First Look: Chef Rick Bayless Opens His First NYC Restaurant

Tortazo highlights tortas a la plancha, one of Mexico City’s signature dishes.

Tortazo | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Tortazo | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

For anyone who enjoys eating and has been to Chicago, you’ve most likely popped by at least one of Rick Bayless’s eateries. The chef has been a leader of the culinary scene there for decades, gaining renown both for his high-end, tasting menu concepts such as Topolobampo, and casual spots like Tortas Frontera (otherwise known as some of the best food you will ever eat at an airport). Non-Chicagoans may also recognize him as the very first winner of Top Chef Masters, as well as the host of Mexico: One Plate at Time on PBS.

Interior of Tortazo
Interior of Tortazo | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

Until now, tasting his cooking required traveling to The Windy City (or a long-enough layover at O’Hare). But this week, much to the delight of Chicago expats and Mexican food lovers, Bayless debuts his first NYC outpost: a second location of Tortazo (the first is in Chicago’s Willis Tower). The fast-casual restaurant in Nomad will specialize in both tortas a la plancha, a multi-layered sandwich popular in Mexico City, as well as tlayudas: a large, crispy tortilla garnished with anything from cotija cheese to chorizo.

Opening a restaurant, especially in a new city, is exponentially harder in 2021 due to COVID and labor shortages. But NYC’s vibrant culinary world was enough to draw Bayless to the city, regardless of the pandemic. “I think that what's going on in New York and its Mexican food scene is really exciting,” he tells Thrillist.

Tlayuda | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

The star of the menu will be the tortas, which are served on traditional, griddled telera bread sourced from D&R Central Bakery in The Bronx, and smeared with a hearty swipe of pureed black beans. Half a dozen different combinations will be on offer, from a vegetarian roasted mushroom, to a crispy chicken milanesa, and a spicy cochinita pibil (achiote-braised pork shoulder).

For the tlayudas, whose tortillas are made with a special type of Oaxacan corn and baked in a traditional way intended for travel, the version on Tortazo’s opening menu will feature roasted beets, goat cheese, candied almonds, and avocado-tomatillo salsa. “When you eat this thing, it's sort of like a party because it's 14 inches long,” says Bayless, “but you can crack it into smaller pieces so that you can enjoy the crunchiness of it.”

Agua Frescas
Agua Frescas | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

Saving room for dessert may be tricky, but it would be wise to do so. Bayless has enlisted good friend and dessert-maker extraordinaire, Fany Gerson of La Newyorkina, to create paletas and churros for the restaurant. Flavors for the former include everything from Oaxaca chocolate to a refreshing cucumber-mint, and a spicy mango-chile. The churros will be served with either cajeta (goat’s milk caramel) or chocolate sauce. “I'm a really big fan of churros that are made to order,” says Bayless. “I don't like any ones that have cooled off—so, that's what we'll be doing.”

Tortazo is now open Monday through Sunday, 11:30 am-9 pm.

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Juliet Izon is a contributor for Thrillist.