Scaffolding has appeared on the facade of the former Salud space on Milwaukee Avenue, meaning construction is underway on the first new stand-alone Rick Bayless restaurant in Chicago since XOCO opened more than four years ago. In fact, that restaurant will be another XOCO—with a couple tweaks, Bayless says. But Bayless also says that his other new restaurant—on Randolph Row—will be "a completely new concept that you've never seen before."
Whatever the specific concept is, it's something that's been percolating in Bayless' brain for a long time. "We've been thinking (about Randolph) for quite some time," Bayless says. "That's the thing that we're really putting a lot of creative energy into, but working with the landlord on the lease was taking forever and ever and ever."
He also says it's "sort of in the Frontera world but it's super rustic, and there's virtually nothing like it in the United States." The location will also house a nanobrewery to "make beverages for our restaurants," but he's unsure whether there will be a tasting room. Bayless is working with Crown Imports to develop his own beer brand and is also developing beer recipes with Negra Modelo.
He's still working out the details for the restaurant (but has the "heart and soul developed") and will divulge more information in around four months. He says the whole project is about a year away.
Which means that XOCO Wicker Park is opening much sooner. Bayless says the goal is to open that in the beginning of March, with construction taking place throughout the winter.
While the cuisine will be similar to the original XOCO in River North, the new location will be much larger, feature table service and a bar component with local beer on tap. The Salud space features a front lounge and bar, a rear dining room, and a 24-seat patio; XOCO River North holds just 40 seats.
"What that neighborhood really wants and needs is something very much like XOCO," Bayless says, "very family-friendly, great for people who live in the neighborhood and people who come to concerts. At XOCO you stand in line, you get your food, you eat, you get out. This is going to be a bit more comfortable."
And although he's opening a Tortas Frontera at the University of Pennsylvania, there are no plans right now to open at other college campuses or other airports. He says he's "not out looking for places at all...when something comes to us, we consider it." He's also trying to work out how to source the right ingredients outside of Chicago, using the Penn location as a testing ground.
Finally, he says Cascabel will be bigger and better this year, that he's revamping the lunch menu at Topolobampo and the dinner menu at Frontera Grill soon.
"Everything that I have done in the past, I'm doing more of," he says. "There is something moving on every front." Stay tuned.
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