For our final night in Chicago (which happened to be Sarah’s birthday) we went to Topolobampo, Rick Bayless’s most upscale restaurant. We were a bit nervous about bringing Jonathan, but they had a kid’s menu and he generally did really well.

Shortly after we were seated we were given a sort of guacamole amuse bouche with cucumber and jicama. The guacamole was fresh and flavorful with some sharp fresh chili flavor, and the vegetables were crisp and refreshing. And unlike the typical Mexican chips and salsa, this dish was not very filling, making it a perfect first course.

I ordered the Topolo Margarita (with Sauza Commerativo and Gran Torres) to start, which was a very good interpretation. Sarah had a carbonated limeade, which was quite good although a bit on the sweet side.

We started with a fish ceviche, which was outstanding. The fish was perfectly “cooked” by the citrus, and, as with almost all Bayless dishes, a sharp fresh (but not overpowering) spiciness permeated the dish.

I’d finished my margarita by this point and decided to go with a more innovate drink (the name of which is escaping me), a combination of beer, tequila, citrus and sweet spices (e.g. cinnamon). I had it with Two Brother’s Cane and Abel (it was also available with Bell’s Java Stout). It was very good and complex with overtones of cinnamon and rye (from the beer). The combination of alcohols also seemed to pack quite a wallop (or maybe it was because this was my second drink).

Our next course was the Pollo con Enchiladas à la Plaza. Our waiter explained that it was Rick’s “interpretation” of enchiladas found on the streets of Mexico. We enjoyed the variety of textures and flavors in this dish, but there was perhaps so much diversity that it was hard to get a clear sense of what was intended.

Around this time they brought out Jonathan’s quesadilla with refried black beans. He really enjoyed the quesadilla, and we were happy to help him (i.e. eat most of) his beans. They were very good, and were quite likely the recipe from Mexican Everyday. The secret ingredient is bacon drippings (alongside beans and garlic, the only other ingredients). We’ll definitely have to try this at home.

Our entrée, Carnitas de Puerco, was excellent. While the pulled pork shoulder was very good, combining it with tender pork belly really elevated the dish. The green salsa had a very good flavor as well, and, while the lime “air” was a bit odd, it added a nice citrus touch.

For dessert we ordered the Crepas con Cajeta, crepes with goats milk caramel, pecans, raspberries and plantains. I called ahead to ask them to do something for Sarah’s birthday, and she was completely surprised:

The dessert was excellent, a perfect marrying of textures and flavors.

While our service was generally quite good, our waiter seemed clearly disappointed (and changed his attitude towards us) once he realized we were splitting our dishes rather than ordering our own. And even Jonathan, who’s been perfectly fine at Fire and Moxie in Cleveland, seemed a little uncomfortable with the level of formality at Topolobampo.

While we enjoyed our dinner, we’ll probably try Frontera Grill instead the next time we’re in Chicago. And we’ll definitely return to XOCO.

Topolobampo on Urbanspoon

  • Live to Cook at Home

    I love Rick Bayless’s cooking. I wish Cleveland didn’t let him get away 30 years ago. I was lucky to be in Chicago for week Monday & Tuesday. I love to grab lunch at the bar at Frontera and the churros at XOCO were the perfect dessert in my cab back to O’Hare. Read about my trip here:

  • Ben


    It’s weird that we blogged about Bayless restaurants on the same day. Frontera sounds really good, and we also loved the churros at XOCO (which were infinitely better than any others we’ve had).

    Sorry we didn’t make it to the Earth to Table dinner. We’ll definitely have to meet up sometime.

  • Bridget Callahan

    Formal and Mexican should never really go in the same sentence. No matter how talented and famous the chef, Mexican is kinda inherently casual. I mean, I understand maybe he’s trying to counteract that idea, but it’s a virtue, not a weakness.

  • Live to Cook at Home

    It’s funny you say that Bridget, I kind of thought the same thing until I saw a recent episode of Mexico: One Plate at a Time with Rick Bayless. The episode focused on the different types of ceviche available in Mexico. He ate in three different restaurants & made three different kinds of ceviche. The final restaurant was a more upscale restaurant that served a very similar ceviche to the street vendor, just kicked up a couple levels. He said that is his inspiration for Topolobampo.

    By the way Ben, one of the ceviche’s he made is the one you have pictured above.

  • Live to Cook at Home

    Is there a way to subscribe to the comments? Please email me if there is.

  • Ben

    Our issue wasn’t so much that the restaurant was upscale. We’ve really enjoyed Moxie and Fire, and Jonathan seemed comfortable at those places. We were annoyed, though, that the level of service seemed to drop precipitously as soon as the waiter found out that we were splitting dishes and not ordering off of the chef’s menu. The food was very good, though (that ceviche was the highlight of the meal), and sometimes the waiter / waitress one gets is the luck of the draw. This issue isn’t limited to Topolobampo, of course (there’s a least one otherwise good place in Cleveland with that issue as well).

    Dave, unfortunately I don’t know of any way to subscribe to comments. I’ve seen blogs that allow it, but I don’t know how to set that up (Sarah might, though).