one another PERFECTLY.
Needless to say, we were fans of dessert (somewhere we rarely order when eating out!)
Taste: 4/5 (Entrees not a wowser, but desserts definitely worth checking out)
Originality: 4/5 (You have your usual Mexican fare, but the combinations of sandwiches and the selection of desserts and drinks makes Xoco a unique restaurant)
Plating: 3/5 (Nothing fancy but clean and new. No complaints here)
Value: 4/5 (A filling multi-course meal that was hearty but didn’t cause too much damage to the wallet. Definitely nowhere near as pricey as Rick’s Topalobampo or Frontera Grill)
Service: 3/5. (Not amazing, but there was order in an otherwise could-have-been chaotic qeueing system. Definitely did NOT like the single cash register system though. That could take some re-engineering!)
Overall: It was a really fun, casual restaurant with some unique foods and great dessert! I wouldn’t be up for another 45 minute wait for the sandwiches, but the churros and hot chocolate are something to be remembered! Totally worth coming to if you can come on a day with a smaller crowd or you don’t mind the wait!