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Rick Bayless' XOCO Wicker Park Building Plans Get Green Light from City

By Alisa Hauser | March 14, 2014 7:26am
 Conceptual renderings of Rick Bayless's new XOCO outpost in Wicker Park.
XOCO Wicker Park Plans
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WICKER PARK — Rick Bayless's second XOCO outpost has been inching closer to opening on the southeast corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Honore Street, and on Thursday the exterior plans for the famed chef's new restaurant got preliminary approval from the city's Landmark Commission.

The new restaurant, housed in an 1880s-era building at 1471 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park will offer cuisine similar to XOCO at 449 N. Clark St.

A spokesman for Bayless' Frontera Grill said on Thursday the the official name is just XOCO, but "colloquially people will probably call it something like XOCO Wicker, just to differentiate it."

Though previously the company hoped XOCO would open in spring, on Thursday the spokesman said, "I can guarantee that we will open eventually" and added, "as far as ETA goes, I'm pleading the fifth."

 An 1880s-era building that is expected to be home to a new Rick Bayless restaurant in late spring or early summer.
An 1880s-era building that is expected to be home to a new Rick Bayless restaurant in late spring or early summer.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

The Wicker Park XOCO will have a capacity for 76 people inside and 45 on a patio along Honore, where patrons will dine under a bright blue and yellow canvas.

Bayless has previously said the new location will be larger than the River North XOCO, which opened four years ago, and will offer offer table service rather than ordering at a counter before sitting down. "A bar component" with local beer on tap is planned, too.

Bayless, 59, who stars in the PBS show "Mexico — One Plate a Time," is best known locally for his Frontera Grill and Topolobampo Mexican restaurants, the latter of which again received a star from the prestigious Michelin 2014 Guide.

Since the building at 1471 N. Milwaukee Ave. is listed as a contributing structure to the Milwaukee Avenue Landmark District, there were recommendations made by the Landmarks Commission to keep historical references intact.

Bayless is seeking to move the entrance to XOCO's Wicker Park restaurant to Honore rather than Milwaukee.

Larry Shure, a project manager with the Landmark's Commission, recommended that the Milwaukee facing storefront acknowledges "the historic presence of an entrance."

Joel Huffman, the architect of record for the XOCO project, told the commission, "We would like to proceed with original proposal," while Stacy Dixon, director of development and marketing for Frontera added, "We feel that mimicking an entry on Milwaukee could be potentially confusing to customers."

The committee also approved XOCO's plans to add a new canvas patio roof to shelter outdoor seating area along Honore.

The lightweight aluminum canvas designed by Huffman will provide permanent shelter for people waiting in line as well as dining on the patio.

Though Landmark Commissioner Ernie Wong said "it would be better to have [the canopy] be removable and alterable," Mary Ann Smith, another commissioner, called the canopy, "Something nontraditional that has a very festive Latin or Mexican flair to it."

After the meeting, Teddy Varndell, a member of the Wicker Park Committee, said "negating the fact that there was a historic corner entrance is deleterious to the structure of the building and the Landmark District."

When asked about how the designs will be changed to accommodate the historic presence of an entryway on Milwaukee, the XOCO spokesman said, "There will definitely be a solution but we don't know what it will be yet" and added that the restaurant will be working closely with Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), the Landmarks commission and community groups.

Though the permit review committee has given the green light to the plans as part of a pre-permit review process, once a permit application is submitted to the Buildings Department for the project, the Landmarks staff would review the application to ensure the project is in compliance with what the committee approved, said Peter Strazzabosco, a spokesman for the Landmark Commission.