The Red Worm – Rojo Gusano 3830 W Lawrence Chicago, IL

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Type: Around-the-World Tacos

Price $$$

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Amidst the taco explosion of the last 5 years, there have been some pretty great taco places opening up around the country, and Chicago is no exception. We’ve had places come and go, and chefs experimenting and inventing awesome ways for us to shove food in our faces on little corn mashed circles.

There is something about a restaurant when the chef, and everyone involved really cares about the work they do and the food they put out. There is actually a large section of their web page devoted to the story behind the family restaurant and Chef Nieto (great name). The service, although a little slow at times, is always friendly and accommodating. The place is comfortable, and although they don’t display the quantity or quality of Latin inspired art many Latin American restaurants boast, they do have a pretty cool photo of Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’ album cover. There are also skateboards and stickers on the wall, and one gets the feeling they are trying to speak to the hip taco-loving kids in the area. The drinks are also pretty decent here, I recommend the Pomegranate Cucumber Mezcal laced concoction. 

We started off with two orders of guacamole, each about the size of an ice cream scoop: the spicy pumpkin seed, which comes with charred pineapple, and the serrano pico de gallo, nice and chunky. Both were very tasty, and they come with some delicious sticks of jicama planted in the guac. The “chips” that come out are actually fried whole tortillas. Although I had to do the work and break them up my damn self, I wasn’t mad at it. 

For taco journalism purposes, I ordered 6 tacos. Truth be told, I wasn’t able to finish all six, but I managed to put away 4 and a half, which ain’t too shabby.  The tacos I ordered: Korean BBQ Beef, Pork Belly, Short Rib, Charred Butternut Squash, Green Curry Camaron, and Chicken Tinga. All their tacos are served on homemade corn tortillas, which is, as you know, the only way if you’re serious about tacos. 

 

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I knew I was in for a quite a meal, so I started off with what is typically my favorite taco, the Pork Belly. I wasn’t going to fill up on what could possibly be not-so-great tacos and not have room for my favorite, duh. The pork was cooked properly and not too dry. It had a great grilled, smokey taste, and was chopped into cubes, which I found interesting. Pork to the third power. Super delicious, and topped off with Oaxacan Pasilla salsa and pico de gallo relish, it quickly became one of my favorite pork belly tacos in Chicago.  Possibly my favorite? Not too fatty, but just enough to give it perfect flavor. 

The short rib taco… holy mole. This might be one of the best tacos I have ever eaten. Although I love barbacoa, it made me wonder why short rib hasn’t replaced it yet in every Mexican eatery. I have to admit, it is difficult for me to even write about right now – it’s about 10 minutes before the lunch-time call, and I am famished. The short rib comes with onions and green salsa, traditional steak taco style. And a little bit of radish, which seems to be their thing here. I don’t know what else to say about it other than a flavor explosion that shook me to my core. I will dream about this taco for months.

The Korean BBQ Beef taco, which in essence is a bulgolgi taco, was delicious, although a bit salty for me. It probably is supposed to be. As for the Korean influence, all the flavors were there. It comes with kimchi, cilantro, and radish, with a healthy splash of sesame seeds. At first I found it a little mystifying to see this taco on the menu (as it was mystifying why there were chopsticks on the table), but then I read the website, and realized the location, West Albany Park, historically has had a large Korean population. Anyways, what I want to say here is, this is a good taco, but not the best on the menu. If I want Korean flavors, I’ll probably just go to a Korean restaurant. But don’t discount this taco! I’m just sort of an all or nothing kind of guy. 

On to the roasted butternut squash and kale taco. In the history of  dual combinations, there have been some heavyweights. Gin and Juice. Sonny and Cher. Democrats and Republicans. But the best of the combos, the one I’m getting at here, is the salty and the sweet. It is my estimation that was the aim of this particular taco, and although tasty, it just barely misses the mark. The sweetness of the  butternut squash overpowered the saltiness supplemented by the farmer’s cheese and tomatillo salsa. But it was a close match, and with a little bit of fine tuning, this taco could out-do a chocolate covered pretzel on any day of the week. Coming from me, that’s saying a lot, because I love those damn things.

The chicken tinga taco….was decent. It pretty much follows along the lines of most pulled chicken tacos, and it wasn’t dry, which is a common occurrence of the pulled variety. It had a great spicy chile and garlic rubbed flavor, and with the crema, was a tasty treat, but nothing too spectacular about it. I wouldn’t steer you away, it gets a solid B+. 

