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Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless at Chicago O’Hare Airport

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Tortas Frontera Chicago O'Hare by Rick Bayless chicken tortas sandwich

Fast Food Heaven at Chicago O'Hare

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I enjoy Tortas Frontera at Chicago O’Hare Airport. This Mexican spot serves the best takeout food of any kind, not just Mexican food, that I have ever tasted at an airport.

You won’t find the usual “Mexican-style” fast food here. Tortas Frontera imparts the authentic flavors of Mexico.

At Tortas Frontera, meals are prepared from scratch. The influences of southern Mexico cooking and seasoning come through.

Rick Bayless, James Beard National Chef of the Year, 1995

Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless, Chicago O'Hare Airport, workspace

The huge emphasis on authenticity, freshness, and quality at Tortas Frontera comes naturally from its creator Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill in Chicago, my favorite table-service Mexican restaurant.

  • In 1988, Food and Wine magazine selected Rick as its “Best New Chef.”
     
  • In 1995, the prestigious James Beard Foundation named Rick their “National Chef of the Year” and the International Association of Culinary Professionals honored him as "Chef of the Year."

Now, Rick Bayless runs two fast food stands at O’Hare, while keeping up his reputation.

You will notice Rick's attention to detail everywhere. For example, his chefs preserve freshness by not having more than two sliced avocatos on hand at any time.

The Menu

For Tortas Frontera, Rick Bayless designed a menu that can be prepared reasonably quickly, without sacrificing quality. You may wait for your food a little longer than at McDonald’s, but not much.

I love the baked-on-a-griddle tortas, generous Mexican sandwiches with your choice of fillings, such as smoky garlic shrimp with goat cheese.

Or, you may prefer the smaller molletes, which are warm, open-faced sandwiches.

Prices are reasonable. Currently, molletes go for around $5 – 6.00. The large tortas run $9 -12.00, with people happily sharing these. 

I meant to show a delicious chipotle chicken torta here, but dived in before remembering to take its photo. Can you blame me?

In any case, a photo would not have done the sandwich justice. You would not have been able to ~

  • Taste the excellent bread or enjoy its texture,
  • See the extraordinary generous layer of avocado slices under the arugula, and
  • Experience the sublimely seasoned chicken accompanied by Mexican Chihuahua cheese, cilantro cream, and roasted poblano pepper strips.

Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless, Chicago O'Hare Airport

Here is the Guacamole Bar, with your choice of fresh toppings. You won’t find canned or frozen food used at Tortas Frontera.

The menu (pdf. file) includes salads, soups (I am addicted to the tortilla soup), and even a variety of breakfast molletes and tortas, which I have not tried. Watch for seasonal items that are not on the menu.

Lacto-vegetarians dine happily here, but vegans not so much.

Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless, Chicago O'Hare Airport

The bar and dining areas offer seating, but not nearly enough for the crowds who flock here.  But don’t worry. You can easily carry any item, including soups, to a gate area.

Above: Watching the Grammy Awards at Tortas Frontera. I dined here before heading downtown.

Where to find Tortas Frontera

Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless, Chicago O'Hare Airport, artwork

The two Tortas Frontera restaurants are located at:

Terminal 1, Concourse B, adjacent to Gate B11

And

Terminal 3, Concourse K, adjacent to Gate K4 (near an American Airlines Admirals Club).

To access either Tortas Frontera, you must either arrive at Chicago O’Hare terminal 1, 2, or 3, or hold a same day boarding pass to depart from one of these terminals.

Terminal 1 hosts United Airlines domestic flights, as well as the outbound international flights of United and some of its SkyTeam partners like Lufthansa.

Terminal 3 hosts Alaska, American, Iberia, Japan, JetBlue, Spirit, and Virgin America airlines.

Although international flights of the airlines mentioned usually arrive elsewhere, if you leave from an airport with U.S. immigration clearance prior to boarding, you may have access to Tortas Frontera.

What a fine welcome that provides to the United States!

Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless, Chicago O'Hare Airport

I love that Tortas Frontera proudly tells us some of the companies that source their ingredients, including some organic, natural, and seasonal foods.

