When it comes time for a birthday dinner, we turn to our favorite Chicago chef, Rick Bayless. This time we tried out Frontera’s little sister XOCO (pronounced “show-co”).

It was perfect! Exactly what we needed.

The food was amazing, and fresh, and unique, but everything was very low key. With the kids, we’re always looking for a compromise between something amazing and something where we’re not going to disturb people. That’s exactly what this was (at least before 5 p.m. on a weeknight). No waiting in line, no waiting for a table, and not many people around to disturb.

We had a couple of tortas (Baja Chicken Torta and Choriques to be specific). I thought they were both good, but the baja chicken was amazing.

(This is not actually what we ate, but I stole these pictures from the XOCO website and beggars can’t be choosers)

Sara had the Carnitas Caldos, which is a spicy soup with pork and avocado chunks. This was also good, but very, very salty.

Of course, in the midst of all this good food, Evie only wanted to eat tortilla chips.

Until dessert that is. We each had a churro and we shared a couple of mugs of their amazing hot chocolate. I don’t say cocoa, I say hot chocolate, because it was like drinking a delicious cup full of melted chocolate bars. It was so rich and thick that I’m really not sure I could have finished a glass by myself. But sharing it was just perfect, and gave us an excuse to try two different kinds. For my money, the almond milk one was better, but everyone else preferred the classic.

XOCO is great if you’re looking for something a little bit quicker and easier than Frontera, and well worth the trip downtown (even if the meter did cost me $3.50 an hour!) Thank you Mr. Bayless for never failing to exceed expectations! (P.S. We finally broke down and bought a copy of Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, so we can stop checking it out from the library all the time!)