Today marks the grand opening of Tortas Frontera, the latest venture for acclaimed chef Rick Bayless. The quick-service cafe is located on the first floor of the ARCH (36th Street and Locust Walk) at the University of Pennsylvania. The chef of Top Chef Masters fame (who I know better through his PBS show Mexico – One Plate at a Time) infuses his experiences into high-quality, locally-sourced dishes reflecting Mexico’s culinary diversity.
Bayless and his team partnered with campus veteran Bon Appétit Management Company to supply the Penn community (and beyond) with hand-crafted Mexican delicacies. His attraction to opening a venue on a college campus is inspired by the way that a college student “develops a sense of taste and blossoms as [his/her] own individual.”
From the cafe’s namesake tortas to molletes (warm, crusty flatbreads), cazuelas (Mexican meals in a bowl) to a customizable guacamole bar, there are a variety of options to dig into. All are inspired by Bayless’ desire to “seduce people with flavor.”
“I want to share knowledge beyond the food on the plate and open people’s minds to something new,” Bayless said, “Diners need to understand the context behind what they eat. For example, we just had the biggest guacamole holiday of the year: the Super Bowl. Many people may think that guacamole has a bunch of standard ingredients. However, guacamole is a regional food in Mexico. In Mexico City, they use roasted tomatillos and roasted garlic. In Oaxaca, it’s mashed avocado and salt–it’s that simple. We tried to bring that diversity to Tortas Frontera: the guacamole bar here lets you experiment with ingredients like roasted pumpkin seeds and bacon.”
During the ARCH Open House, Tortas Frontera dished out bites of fragrant molletes, crisp tortilla chips, freshly-prepared tomatillo salsa, and creamy guacamole (this version topped with toasted pepitas, sun-dried tomatoes, and queso cotija-fresco).
The Tres Queso Molletes is one of the popular items on the menu, featuring “melted Chihuahua and creamy goat cheese with chipotle-garlic mojo topped with queso cotija, sun-dried tomato, poblano rajas and cilantro.”
Bayless shared that “everyone in Mexico says that the best cuisines are in places with the best agriculture.” His number one priority is to identify local sources that are within a 150 mile radius. Fedele Bauccio, CEO of Bon Appétit, echoed Bayless’ commitment to local ingredients. “You can see how passionate Rick is about creating highly sustainable cuisine,” Bauccio said.
“When you eat something that makes you happy, you just feel better,” Bayless mused, “The flavors here are traditional and defined and offer a real Mexican experience.”
Tortas Frontera is open on the first floor of the ARCH on Mondays through Thursdays 8am-10pm, Fridays 8am-8pm, Saturdays 11am-4pm, and Sundays 11am-10pm.
— Nicole Woon