My wife and I visited Frontera last Friday for lunch.
Arriving at 11:30, right as the opened, there were only two other people seated in the restaurant. By noon, the restaurant was full with a wait.
There have been a couple complaints (including from me) about the poor attitude of the host station. There was absolutely none of that last Friday which was certainly welcome. We were warmly greeted and asked if we'd like to dine at Topo or Frontera, we went with Frontera.
This was our first time sitting in Frontera and it's definitely a cramped and loud restaurant but it's by no means unbearable. I don't think I noticed just how cramped it was until we left and I felt like I was making my way through a maze to get out.
We started with empanadas, stuffed with cheese and squash blossoms, and topped with guacamole (I know there was more in the filling but I don't recall what else). They were very good, and I know squash blossoms are pretty pricey, but they were small. A minor complaint though.
As we were eating our appetizer, I saw none other than Rick Bayless. We've been to this place thrice before and I never caught a glimpse of him. He didn't walk around, but he was in the back overseeing things it looked like.
The wife had Tacos al Carbon with portobello mushroom marinated with achiote and spice. The mushrooms had a wonderful earthy and smokey taste to them that was incredible. I like portobellos and experiment with cooking them more than any other food I'd say and these definitely put my creations to shame. The plate comes with the filling laid out and you get tortillas, two salsas, and rice.
(Note to vegetarians: According to our waiter neither the black nor pinto beans are vegetarian. The pinto have bacon, the black are cooked in lard.)
I had the Quesadillas Norteñas with tender mushrooms (Mexican woodland type) with roasted poblano peppers. The cheese was wonderful and the mushrooms added a real nice layer, rich and smokey. This was served with a nice salad that had a really light and crisp dressing. Both meals were fantastic, but not as mind blowing as the fava bean cakes I raved about in a previous post.
I had a ginger lime margarita, and my wife had a "summer margarita" that tasted like cucumber. Both were excellent, and as is the case with Frontera's margaritas--small, expensive, but high quality. The lime juice was clearly fresh (with a bit of pulp) and the ginger added a nice kick though it was still smooth.
Service was fine. The standout was the waiter telling us (we didn't ask) that the black beans were not vegetarian...a strong plus that bumped his tip up. Food and service was prompt, my water glass was always full, and everyone was friendly.
At this point, I will say Frontera Grill is my favorite restaurant in Chicago. There's still a lot of places I need to try (a visit to Blackbird is going to happen sooner rather than later), but so far the food here is top notch, waitstaff has ranged from good to excellent, and the only bump in the road being a minimal annoyance at worst.