I’ve noticed Rick Bayless everywhere lately on television and in magazines. He’s considered the leading chef of Mexican cuisine in Chicago and probably the nation and the chef at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago.
I tried each of his restaurants once. And the food was great, but I never went back.
Something just bugged me that a white guy was gaining so much fame for his Mexican cuisine. I’m sure his love of Mexico is genuine and he does good charity work. I’m not saying he’s a bad guy, and he is a great chef. But why does the media make him the spokesman for Mexican food in the United States?
You can accuse me of being too politically correct. But how would the French feel if their premier chef celebrated by the media in France wasn’t French at all?
I think it would annoy them too.
Bayless was recently on one of my favorite shows, Top Chef Masters, and he won his cook off by making tongue tacos with a green sauce. Now I kinda think it was an easy win since the challenge was to use icky pig and cow parts to make street food. The chefs had to work with tongue, intestines, heart or pig ears. Three of the four tried to make Mexican dishes, including the French chef Ludo Lefebvre, who tried making pig ear quesadillas. Eww!
It was a no brainer that Bayless would make tacos. Of course he’d win.
He was featured in an issue of Time Out Chicago last summer. The reporter
followed Bayless around Chicago as he stopped in taquerías in Chicago’s
The story had a weird tone kinda like watch the white guy hang out in
the barrio and judge whether the food measures up to real Mexican food.
My main point is there also has to be a way to celebrate some of the
great Mexican and Latino chefs here in the city of Chicago.
If we’re honest we know that there are Mexican men and women working in
just about every restaurant kitchen in Chicago no matter what the
cuisine. But they aren’t the actual chefs.
I’m going to list a few of the great Mexican-run restaurants and Latino
chefs in the Chicago area that I’ve tried and I think should get more
attention. Please send me your recommendations too.
Xni-Pec, 5135 W. 25th St., Cicero. 708-652-8680.
You have to go out to the suburb of Cicero but it’s worth the drive.
This restaurant specializes in cuisines from the Yucatan part of Mexico
and is owned by Antonio and Maria Contreras from Cozumel, Mexico. Start
with the vaporcitos, a Yucatan-style chicken tamale wrapped in a banana
leaf and the empanadas made of ground beef, corn and mushroom or
potatoes. The platillo de cochinita is a delicious meat pork marinated
in achiote and onion, and camaron al ajillo, is their mother’s recipe
for shrimp marinated in two different chiles, garlic and herbs. They
have a bell at the door, and if you like the food you ring it on the way
May Street Café, 1146 W. Cermak Ave., Chicago. 312-421-4442. Only open for dinner.
This place is located on an almost deserted strip of Cermak in Pilsen.
The executive chef is Mario Santiago and the partner chef is Guadalupe
Aguilar. This is more Nuevo Latino gourmet seasonal food with Mexican,
Puerto Rican and Cuban influences. Worth trying are the brie and pear
quesadillas and salmon with lemon butter and chipotle-tequila cream
sauce. One time I was there I had a paella-inspired special served in
half of a pineapple.
Carnicería Guanajuato, 1436 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago. 773-772-5266.
This place is really a grocery store but like many it has a counter
where they sell what I call Vitamin T – tacos and tortas. I love the
tortas here especially the chicken, which is slow cooked in a tomato
sauce, and the fluffy white bolillo bread is doused in cream, avocado
and refried beans. They also have good burritos and tacos de carnitas.