Fans of the original, bustling Xoco should be pleasantly surprised at the feel of the new Wicker Park location. While it serves a nearly identical menu, the larger, more relaxed and airy layout is a contrast to the churn-and-burn vibe of the River North flagship of Rick Bayless' Mexican street food eatery.
"We made the (Xoco) downtown purposely uncomfortable (so customers would be in and out)," Bayless says. "This one is a very happy room."
Finally opening Thursday in the former Salud space on Milwaukee Avenue, Bayless' team executed a near-complete overhaul of the ground floor and basement, ripping out the floor, much of the facade, and adding a new tin ceiling to a space he says is "way overbuilt." The dark feel of the former Salud is now but a memory, replaced by brightness through new windows on the corner space.
There's 75 seats inside the Xoco, Bayless' first new standalone restaurant since the original in 2009, made up of a full front bar opposite high-top tables, low-tops opposite a long open kitchen, and communal tables with outlets for all-day cafe use. It will open at 11 a.m. everyday.
Two facets of the new restaurant excite the iconic chef the most: the craft beer program and the state-of-the-art kitchen that he says is the best one he's built yet. Customers can watch his staff cook tortas in a wood-burning oven and grill. The bar, in the front of the room, displays a tightly-focused unique tap list of craft beer and draft margaritas. His company's environmental mission is manifested in 100 percent LED lights and construction materials that he says were all sourced from locales within 500 miles.
Bayless pins the opening delay on the state of the building, which he says was "about to fall down." But that delay is just a footnote now, as Xoco Wicker Park will finally open its bright space to the public on Thursday.
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