 

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And now, the shrimp curry taco. I enjoy a good Thai curry, and I love me some shrimp, but I’m not sure if both of these belong inside a taco. Once again, I feel like I would prefer to get this from a Thai restaurant rather than having shrimp dressed with curry inside a taco. It felt ambitious, yet uninspired at the same time, if that makes any sense. It probably doesn’t. If anything, this taco felt more like a palette cleanser, sandwiched between the huge flavors of the Korean taco and the short rib. Or maybe I’m just not the biggest Thai curry fan, and you would enjoy this taco more than I did. That’s completely possible. 

Overall, Rojo Gusano, although not a complete homerun, settles for an RBI with a man on third. Clearly some tacos definitely outshine others. Maybe my take was skewed by personal preference, but I try my best to offer an objective opinion and keep the facts straight. I definitely recommend it, but if I were to have a word with Chef Nieto, my opinion as a frequent taco consumer would be to stick to traditional Latin American flavors. As for the vibe, the place looks hip, and the drinks are all tasty. Not a fan of the metal chairs, but I’ll always settle if it means good food. The outside seating is a nice treat as well, and one thing I should note is the background music was well curated, which makes sense considering the Dylan poster and the fresh young vibe of the joint. I did see an amplifier in the corner, so it looks like they might have some local musicians serenading you while you dine, although I have yet to encounter it. The prices are reasonable (the specialty tacos are in the three dollar range, the more basic tacos 2 something) but they all were equal in quality. There is paid parking outside. I’ve never had trouble finding a spot, but for some reason it has always been the last spot available. Outside seating, brunch, booze, tacos, amazing appetizers…I hope this place sticks around for a long time. 

I give Rojo Gusano 4.0 out of 5 chiles.

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Satan’s Taco’s – Taco Diablo 1026 Davis Street Evanston, IL

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Type: Demon Tacos

Price $$$

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Tacos aren’t just a food, they are a way life. So in my twisted mind it makes sense that it might be possible they exist in the afterlife. What would I do if you told me the devil was going to serve me a taco? You bet better I would expect that to be the best damn taco I’ve ever eaten in my whole taco eating life. So when I heard about Taco Diablo, you bet your god-fearing ass I hauled myself down there and sampled some of these demon tacos.

A little background: The original Taco Diablo, which was literally across the street from the current location, burned down several years ago. Everyone was sad, including yours truly. In the process, they lost a lot of the amazing, original art that was made specifically for the taqueria. However, the artist (who I have yet to find out the name, but will edit this post when I do) actually recreated many of the pieces as prints, and although not as cool as the original paintings, still provides a stunning and beautiful backdrop to the restaurant.

 

 

 

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Since I was by myself and the place was incredibly busy (lunch time on a Thursday), I opted to sit at the bar, which incidentally provides faster service anyway. The bartender was friendly, however upon closer inspection of the menu, I noticed their tacos are not available a la carte. They are served “family style” (I dubbed it “expensive style”) with rice and beans, choice of black or pinto.  When I asked the bartender if they would make an exception for a la carte, and he said they would allow me to add an additional taco to my order. Praise the lord! (Satan?)

I was served chips and salsa as I waited. The salsa was exquisite and made in-house. When asked if the tortillas were made in-house, the bartender informed me they were not, but the chips definitely were. Two out of three ain’t bad.

The tacos came out super fast, and were served on a metal taco holder on a wooden plate. I had ordered the pork belly taco, the grilled shrimp taco, the potato & poblano w/ cheese taco, and the carne asada taco. Pork belly being my favorite type of taco, I went to town on that one first. Solid! First i wanna say that despite the tortillas not being homemade, they were still incredibly delicious and better than most outsourced tortillas I’ve had. The pork belly, which came as a big ass slab of pork covered with a radish & cabbage slaw, was incredibly delicious, with a slight smokey flavor and cooked perfectly. It was not too fatty and wasn’t that difficult to eat. Among my top three favorite pork belly tacos. They know how to cook and season pork here, and they know how to do it well.

