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Photograph: Paul Elledge
Rick Bayless

Chef's Table: Rick Bayless

When Chicago's best-known chef hits the town, he devours carnitas in Pilsen, thin crust pizza and ramen

Maggie Hennessy
Written by
Maggie Hennessy

With his Cruz Blanca brewpub set to open in the West Loop next spring, chef Rick Bayless continues to show us why he’s one of the city’s hardest-working chefs. When he’s not brewing cervezas, helming one of his Mexican restaurant concepts, including Frontera Grill, Xoco and Topolobampo, teaching Mexican cooking on TV or appearing at one of countless events each year around the country, his favorite place to be is his home kitchen.

“I don’t get out as much as people probably think I do,” he says. “I love to cook at home. Nearly every Sunday, I visit the Wicker Park Farmers Market and bring back ingredients for brunch.”

When he does dine out, he often craves Asian cuisine, but he also knows where to get his fill of the city’s best authentic Mexican. Check out his Pilsen pick for mouthwatering carnitas, along with his favorite time-honored and new Chicago eateries—and where he stands on tequila versus its smokier cousin mezcal.

Authentic Mexican: Don Pedro Carnitas in Pilsen for “real-deal” carnitas. “They are just so amazingly, unapologetically juicy and crispy,” he says. “Wrap the carnitas in a fresh tortilla, spoon a little salsa on there, and you can see why I get so excited.”

New restaurant: Momotaro in the West Loop, which is “doing some amazing things with Japanese cuisine;” and Parachute in Avondale, for “turning people on to the wonders of Korean food,” he says. 

Longtime Chicago haunt: Margie’s Candies for homemade ice cream “because it’s just so quaint and charming.”

Spot to kick back after a long shift: Ramen-San in River North. “Back in September, we brought all of these visiting Mexican chefs and mixologists there for bowls of ramen and sake bombs—a truly great way to unwind,” he says.

Pizza: Piece Brewery & Pizzeria in Wicker Park. While he prefers to stay neutral in the deep dish versus thin crust wars, his favorite slice is at Piece, “which has been close to my Bucktown home for as long as I can remember,” he says.

Tequila or mezcal? Mezcal, both for sipping and in cocktails. “I’m just super into it right now,” he says. “When I lived in Mexico, one of the places I lived was in small village in the highlands of Guerrero where everyone did communal mezcal making. They’d get together and make the all the mezcal for the year, divide it up to all the families and that was what you had for fiestas and special occasions. I actually got deeper into mezcal before I even really even knew the details of tequila.”

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