XocoNear North | Website
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Mexican street food takes center stage at this quick-service spot from celeb chef Rick Bayless. Though Xoco (pronounced SHO-ko) is a slang term that translates to "little sister" and the casual restaurant is located next door to Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, the popular Mexican spots where Bayless made his name, it's neither a fine-dining destination (like Topolo) nor a showcase for rustic regional fare (like Frontera). The menu focuses on convenient eats such as Mexican sandwiches (tortas) and caldos (hearty made-to-order soups) filled with savory ingredients like mariscos (mixed shellfish), pork belly and veggies. House-made ice creams and piping hot churros, made by hand in a window facing the street, will satisfy your sweet tooth, while empanadas with fillings such as eggs and roasted poblanos should hit the spot in the a.m. Don't miss the authentic hot chocolates made from imported cacao beans roasted on site. (Xoco is one of just a handful of places in the U.S. with in-house, or "bean-to-bar," cocoa-making capabilities.) The small, narrow restaurant space features a mix of counter and table seating and an exposed kitchen designed to invoke the open, interactive nature of purchasing food from a street vendor. Of course, Xoco has amenities most vendors can't cart around with them, including a large wood-burning oven used for everything from toasting bread for tortas to slow-braising suckling pigs for the perfect cochinita pibil.