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RH 25: Frontera Restaurants

RH 25: Frontera Restaurants

The best and brightest restaurant companies are not just creating one great concept; they're creating many. See Restaurant Hospitality's picks for powerful multiconcept companies that not only play it cool, they kick ass. See all concepts >>

Rick Bayless


Annual sales: $15-$30 million

Units: 9

Key personnel:  
• Rick Bayless, partner & executive chef
• Deann Bayless, partner
• Carlos Alferez, managing partner

Single concepts:
• Frontera Grill (authentic regional Mexican cuisine)
• Topolobampo (Frontera’s upscale sister restaurant)
• Xoco (fast-casual street foods and snacks)

Multiple locations:
• Frontera Fresco (quick-service Mexican street food at Macy’s in Chicago, Skokie and San Francisco; also at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL)
• Tortas Frontera (quick-service Mexican sandwiches at three terminals in O’Hare Airport and Urban Market at Chase Tower in Chicago)

Frontera Grill

Why it’s cool

Back in the 1980s, in terms of fine dining, America was obsessed with French cuisine. American cuisine had not yet achieved first-string status and ethnic restaurants, for the most part, could not command respect in this country. Then Rick Bayless came along in 1987 and created Frontera Grill, which demonstrated that authentic Mexican cuisine was not just rice, beans and gloppy cheese, as we were led to believe. Frontera was so startling in its revelations, that in 1991 the James Beard Foundation named Bayless the Best Chef in the Midwest. Four years later, the Beard Foundation declared him the best chef in the land. Several years after opening Frontera, Bayless and he wife/partner Deann opened Topolobampo, an upscale restaurant that proved Mexican cuisine can be as elegant as any other cuisine, including French. As you might expect, investors have courted him for years to crank out Frontera Grills by the hundreds, which he has resisted. Instead, he has maintained the integrity of his brand. In recent years he’s entered the fast-casual and quick-service arena, while maintaining the highest standards. Last year he won Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, beating out some of the best chefs in the country. But a truer test of how good he and his brand are can be found at O’Hare Airport, where his Tortas Frontera produces food so far beyond what you expect, that you won’t mind having been groped by a TSA agent minutes earlier.

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