Brunch review by Amy Cavanaugh
Xoco is one of Chicago’s best spots for a quick breakfast or lunch in River North, so the fact that there’s now a second outpost of Rick Bayless’ tortas spot is a big deal. Bayless moved into Wicker Park in August, and the new space is quite a bit different from the original River North location. It’s big and airy, with windows that open to the street and a bar, along with many more tables and table service. Much of the menu is the same as at the original—there are tortas, caldos, guacamole—but the biggest difference is that you can get breakfast tortas, chilaquiles and huevos rancheros until 2pm on Saturday and Sunday.
This is key, especially considering these dishes are ideal on a weekend morning after a late night. Since you can order from the regular menu during brunch hours, start by sharing with seasonal fundido with your table—on my visit the dish of melted cheese was dressed up with jalapenos, onions and shrimp and served with salted tortilla chips to scoop it up. It doesn’t matter that it’s brunch—queso fundido is an anytime food.
If you want more traditional breakfast dishes, the chilaquiles come packed into a little cast iron pan. It’s a densely layered casserole of tortillas, cheese, tomato-serrano salsa and the choice of eggs or chicken (I added both). It’s hearty and ideal for fall mornings, as is the huevos a la Mexicana, which comes with thick slabs of toast to pile with scrambled eggs, sundried tomatoes, peppers, onions and a scoop of black beans. While these are both good, they’re not flavorful as the breakfast tortas, which have a crisp exterior and come filled with eggs, cheese and peppers, plus veggies or chorizo. Served with salsa for dipping, these are some of my favorite breakfast sandwiches in Chicago.
When I visited, people were waiting outside across the street for the Bongo Room, while I immediately walked in and got a table at Xoco. If that was you, next time wait at Xoco, where you can start your hangover recovery with the Bloody Maria, a tequila bloody Mary. It’s sweet as roasted red peppers and very spicy, and comes garnished with chicharrons, cheese and chipotle peppers. It’s the secret scene-stealer at Xoco, and a great start to any brunch.