Too Much Tacos:
I am the taco equivalent of the Cookie Monster. For a long time now, I've felt that tacos were the only food I could eat every day and not get tired of. Cereal used to be in that boat as well, but that ship has long since sunk. Coming off recent trips to New York City where I repeatedly and woefully try to find decent Mexican food, much to my chagrin, it bolstered a sense of appreciation in me for how omnipresent outstanding Mexican food is in Chicago, in all corners of the culinary gamut. There's high-brow and low-brow eateries scattered throughout the city, with plenty of middle ground in between. And yes, tacos are everywhere. So I put my taco adoration to the test and spent the better part of an entire week eating tacos. I mean, I didn't eat nothing but tacos, but I made sure and eat some every day. Here's what happened.
I was planning on meeting a friend for beer and video games at an arcade bar, which doesn't serve food, so I'd need to pick something up on the way. I had just learned about Robin Williams' passing as I was getting ready to leave and the skies were appropriately meloncholic. I was starving. Nothing could comfort me in moments like this quite like pork enrobed in freshly made, warm tortillas. Seeing as I was en route to Wicker Park anyway, Big Star seemed a logical stop-off, albeit it is always crowded so I knew I'd have to get food from the takeout window. But as I was approaching, it started to drizzle, making it difficult to eat my tacos on the on-site picnic tables. I ordered my favorite (the chorizo tacos, which taste somewhat like a mashed up Mexican shepherd's pie) and the essential al pastor, the perfect one-two punch of sweet and savory with pork and pineapple dancing together in perfect synergy. I took my tacos into Wicker Park, found a tree with some shelter from the rain, and sat on the ground eating my tacos while thinking about my favorite lines from Hook.
At this point, I wasn't necessarily planning on eating tacos every day of the week, but it just sort of started falling into place by happenstance. I was leaving a meeting in Wicker Park (I live in Ukrainian Village, so it's not unusual for me to be in the area most every day) and started to feel peckish. Tacos are the perfect peckish food in that they're not too heavy, they're fairly small, and you can order as many as you want to feel satisfied, be it a snack or a meal. I usually order three just because. I made my way to my go-to dive-y taqueria, the La Pasadita that is the further north of the two on Ashland and Division. Here, I stick to steak tacos because they're so succulent and simple, beefy umami flavor at its finest, enrobed in rich corn flavor. I also ordered a bottle of Coke mostly because I am desperate to find the #shareacoke bottle with my name on it.
Mid-week, I had an appointment with my hair stylist in Logan Square. She's the best; beautiful and British and smart and funny. I love her because she reminds me of my favorite character from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Anyhoo, I always make a day of it when I'm up here; usually just working in nearby coffee shops and getting lunch from someplace nearby. Today I was looking for something quick and on-the-go before I went back home. L'Patron seemed like the logical choice, seeing as I haven't been in a while and I love their tacos and at this point I was like "screw it, I'm having a taco week!" Much to my delight, the diminutive taqueria expanded its space exponentially, adding a separate dining room and alleviating crowding in the first room by the counter. Sevice has gotten substantially friendlier as well; I got called "babe" about five times. Here I got two steak tacos, L'Patron being another venerable option for beefy wares, and a chicken taco. Food here takes a while, but it's worth the wait, as everything is stunningly fresh and vibrant. Apropos beverage to wash it all down: watermelon agua fresca.
Preceding the opening of Bar Takito, the West Loop offshoot of Takito Kitchen, I snuck a peak at some of the dishes and drinks after a couple cocktails with a friend at Three Dots and a Dash. Spoiler alert: I was hungover the next morning. First of all, I am a huge fan of Takito Kitchen in Wicker Park. The restaurant does a stellar job polishing and upgrading the taqueria template, with lavish street-inspired wall art and offbeat takes on tacos like a crispy red fish taco folded inside a hibiscus tortilla with coconut cream. Oh hello. So my excitement for Bar Takito, a larger restaurant space with expanded menu offerings, was off the charts. Here, the menu is less taco-centric, but there are still a few interesting options. Like the coffee-rubbed beef tacos in beer tortillas. What the what! Coffee and beer, two vices together in one convenient hand-held vessle of deliciousness. The meat was pot roast-tender, rich with heady notes of coffee with some slight cocoa-y undertones. The whole thing melted together inside the piquant beer tortillas, an otherwise average-looking tortilla bursting with a melee of tartness, bitterness, and fruit. Easily the most complex taco of the week, and likely the year.
Another brand new taqueria to join the fray is Authentaco, which set up shop in one of the old La Pasadita spaces on Ashland and Division. This one is on the east side of the street, with a sleek new facade, a stunning clandestine back patio, and a window that affords a front-row view into the tortilla-slinging kitchen action from the sidewalk. The formula here is pretty standard, but what makes these tacos different is how much larger the tortillas are. They're thinner, softer, and more pliable, but spread wide enough so as to enclose a larger array of ingredients. I tried a couple kinds, including the best cactus dish of my life. Usually nopales tend to be incredibly bitter when charred, but these ones were surprisingly mellow, luscious, and slightly sweet. It made for a nice vegetarian option, right alongside my chicken taco brimming with juicy shards of shredded chicken flesh. Don't miss the simple-sounding chips and guac, as Authentaco does an exemplary job with a taqueria standard. They're also very nice about re-filling guac cups.
At this point, it's miraculous I am not yet taco'd out. It turns out there is no such thing as too much tacos! After a day spent shopping downtown, working at home, and hanging out with friends, I was preparing for a night in Logan Square at the new Emporium Bar, Parson's Chicken & Fish, and Slippery Slope, my favorite new nightlife trifecta. But first, food was necessary. I wanted something quick and cheap, and Taqueria Moran seemed a viable option. Although the least impressive and noteworthy of the tacos I ate this week, Taqueria Moran is still deeply satisfying in its familiarity and consistency. Not to mention a mediocre taco in Chicago is still better than "good" tacos in most other cities.
- Matt Kirouac