Behind the front door and bar of the Frontera Grill in Chicago lies two restaurants that are distinctly different, yet both offer the delicious flavors of Mexico using fresh ingredients, authentic flavors, and organic farm produced fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses. Both the brainchild of celebrity chef Rick Bayless, these “sister” restaurants are characterized by their distinct atmospheres and dishes, yet both share the owner's commitment to green practices, fresh ingredients and the support of sustainable farms and farmers. It all comes together to offer the customer a dining experience that is sure to delight the taste buds, dazzle the eyes, and leave one feeling as if they've taken part in a unique and special eating experience.
Rick Bayless is the founder and chef at several Chicago area restaurants and has also opened several in other cities, including San Francisco. Chef Bayless has extensive experience with authentic Mexican cooking. He researched Mexican cooking in Mexico in the late 1970's, has hosted two PBS television cooking series, Cooking Mexican and Mexico: One Plate at a Time, and has also published Mexican cookbooks and offers a line of prepared food products under the Frontera name. Chef Bayless has garnered national attention as a chef and teacher, including a stint on Iron Chef America against fellow celebrity chef Bobby Flay and a judging position on Top Chef, yet he is most committed to providing food in a healthy, fresh, and sustainable way. A firm supporter of family farming and organic farming, he and his wife Deann founded the Frontera Farmer Foundation, a non profit organization that provides small farms in the Chicago area with grant money.
Frontera Grill and “Topolo,” as it is affectionately referred to by people who frequent the eatery, are housed in the same building but offer distinctly unique eating experiences. Guests who choose to eat at Topolo will be treated to an upscale Mexican dining experience, with a menu that changes monthly and features organic ingredients grown specifically for the restaurant according to Chef Bayless's directives. Topolo is a classy eating experience, where diners can savor the flavors of “Mexican festival food” and expertly cooked regional specialties while gazing upon the museum quality art hanging on the walls.
Guests who choose to partake in the Frontera Grill experience will be treated to another side of the Mexican dining experience. The space itself is bold and vibrant, with eye-catching colors, unique artwork and a casual yet energetic vibe. The ingredients used to create the eatery's traditional Mexican dishes are also custom grown and organic or sustainable, just like Topolo, yet these dishes carry the traditional flavor of Mexico. Inspired by authentic Mexican home cooking, Frontera offers moles, grilled dishes and braises bursting with fresh flavor. The front of the house features a bar, where guests can enjoy a cocktail while ordering from either the Frontera or the Topolo menus.
How do the Frontera Grill and Topolo get their fresh, organic ingredients for all their flavorful dishes? The ingredients come from partnerships established with local sustainable farms and growers. This is one reason the restaurants change their menus monthly: because they are cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients that are used at their peak of taste and freshness. Working with only the items that are available at specific times of the year gives the staff of each restaurant a creative challenge in making menu dishes that are tasty and memorable enough that guests ask for them in the next season! In addition to many local farmers and growers, the restaurants also rely on freshly grown greens from the Bayless Family Garden in Chicago.
Each item used in Frontera and Topolo's dishes are carefully chosen and selected according to their sustainability and origin. Free range chicken from a family farm, seafood caught using a hook line harvesting method in Alaska or rainbow trout from a spring fed fish farm, fresh eggs provided by a 16-year-old who runs a turkey and chicken farm, and beef from cattle that graze on natural grass. The restaurants also get their fruits, vegetables and cheeses from small or family-run farms from all over Illinois and some from Indiana and Wisconsin.
Mexican food doesn't have to be the generic fast food version advertised on television, or the 30-minutes or less weeknight meal it has become. Authentic Mexican food bursts with flavor and is made with fresh ingredients, and leaves diners with an unforgettable experience. Both Frontera Grill and Topolobampo offer the authentic Mexican dining experience, with amazing menus filled with fresh, organic dishes that will leave you hungering for more and possibly swearing off boxed Mexican dinners forever.