Tag Archives: West Loop

Los Surfos

Los Surfos photo archive

Here are many collected photos from the first 2 years of operation at the Chef Rick Bayless restaurants, Leña Brava and Cruz Blanca. They are grouped so as to offer a deeper appreciation of the Mexican fine art from the Bayless’ collection, currently on display at 900 W. Randolph St.  Spend enough time at this archive, and you will learn all about the artists who made them, their inspiration, and much more. Enjoy!


 Cumbia de Los Surfos film


Feature length “cumbia-mentary” on the first 2 years of Chef Rick Bayless’ restaurants at 900 W. Randolph St., Chicago

Real talk: everybody who worked at 900 over the past 2 years has contributed to making something special. While the speed of life makes it challenging to find the time for reflection, please consider my amateur filmmaking an offering of 1 hour, 43 minutes. All of the staff deserve to feel proud for opening 2 amazing restaurants that will stand the test of time. The efforts put forth have compelled me to believe more than ever before, that anything is possible.” –Arturo La Cago

Watch the movie and celebrate 2 years of the people behind-the-scenes (Los Surfos) bringing to life the restaurants at 900 W. Randolph Street. This feature length cumbia documentary (cumbia-mentary?) is coming in hot… 


Who are Los Surfos?

Los Surfos, a word meaning “surfers” in the Spanish language, here refers to the staff who worked during the first two years of operation (2016-2018) for the Chef Rick Bayless restaurants, Leña Brava and Cruz Blanca at 900 W. Randolph St. in Chicago. As for the meta-meaning, before I worked for Chef Rick Bayless (2011-2018), I worked for Chef Chris Schlesinger (2005-2011) in Cambridge, MA, at his restaurant, the East Coast Grill & Raw Bar, which centered around wood fire grilling and seafood. The map of the world with flames encircling the dark blue equatorial zone, pictured above, was the brunch menu cover for this restaurant, where I was the brunch captain. Amongst many positive attributes shared between these 2 amazing chefs, I am struck by their like-minded focus on staff education to achieve the best guest experience. And I was only employable in the first place due to the chefs’ joint promotion of an environment within their restaurants where people are allowed to shine by being themselves.

Anyway, back to the meta-meaning of Los Surfos. From what I have learned, Baja California Norte cuisine, is mostly unique amongst Mexican cuisine for its inclusion of ingredients from Asia, from which the region has received many migrants. It has also been called, “Baja Med,” due in part to the climatological synergy with the Mediterranean: hot days, cool nights, great wine-growing conditions.  One day while I was sitting in a staff education class about Baja cuisine taught by Leña Brava chef / San Diego native Stephen Sandoval, it all clicked in my mind. The old brunch menu cover map from the East Coast Grill highlighted regions of the world linked by cuisine that featured cooking with chile peppers. This equatorial region colonized by Mexico’s amazing chile pepper, is also where to find most of the world’s beaches most natural for surfing. Baja cuisine is kind of like a post-modern global-cuisine-conquering chile pepper surfer returning to its native Mexico, rediscovering the old truism, “You can’t go home again.”

In the restaurants opening, the staff shared daily updates on a now long-defunct private Facebook Group, set up to gel the communication and culture by sharing laughter. Many of the funny staff photos in the above archive, as well as the bonus video clips from the second hour of the cumbia-mentary, are from there. We called it Los Surfos: a digital meeting place for all of us surfing the big waves of Chef Rick’s newly opened restaurants at 900 Randolph.


Hot Sauce Time Machine

Go back in time and have a look at some of the first Rick Bayless web content: mild, medium and spicy!

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Nando’s Peri-Peri

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless wilfredo bravo nandos peri peri

It was a bright blue sky winter afternoon with zero degree temps. Chef Wil and I had planned to get hotdogs from the Hot Doug’s pop-up, but with his broken leg and that arctic air, we changed the plan pretty quick!

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless wilfredo bravo nandos peri peri

Fortunately, Nando’s Peri-Peri was an amazing alternative. The chicken was roasted perfectly (Portuguese style?) and the hot sauces, including the peri peri were flaming hot and finger-licking good (Brazilian style?) Also, I’m a sucker for any soda machine that features Coca Cola flavors from around the world.

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Chicken Parm


As the manager of Xoco, I live with a dark secret: my addiction for PQM chicken parm!  Take it from someone who eats at least one awesome torta a day: the PQM chicken parm is a must have sandwich. As in, I must have one just writing this. I need one a week, at least.


I love that it comes with Deep River chips. They’re made in Connecticut (where I’m from) and I can’t stop eating them. The pickle is also top notch.  Get the chicken parm.  Everything else is amazing too, it’s just…  Chicken Parm Is The Thing You Cannot Not Get.

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Andrea and Julie

andrea varias julie purpura wedding 2015 3rdarm arthur mullen morgan fulton market chicago

Our good friends Andrea and Julie, who live right around the corner, got married this past Memorial Day weekend. The wedding was across the street from the Aviary on Fulton Market.

andrea varias julie purpura wedding 2015 3rdarm arthur mullen morgan fulton market chicago

In attendance was a photographer with 500K+ instagram followers, as well as stepdad Gene, pictured above, a professional photographer.

andrea varias julie purpura wedding 2015 3rdarm arthur mullen morgan fulton market chicago

And yet they chose me to do the photos! My first wedding photography, it was an honor.

andrea varias julie purpura wedding 2015 3rdarm arthur mullen morgan fulton market chicago

After the weekend was over, I told people that the camera left scratch marks on my face from taking 1500 photos and one bitchin’ 8 minute video of the dancefloor. What actually happened was I took a nap on the couch after the wedding brunch, and Roly Poly tried to wake me up.

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Habanero Baja Grill

chef amado lopez

A casual quick service Mexican restaurant from the chef who opened XOCO for Rick Bayless: Chef Amado Lopez. The love for and depth of knowledge about Mexican cuisine can be felt throughout the menu. We sampled three tacos, all served on tortillas made by hand in house. The barbacoa was aromatic, fried tilapia spicy with chipotle mayo, steak was juicy and well-seasoned, paired with pickled red onion for tang. The housemade red salsa features guajillo, ancho and arbol, an earthy heat that builds on the palette. Green salsa has a sweet, grassy chile flavor accented with herbs.

habanero baja grill 3rdarm

I found out they were “soft” open this week when they posted a photo of a vegetable caldo on instagram. One look at the steaming brothy bowl filled with arugula, hominy, chile poblano, tortillas, lime and more was all it took. My girlfriend and I placed a large to-go order for caldos (soups) and cemitas (sandwiches) and enjoyed hot chocolate and churros while we waited. The chocolate is less rich than XOCO, which makes it more drinkable and the perfect cure for the cold winter we’ve been having, especially paired with the sugary crunch of a churro.

habanero baja grill 3rdarm

Chef Amado and I worked together for years at XOCO and I must say I was sad when he moved on: It makes me happy that he has made a new home to fill with his generous spirit, high standards, and the authentic aromas and flavors of Mexican street food. The folks who live and work in the West Loop have a great new place to eat!

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