Rick Bayless’s Frontera restaurant empire is about to expand into new territory, both literally and culinarily. Tortazo, a casual spot with a large bar and takeout, will be opening in two new locations within the next year: in Midtown Manhattan this summer and in the new One Chicago high-rise apartment complex going up in River North at the corner of Chicago and State in the fall.
Tortazo, which already has a location in the Catalog at Willis Tower, occupies a space somewhere between the original incarnation of Xoco, the informal tortas and churros spot that shares a kitchen with Frontera Grill, and the airport version of Xoco, called Tortas Frontera, operated by a contractor without the seasonal menu and chefs. Frontera will run Tortazo, but it will not be staffed by chefs. Still, this will be different from “Rick Bayless does Chipotle.”
“We will not be doing a taco bowl, thank you very much,” Bayless says in mock indignation. “Or a burrito bowl.” Instead, there will be tortas, soup, quesadillas, chilaquiles, salads, and what Bayless describes as “snacky things” like churro bites and chips and salsa. He’s also campaigning to serve hot chocolate like at the original Xoco. But a lot of the new Tortazo will depend on who the customers turn out to be.
“When you open a place, you have to see how it interacts with the people coming in,” Bayless says. “This is not a chain mentality. I believe that restaurants should respond to their clientele and the place where they are.”
Therefore, while the Willis Tower Tortazo will probably be more geared toward office workers — though it’s been hard to tell because the pandemic hit shortly after it opened, before Bayless could get a handle on who would be eating there — the One Chicago location will serve people who live in the building and other nearby high-rises. Bayless envisions it as the sort of place where customers can grab takeout for lunch or drop in for beer and wine at happy hour and stay on for dinner.
But nothing is a sure thing, especially coming out of the pandemic. “We are at the same rebuilding phase that everyone else is at,” Bayless says. “Sometimes when you’re at a restaurant that’s been around as long as us, you’re known for certain things. But we never say, ‘We’ll do it this way because it’s been successful in the past.’ We want to do what’s going to be successful in the future. We have to give people the opportunity to rebuild and become something that’s right for them in 2022. We’re looking even further than that. We want to hit a good stride in 2023.”
Tortazo, 1 W. Superior Street, scheduled to open early 2023.