The shrimp taco, although not as tasty as the pork belly, was still a great taco. Granted, it was a little more difficult to eat because those shrimps like to kind of move about inside your taco as you maneuver, however the flavor of the shrimp was still spot on. You could definitely taste and see these bad boys were seasoned well and grilled over a fire, and really this is what a grilled shrimp taco ought to be. It was dressed the same as the pork belly taco, which did not befront me one bit.

The poblano and potato taco, which was BIG and tasty, was a little overloaded and difficult to eat. I think a little too much chipotle salsa was the culprit here. A good amount of spillage occurred, but that’s okay, because I scoop it right up and load it into my next taco, like spare ammo in a taco cannon. When it comes to tacos, more is always better than not enough, so really I didn’t mind if I had to use a couple of extra napkins. Back to the taco: the potato, corn and poblano rajas, and chipotle salsa, along with the cheese, seemed to all amalgamate together and create an viscous orange paste, topped with some cheese and arugula. Pasty or not, it was still a taco worth eating.

 

 

 

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Last, and never least, I began eating my steak taco. I am unsure what kind of steak they used as I didn’t ask, but it was decent. Not too tough, and had a great grilled flavor, with a specific seasoning they used on the steak. It was dressed with red salsa and I think some onion. It was a good taco, but definitely not among their best. But don’t let this keep you from ordering it, you will eat it and you will like it. It is better than 60% of the steak tacos you’re going to eat out there. It does not, however, taste like a traditional Mexican steak taco.

One last thing I should mention is this place is not cheap. Since they do not offer a la carte, you’re dishing 15 dollars for 3 tacos, granted they do come with rice and beans. Still, I prefer to get my tacos without said rice and beans if I want and not have to pay for food I don’t necessarily want to eat. That being said, Taco Diablo still ranks among the best tacos I’ve had in Chicago, and worth the trip up the purple line to try them out. The space is super cool, the art is amazing, and the staff friendly. It’s a short walk from the Davis station and there is plenty of parking out front (although I can’t say how many spots will be open). Would I sell my soul for these tacos? Probably not. But if they cut me a deal, I might think about it.

I give Taco Diablo 4.0 out of 5 chiles.

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Night of the Living Tacos – El Pueblito 6712 N Clark Street Chicago, IL

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Type: Rogers Park Tacos

Price $

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It has been a long 8 months since my last taco review. I have considered retiring this blog because I simply do not have time to continue reviewing taco places, but instead the frequency will just be turned down to a level reasonable enough for me to give you a proper taco review without really rushing through it. 

What tacos have I eaten since my last review, you ask? A lot, of course. But there was one place that would always stand out in my mind, and it was El Pueblito on Clark in Rogers Park. I went there once on a whim, and I found it delightfully tacotastic. One of the things I really like about this place is that it gives you more than one delicious salsa, and any place that gives you options is good in my book. They also put all kinds of veggies in their rice, which is also awesome. Unless you are 5 years old, you should be able to appreciate this.

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After having a seat with my friend and fellow taco / burrito lover Kylene, we got to orderin’. I ordered one steak, one pastor, one conchinita pibil, and one chorizo taco. Whenever I order rainbow of tacos like this I usually explain to people it’s for a taco blog, lest I look like the world’s biggest glutton, but a true taco lover wouldn’t bat an eye. Right? 

My gaffe here was after ordering, I forgot to explicitly state I prefer onions and cilantro on all of my tacos, not just the pastor taco. So I had to sort of track her down in the restaurant and let her know before the tacos came to dinner dressed in the wrong outfits. It looked a little strange i’m sure as she was sort of in the kitchen and this place is pretty small, but priorities. 

And I know I’ve gone on about this before, what is this whole lettuce and tomato thing? Lettuce and tomatoes must be the most boring vegetables to dress your tacos with. They are the Charlie Rose and Larry King of the vegetable world. Great if you want something mellow, not great if your tastebuds want to stay awake past midnight. 

Anyways, our server came back a little while later to tell us they ran out of conchinita pibil, which is a bummer, so I substituted carnitas. Knock off some points there. 

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When the tacos finally arrived, at first glance, I really couldn’t tell the difference between any of them. I really had to kind of open them up, like a beautiful flower, to really see what was doin’ in each of these tacos. And just like a beautiful flower offers up it’s delicious pollen to the honeybee, El Pueblito’s tacos did not disappoint on flavor.

