Cheat Sheet: Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless

By Danya Henninger  |  February 7, 2014
Credit: Danya Henninger

The Gist: The first Rick Bayless venture outside his home turf of Chicago opens on Tuesday at the ARCH at the University of Pennsylvania. “Real food” for Penn students and faculty with limited time and budgets is the author/PBS star’s goal, channeled through his wheelhouse - the authentic cuisine of Mexico.

The Vibe: The newly renovated ARCH could hardly be more opposite than its former incarnation as The Palladium, a dark and dusty bar that shuttered more than 10 years ago. Bright, clean and welcoming, the cafe is made of an open deli kitchen and a cafeteria-style ordering line, surrounded by colorful tables and chairs.

Eat This: Molletes (warm, open-face sandwiches on crusty bread) are like what you might make in the toaster at home, if you had time to braise local pork shoulder or whip up fig fruit spread from scratch. The meatless “Tres Queso” is bright and flavorful with chipotle-garlic mayo and roasted poblanos.

Drink This: Rival Bros. coffee in espresso or drip. Look for a new, custom “Frontera Blend” to debut soon.

Skip This: The locavore lecture. Bayless was one of the first chefs to embrace local sourcing and knowing your providers, but these days, many, many Philadelphia restaurants are doing the same. While it’s great the Chicago-run mini-chain has discovered the wealth of farmers in Northeast Pennsylvania, it’s not ground-breaking.

For Fans Of: HipCityVeg, Chipotle, Au Bon Pain

The Damage: You can be in and out for well under $15 for a satisfying meal (the priciest sandwiches are $8.95), or just pop in with a snack or a treat with a fiver to leave happy.

The Verdict: ​This was a very good get by Bon Appétit, the company that runs Penn’s food programs. Students will be tempted to eat here three times a day, and be none the worse for it, while staff at nearby hospitals and offices will likely flock here for lunch. It’s worth a visit if you are in the area.

Tortas Frontera, 3601 Locust Walk