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Rick Bayless Tackles Beer and Baja Cuisine with West Loop Openings

The local chef makes his Randolph Street debut.

Bloody Maria with tuna and a shot of mezcal at Leña Brava   Photos: Jeff Marini

The latest credit on Rick Bayless’s résumé: brewery owner. At Cruz Blanca, his long-awaited 10-barrel microbrewery and taqueria in the West Loop, Bayless and partners Manny Valdes (Frontera Foods cofounder) and Jacob Sembrano (formerly of Goose Island) present several beers, including bières de garde made with local ingredients like Indiana malt and Illinois honey.

Valdes was intrigued by the European influence in Mexico City’s beer scene. “I said, ‘Let’s use that as our inspiration; do it all the way,’ ” notes Bayless, whose palate favors less hoppy French farmhouse ales. “They’re the closest to wine … super complex and pair beautifully with food.”

Speaking of food, you’ll find a taco assembly line that mimics a setup in the market in downtown Oaxaca, Mexico, one of Bayless’s “favorite places on earth.” Grab a tray, select your meat—perhaps red chili pork cecina or chorizo—and watch as it’s grilled. Then visit the salsa makers to pick your topping and wait for your freshly made tortillas.

You’ll find Bayless cooking traditional Baja Californian cuisine on a wood-burning oven at his adjacent concept, Leña Brava. The seafood-focused restaurant has a killer bar program, too, with one of the largest Mexican wine lists in the country, more than 100 mezcals, and 15 house cocktails. Viva la West Loop! 900 W. Randolph St.

Striped bass whole fish at Leña Brava
Aguachile at Leña Brava

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