Six years ago, I discovered Frontera salsa. Since then, I haven't been without at least four jars in my London, and now Toronto, kitchen.
I’ve tried the seasoning sauces (which were delicious and easy), the chill starters (which were pretty good), the taco and fajita marinades (which were very good), and most of the available salsa varieties. But nothing beats the plain old chunky tomato salsa. And so it was with great anticipation that I realised I had a layover at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, and with just a little planning, I could visit one of the two Tortas Frontera.
Because it was 9:30am, the breakfast menu was still available, and from it we ordered the Egg and Bacon Tortas (scrambled eggs, Neuske’s bacon, chipotle, Chihuahua cheese and avocado). And because time somewhat stands still at airports, from the lunch menu we ordered the Milanese (crispy-crunchy chicken breast, black beans, pickled jalapeños, Chihuahua cheese, cilantro creama and avocado) and Chipotle Chicken Tortas (poblano rajas, black beans, Chihuahua cheese, cilantro crema, avocado and arugula). And because we could, we got an order of guacamole and chips. Tortas, as we learned, are warm, grilled sandwiches. They’re served with salsa, but are also delicious dipped in guacamole. (You know, because you can.) Surprisingly, the winner of the three was the Egg and Bacon, although everything was good.
Even more impressive, on their website, they list the producers of their food. The chicken? All natural, antibiotic free, from Miller in Orland, Indiana, and Nueske’s, supplier of the bacon, is in Wittenberg, Wisconsin. The Chihuahua cheese comes from V&V Supremo in Chicago. (What is Chihuahua cheese? A soft, white cheese that originated from the Mexican state of the same name. You’ve probably had it with chili con queso.)
There were about eight tables for people dining in, and the wait to take out was about 10 minutes. Worth every minute, and worth the $38 we spent on three very large sandwiches and some of the best guacamole we’ve had outside of Mexico.
Before today, I only knew the rough outline of Rick Bayless: a white celebrity TV chef cooking Mexican food (and selling really good salsa). Turns out he's much more, including an academic aficionado of Mexican food. Bayless first appeared on PBS in the late '70s, presenting a series on Mexican food. He then lived in Mexico for six years, and published his first cookbook, Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico. Finally, he started cooking in a restaurant, and before too long, opened his first place, Frontera Grill in Chicago, in 1987. A number of restaurants later (in the Chicago area, San Francisco and Los Angeles), an ongoing show called Mexico: One Plate at a Time, and a stint cooking for the Mexican President at the U.S. White House brings us up to date.
And now Mr Bayless has my respect as well as my appreciation. In fact, even if they opened a Chick-fil-a in ORD, I would skip it and head to Tortas Frontera. And that’s saying a lot.
N.b. Happily, our flight home also went through O'Hare, and just in time for dinner. This time, we ordered the Guacamole, and the Cubana and the Cochinita Pibil tortas (along with a very reasonably priced cheese torta for the kids). Again, so delicious, with the Cubana being good enough to warrant future stopovers in Chicago.