Chicago Celebrates Rick Bayless Day

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Chicagoans like to celebrate, especially when there’s eating and drinking involved, and this week, a week that included an Election Day that didn’t go especially well for Mayor Brandon Johnson, the mayor celebrated his proclamation of honoring Rick Bayless, arguably Chicago’s best-known celebrity chef.

Johnson dubbed Thursday, March 21 “Rick Bayless Day,” in honor of the 37th anniversary of Frontera Grill, the Chicago restaurant often cited as a catalyst in popularizing regional Mexican food and elevating it in the eyes of Americans to the same levels as other cuisines. This specific anniversary has special meaning for Bayless, who took a victory lap through local media to explain that he’d always aimed to build a restaurant that could last as long as Hickory House, his parents’ barbecue restaurant in Oklahoma City that endured for 37 years.

In celebration of nearly 40 years of serving Chicago, March 21, 2024, will now be known as “Honorary Chef Rick Bayless Day” recognizing the legendary chef’s brilliance and longtime commitment and contributions to our city.

Thank you, Rick!

— Mayor Brandon Johnson (@ChicagosMayor) March 22, 2024

Over his nearly four decades in Chicago hospitality, Bayless oversaw a dramatic transformation in the once-gritty streets of River North and went on to open a clutch of decorated restaurants alongside Frontera, including Michelin-starred Topolobampo, the more casual Xoco, and subterranean cocktail bar and restaurant Bar Sotano, which he operates with daughter Lanie Bayless.

Bayless’ influence, however, extends beyond Chicago thanks to his television show Mexico: One Plate at a Time, which ran for a dozen seasons on PBS, and his victorious run on Season 1 of the reality competition series Top Chef Masters. The man penned nine cookbooks, has seven James Beard Awards under his belt, and even managed to make O’Hare International Airport into a dining destination with Tortas Frontera, his quick-serve torta shops with locations in three terminals. The Frontera brand of chips, salsa, and spice kits has been wildly successful, with the chef selling the company for more than $100 million.

The tale of a white, Oklahoma-born chef achieving fame and fortune through Mexican cuisine raised questions over the years about culinary heritage and appropriation. Over time, Bayless has shown more openness to dialogue on these issues and has spoken out in support of raising wages for restaurant workers. On Rick Bayless Day, however, all was sunshine and positivity, at least in the comments section on a celebratory Instagram post from the Illinois Restaurant Association. Prominent leaders in Chicago’s Mexican American restaurant scene shared their congratulations, including James Beard-nominated chefs Diana Dávila Boldin (Mi Tocaya Antojeria) and Marcos Carbajal (Carnitas Uruapan), as well as the team at Bucktown’s Taqueria Chingon.

Despite Bayless’ fame, not all Chicagoans were clued into the nature of the festivities. On X (nee Twitter), one local inadvertently stumbled into a Rick Bayless Day prix fixe event. “I accidentally just crashed Rick Bayless’ birthday party oops,” they quipped.

I accidentally just crashed Rick Bayless’ birthday party oops

— Sky’s inner demons (@notaproblm) March 22, 2024

Bar Sotano

445 North Clark Street, , IL 60610 (312) 391-5857 Visit Website

Frontera Grill

445 North Clark Street, , IL 60654 (312) 661-1434 Visit Website


445 North Clark Street, , IL 60654 (312) 661-1434 Visit Website


1471 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (872) 829-3821 Visit Website

Tortas Frontera

10 S Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60603 (312) 732-6505 Visit Website

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