  • American Spoon Foods, Petoskey, MI:  Jams & fruit preserves
  • ATK Foods, Chicago, IL:  All natural pork chorizo & chipotle chicken breast
  • Berkridge, Sioux Center, IA:  Berkshire, all natural, antibiotic-free pork
  • Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago, IL: Marisol & Matilda beers
  • Intelligentsia Coffee, Chicago, IL: Frontera blend coffee
  • Kalona Organics, Kalona, IA:  Sour cream, eggs
  • Klug Farms, St. Joseph, MI:  Fresh fruit
  • Labriola Baking, Alsip, IL:  Fresh-baked bolillo & telera breads
  • El Milagro, Chicago, IL:  Stone-ground corn tortillas
  • Milk & Honey, Chicago, IL:  Frontera granola
  • Miller, Orland, IN:  All natural, antibiotic-free chicken
  • Nueske's: Wittenberg, WI:  Applewood smoked bacon
  • Rishi Tea, Milwaukee, WI:  Organic iced tea
  • Ruprecht Co., Mundelein, IL:  Meyer naturally raised Black Angus beef
  • Seedling Orchard, South Haven, MI:  Seasonal fruits
  • V&V Supremo, Chicago, IL:  Chihuahua cheese, queso fresco & aged queso Cotija

Napa Valley's Gott's Roadside Reviewed: Fast food Wine Country style

Ask for a high-floor hotel room

Other posts by Don Nadeau

 

Comments

TravelWorldOnline
March 31, 2012

Sounds like a great place to start your journey. I love the guacamole bar and will definitely look out for Tortas Frontera next time I’m in Chicago.

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Bob
October 9, 2014

Just returned from eating at Rick’s Frontera Torta Grill in Chicago Airport, and was more than disappointed. Ending up throwing half of the stuff in the bin. The chicken torta was greasy, tasted really weird, and I felt sick after eating 1/2 of it. Ordered the guacamole, smothered, and it was also a GREAT disappointment. The flavor was NOT at all good, and the chips were so salty, they were inedible. I really like Rick’s TV show but he needs to go walk up, order, and truly eat some of this stuff. Quite possibly some of the WORST airport food I have ever purchased. And to top things off, was charged $4.54 for a bottle of tepid water! Really sad restaurant-

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Don Nadeau
October 11, 2014

Thanks, Bob, for your comment. I am very sorry that you did not enjoy your visit.

Am also really shocked by your experience.

I dined at Tortas many times before writing this review—it’s an absolute must stop for me—and found nothing but extraordinarily excellent food. Nor I had any negative experiences since writing this or other people I know, including a flight attendant who passes through O’Hare frequently.

Now, restaurants are complicated enterprises. Rick Bayless has expanded from one restaurant to 12 locations in a relatively short time. Moreover, Tortas alone now has six locations.

This type of expansion can mean trouble, not only in decreased oversight, as you say, but also in too many highly experienced employees being dropped into new locations, which can leave a void at existing ones.

I will check out this situation the next time that I fly through O’Hare on one of the airlines whose gates give access to Tortas Fontera.

One word about the water price. Tortas does not sell regular bottled water. It offers upmarket brands that are always more expensive regardless of where you buy them. Moreover, as one O’Hare vendor told a man in my presence who was complaining about the cost of a chocolate bar, you don’t have to pay the rent I do in order to be here.

Thank you again for your comment. I hope that your next airport dining experience goes more smoothly.

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Don Nadeau
October 17, 2014

A note regarding Bob’s comment on flavor.

Rick Bayless features the cuisine of southern Mexico. The seasonings used and their proportions markably differ from those Americans and Canadians are used to.

The areas of Mexico near the U.S. border contributed most of the flavors we call Mexican. Generally, the countryside in this part of Mexico receives little rainfall and is characterized by marginal agriculture and far less variety of crops planted than in the southern parts of the country. Even the primary flour differs—mainly wheat in the north and corn in the south, although not exclusively.

I love Rick’s southern cuisine, but of course preferences in food are very subjective, especially when it comes to new dining experiences.

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