Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
When I told my coworkers that I was going to Macy's for lunch, some of them looked at me like I was crazy. No, I wasn't going to attempt to eat a Coach purse or a whole box of Frango mints (though if I'm drunk enough I'll eat anything). I thought everybody knew that there was a food court on the 7th floor of the Macy's building on State Street in downtown Chicago—but then again, not everyone's a food dork like me.
This food court on the 7th floor is called Seven on State, and it's home to a salad bar, a sandwich stand, Marcus Samuelsson's Marc Burger (reviewed here), Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi, and Frontera Fresco. Located in only three Macy's food courts (two of which are in the Chicagoland area, while the third is in San Francisco), Frontera Fresco is a great introduction to Rick Bayless's food.
Frontera's version of a Cuban sandwich ($8.95) contains roast pork, Chihuahua cheese, applewood smoked bacon, black beans, cilantro crema, chipotle mustard, and avocado. It's accompanied with a thin and light orange hot sauce, which, if I had to guess, is habanero chili-based. The crackly-crispy pressed bread has the right amount of crunch for a Cuban-style sandwich. Compared to the Cubano I had at Cafecito, this is a very busy sandwich.
But with all those great ingredients, all I could really taste was the bacon, which, of course, was delicious, but ended up being the primary flavor of the sandwich. Is that a bad thing? Not at all! But I wanted to taste all the other magnificent ingredients in it, and they disappeared. The hot sauce was hard to apply because it had a watery consistency. This Cubano is good, but I'm not sure I'd order it again. Balls.
With all of Nick's recent posts about tacos, I had a craving, and ordered two types. This one is the cochinita pibil ($7.95), which is like a Mexican version of pulled pork. The pork has a rich, red color, and is topped with pickled red onions, along with avocado and a bit of fresh cilantro.
The pork had a bold chili flavor to it, the avocado lent its rich, soft, mild flavor, and the pickled onions cut through the fat to add sharpness, making for a really flavorful taco. At $7.95 for two tacos, it's not what I'd call cheap, but I was happy nonetheless.
Shrimp tacos are still pretty new to me. I had my first one last year, and so far, I haven't been disappointed. The chipotle shrimp tacos ($7.95) come with roasted poblano rajas (roasted strips of poblano pepper, in case you're wondering), slices of avocado, and chopped cilantro.
I loved these for being simple and complex at the same time. You've got the roasted tomato-jalapeño chipotle coating the shrimp, the bitterness from the mild poblano pepper, and a rich avocado finish. The combination of all these flavors in a corn tortilla make for a complicated blend of just a few flavorful ingredients.
Thirsty? Have an agua fresca ($2.00)! I asked the lady behind the counter which flavor was the most popular, and she immediately pointed at the mango-lime agua fresca. If you can imagine a mango-flavored limeade, you'll be right on the money. It was a sweet and tart, a great way to cleanse your palate a bit between bites.
Frontera Fresco is a good gateway to Rick Bayless' food, if you're curious and want to find out. It's not the cheapest lunch option by any means, especially if your wallet is strained after shopping at Macy's, but if you don't mind paying a little extra for your lunch, you'll get a lot of flavor here.
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.