The steak taco was a solid 4 out of 5 chili’s, flavorful, salty, and delicious. Although the al pastor couldn’t really compete with places like Carmela’s, L Patron, or Big Star, it was still a solid taco that any taco lover would not kick out of bed. The chorizo taco… see, my problem with chorizo tacos, well I wouldn’t really call it a problem, but, I don’t feel the same tender loving care is really put into chorizo tacos as much as other tacos. The chorizo taco is the redheaded bastard stepchild of the taco world. There seems to be a recipe every single taco place uses to make their chorizo, and with the few exceptions of the places that maybe undersalt them, they pretty much all taste the same. We deserve a better chorizo taco! How about some variety?  As for the carnitas taco, I honestly was pretty full at that point, so carnitas did not get a fair shake. I will tell you this, it was probably the least appetizing looking of all the tacos, but that was probably my stomach telling me to slow down before I had to unbutton the top button of my pantalones. 

This is one of my favorite spots in Rogers Park, but if you’ve ever driven down Clark, you know there are a million spots on that row, so of course it is my duty to try every single one of them. And if you’re a good American, you will make it your duty as well. See what I did there?  The tacos were pretty affordable, I think actually under 2 dollars each if my memory serves me, which it usually doesn’t. There almost always is parking out front, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding a spot. As a matter of fact, I don’t even think I had to pay a meter, which is unheard of on Clark. And lastly, I should say the the art is pretty amazing. That’s pretty much it, now go get yourself some tacos!  

I give El Pueblito 3.5 out of 5 chiles.

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Give Me Tacos or Give Me Death – Taqueria El Asadero 2213 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL

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Type: Lincoln Square Tacos

Price $$$

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After several people recommended El Asadero to me in the last year or so, I figured it was a good time to finally see what all the fuss was about. I had eaten here years ago, before any kind of commotion started about this place, and was not impressed. So I thought, hey, they probably have a new chef, let’s give this place a second chance. What’s the worst that can happen? I enjoy some mediocre tacos?

The place is packed when I walk in, which is a good sign. I had to wait in line for my tacos, not something I would do for most bars. The front window is lined with plants. A greenhouse/taco joint? Excellent idea. The only thing I found peculiar was the plethora of plastic toy/gumball machines by the register.  Actually, it’s probably bordering on genius when you really think about it. Lincoln Square is rather child heavy, so I can imagine  a “Shut yer yap Cody/Jaden/Quinn, we’re getting tacos for dinner! I’ll buy you a Ring-pop if you stop complaining!” happening every now and again. 

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Naturally, I ordered one of every taco. I skipped the veggies tacos this time, as I was feeling particularly carnivorous. So I ended up with 5 tacos. Looking back, I probably should have gotten a extra plate to eat all of these tacos. But I already felt like that Man vs Food guy for ordering one of every taco, so to keep the douche-level down, I just ate them picnic style. 

It was important to me to eat the steak taco first, as it is usually a good benchmark. I opened up a few of them until I found the steak, doused it in green salsa, and commenced eating. It was then I realized why El Asadero had become so popular. They subscribe to the simple and traditional, freshly grilled, skirt steak taco recipe few other taquerias have perfected. El Asadero now joins in the ranks of La Pasadita, Las Asadas, and Las Traspasadas. (And a few others I am neglecting to mention). Sometimes all you need is a good cut of meat, fresh ingredients and the right amount of salt to make any dish shine. 

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I continued on my journey, and found that pretty much all of the tacos here were pretty solid. Even the chicken taco, which actually seemed like it was fried carnitas style, had solid flavor. Granted, it wasn’t amazing or anything, but I’m sure it’s pretty fly for a chicken guy. The pastor taco was pretty good as well. Nothing to scoff at, but nothing to write home about. I guess the thing to take home here was that this place was nothing if but consistent. Which is good, especially since I was the asshole that ordered one of every taco. I would like to take the time out to mention that the chorizo taco, which at first I did not like, turned out to be one of my favorites. It was a little crunchy, which I mistook for being overcooked at first, but then I realized I hate it when they don’t cook all the grease out and the chorizo is oily. I actually found the crunchy texture to be quite appealing. Not sure if they did that on purpose. 

