Frontera Grill: Fresh & Flavorful

March 31, 2013

On an ordinary Wednesday night, I was pleasantly surprised by the BF with a date at a restaurant I was embarrassed to have never tried. You see, this was a true surprise date. I had no idea where we were headed and I let the BF decide. Trying to pick a restaurant for a date with a super foodie? Yea, the pressure was on him. Good thing he hit it out of the park!

After meeting in River North, he let me know we were headed to Chef Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill. If you know anything about Frontera Grill, it's that a) it's owned by celebri-chef Rick and b) it can be difficult to grab a table. Since they only take limited reservations, the BF stopped by right at 5pm when they opened to put our name in. This minimized our wait time immensely and allowed us to grab a cocktail at the gorgeous bar before we were seated. We both started off with cocktails made from mezcal, an alcohol made from the maguey plant. The mezcal provided a smoky and spicy flavor to each of our citrus-y options. I went with the Paloma Oaxaquena with grapefruit, lime, honey and grapefruit bitters while the BF chose the Mezcal Margarita with brandy, bitters and lemonade.  I was quite pleased the BF's drink was as pink as mine :) I also tried the Blue Agave margarita, which was probably the best margarita I have ever tasted!

Paloma Oaxaquena & Mezcal Margarita
After grabbing drinks, we were seated in the rather small and casual dining room. (Frontera is also connected to Bayless's more upscale restaurant, Topolobampo.) We kicked things off with the Frontera Guacamole made with the traditional ingredients and accompanied with house-made tortilla chips. I loved the amount of lime juice in the guacamole, and the chips were clearly fresh.

Frontera Guacamole
Luckily for us, we were also served two of Frontera's famous salsas. I love buying these salsas at the store, but it was nice to try them in a restaurant setting. We tried the Three Chile and Tomatillo salsas which were great when combined with the guacamole.

Three Chile & Tomatillo Salsas
It was rather difficult to decide on an entree, but after asking our server a million questions, I decided to order a steak. Steak is not something I tend to make myself, so that's what ultimately swayed me away from the fresh fish special that was also offered. The Carne Asada Brava was marinated in spicy habanero and was served with a side of even spicier habanero and tomato salsa. On the side were grilled and bound knob onions and probably the best part of the dish, sweet corn tamals. The steak was pretty tender and amazingly flavorful and I didn't even need the salsa because it already packed intense heat. The real stars of the show were the tamals. These little masa pockets were filled with sweet corn and were as soft as pillows. I had to ration out each bite just to savor them that much more. We were also given a plate of fresh corn tortillas to eat with our meal. If I thought the tamals were delicious, they didn't even compare to the tortillas! O.M.G. I can't even explain how delicious they were. You might be saying, how good can a tortilla be? Good enough that I wanted to eat it plain. WOW.

Carne Asada Brava
The BF selected the Chicken Milanesa which included several crispy chicken breasts with avocado tomato salsa, refried beans, cabbage and pickled red onion. The chicken was extra crispy and light, and not too greasy. I was a bit surprised that he ordered this instead of his usual favorite, chicken tacos, but he was happy he went with a more refined choice.

Chicken Milanesa
Overall, we had an awesome meal from mezcal to milanesa and it was a pleasant surprise from the BF! I was impressed with the quality of ingredients and presentation of food. It was clear a lot of thought went into the flavor combinations of each dish and cocktail. I give Frontera Grill 4.5 stars for their delicious cocktails, the best corn tortillas I have ever had in my entire life and their flavorful salsas. The only blip in the evening was our lackluster server, but other than that, I would definitely go back or try out Topolobampo, the only Frontera restaurant I still have yet to try!

Frontera Grill
445 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60654
Frontera Grill on Urbanspoon

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