If it’s one thing I’ve learned to appreciate during my tenure in California, it would have to be Mexican food. Los Angeles has opened my eyes to probably the best Mexican food in the country – so when I heard Rick Bayless had decided to expand in our city, my interest was piqued. It’s not a restaurant that is Bayless’ so much as one thatÂ has consulted him on the menu and brought a lot of the elements of his Chicago restaurants directly to Melrose – but good enough. It has his name on it; I’ll take it – and thank Executive Chef Michael Brown in the meantime.
When I travel to Chicago, Mexican food and seafood are cuisines I flat-out avoid (celebrity chefs aside). I was curious to experience first-hand his approach to it, however, and I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint. In fact, the food was inspiring – a large partÂ made possible with the quality ingredients thatÂ I imagine are much more accessible than in ChicagoÂ – and the ambiance of the natural, modern space completed an overall enjoyable dinner. Price points were reasonable, save for the “Mexico’s Celebrated Seven” – which, if you should want to get committal at Red O, include an achiote-marinatedÂ Gleason Ranch suckling pig, a spicy green chile-marinated Creekstone NaturalÂ rib-eye.
But the important thing was that the flavors were as vibrant asÂ Mexican fareÂ should be. Dark sauces, light sauces, pork belly, chicken, duck, steak dishes were all solid – butÂ you might laugh if I told you that the tortillas were good.Â Don’t, because this ground level ingredient isÂ so often overlooked, and Red O passing the test allowed me to appreciate the actual dishes with a keener eye.
The pork belly sopes were the sweet kind of delicious, with the salsa negra giving it good depth. I could see myself at the bar with a tray of these, washed down with their Topolo Margarita (Sauza Conmemorativo tequila, Gran Torres orange liqueur and limonada) – the only straight-up cocktail on the menu at the time of our visit. The cocktail menu is actually being revised right now, which is a good thing since I thought every other drink was too easily bruised by the ice, having started off with not enough flavor. Or, perhaps, liquor.