The shtick: Rick Bayless’s torta wonderland puts an egg on it.
The vibe: Where Xoco’s original storefront in River North can feel occasionally manic—the line that stays stagnant until tables clear, the luck-of-the-draw numbering system that gets you a seat—its sister spot in Wicker Park feels much more like a traditional restaurant, host stand and all.
Most tables were occupied by families with older, even adult children, though the fact that it was Easter Sunday when we visited could have skewed the vibe a bit. Still, the place felt subdued but upbeat. The issue: There are some communal tables, and for some reason, even though the place was only half full and there were plenty of empty two-tops, parties seemed to be directed toward these shared (and sorta claustrophobic) spaces first. 7 out of 10
The food: You can get all the tortas and caldos you know and love at brunch, but there are plenty of eggier options that are deserving of your attention. Like, say, the wood-oven chilaquiles ($13.50). The option of adding a fried egg to these should be non-negotiable—the baked salsa-soaked chips quickly cohere into a delightfully yolky mess. Or if you’re dead-set on a torta, there’s also a chorizo-egg option ($10), a breakfast sandwich on steroids with their piquant housemade chorizo and tons of scrambled eggs.
Yogurt is so often a brunch cop-out, a bland concession to dieters, but the yogurt bar ($4) manages to make even health food interesting. Our variant, topped with cajeta and fresh fruit, was the table favorite. 9 out of 10
The drinks: We did not heed our server’s warning that the Bloody Maria ($9) was really spicy, so the mouth-on-fire effect upon first sip shouldn’t have been as surprising as it was. If you’re not a total spice fiend, skip this one lest you feel a full-on sinus flushout. Or be sure to have some of the spot’s signature drinking chocolate on hand, perhaps in the form of a luxe chocolate café con leche ($4.25), to ease the burn. 7 out of 10
The service: Attentive and charming, especially when our server noticed that the Bloody Maria had been left mostly untouched by a spice-sensitive diner—he promptly took it back and removed it from our bill. 9 out of 10
Overall: As expected, Team Bayless’s food killed it, and our tongues are still burnt from that Bloody. 8 out of 10