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I would definitely come here again, and considering the wonderful quality of the meat, I will have to try a burrito next time. The tacos were a decent price, somewhere between $2.50 and $3.00 Actually I remember thinking it was a little weird because they were off by a few pennies or so. A steak taco was something like 2.76, and a pastor taco was like 2.58, and so on. It bothered the OCD in me, but I can live with it. I would like to note that the parking here was not easy, probably due to the large intersection and a fair amount of people in Lincoln Square who own automobiles. Cash only. 

I give Taqueria El Asadero 4.0 out of 5 chiles.

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The Big State of TacoTown – The Big State 624 N Ashland Ave Chicago, IL

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Type: Tex-Mex Tacos

Price $$

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If you live in Chicago, you know it has no shortage of taco joints. Just like the food truck, cocktail, and mustache explosions of the last 5 years, tacos have become quite trendy for city dwellers. So when I heard about the Big State opening up thanks to DNAinfo.com, I knew I had to try this place. A Texan taco joint? Who do they think they are, bringing Tex Mex to Chicago? Do they think their Mexicans are better than our Mexicans? As if!

After driving down Ashland past Chicago ave, I almost didn’t see it. Like many new businesses, they had a banner put up with their name instead of an actual sign, which is pretty common. When I entered I saw the restaurant was completely empty. The ambiance was that of the most boring classroom you can remember from school. There was also a weird statue of a naked bald man who appears to be sodomizing a conquistador’s foot on a horse, but I could be misinterpreting that. It doesn’t matter, if the food is good, I can enjoy a taco pretty much anywhere. They had a chalkboard menu behind the register, with 5 tacos available: Steak, chicken, al pastor, fish, and pork belly (Panza). So naturally I wanted to order them all, but I wasn’t really feeling like fish, so sorry tilapia! Go back to California, or Texas, or wherever grilled tilapia tacos babies come from. (The Taco Stork?)

After paying, I sat down and waited for my tacos. The cashier doubled as my server and brought out some chips and salsa. She was pleasant and friendly. The homemade roasted Tomatillo and Salsa Roja was absolutely heavenly. One of the salsas was pretty spicy from what I recall, but I don’t remember which one, so there’s a little game for you to play. Both were excellent and somewhat chunky.

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After about a 5 minute wait, she brings out my beautifully laid out tacos. And let me tell you something folks, these tacos were nothing to scoff at. They spared no expense, as these babies were rather large. Big ol’ chunks of meat, if you like that sort of thing. But what really sold me was the flavor. Perfectly seasoned and marinated, a bite of each of these tacos were like I died and went to taco heaven. Let me make this perfectly clear: These tacos were Taco-tastic. Taco-noon delight. Taco-riffic. Even though the steak and chicken tacos came with tomato and lettuce in addition to onions and cilantro, it didn’t even bother me, because I was so blown away by the flavor of it all. Everything cooked perfectly and made to order, not reheated garbage many places do. And the pastor marinade? Done just right, with plenty of pineapple. Unfortunately, no amount of descriptors can really do these tacos justice, it’s best you go and check them out for yourself.

Metered parking is pretty easy on Ashland. The tacos were around (give or take) $2.75 each. There is a $10 credit card minimum, so plan on eating big or bring some cash. Plus there’s always leftovers, which is the only way I rationalize my over-ordering problem. And while you’re there, tell them Chicago Taco Talk sent you. They will probably have no idea what you are talking about.

I give The Big State 4.5 out 5 chiles. 

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Authentically Taco – Authentaco 1141 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL

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Type: Hole-in-the-Wall Patio Tacos

Price $$$

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In the space of the old La Pasadita (the one on the east side of Ashland RIP) opened up Authentaco, breathing life back into the old hole-in-the-wall that fed many of Chicago’s late night eaters for so many years. With a name like Authentaco filling in the shoes of La Pasadita, these guys really set the bar pretty high. They could have called it “Shitty Taco”, served mediocre tacos and called it a day. But anyone from around here knows that’s not how we do things in Chicago. If you open a new restaurant it has to be fucking awesome, and if it’s not it will fade into the background like so many Greenville Taverns before it.  

Upon arriving, I park across the street at La Pasadita, and then risked my life running across Ashland. I could have walked up to Divison, but that would have involved walking 90 extra feet, and I needed to save my energy for eating those tacos. On the awning outside it says “Tortillas Hechas a Mano”, which translates to “We don’t have crappy tacos”. In the window I could see someone actually making the tortillas, so at this point I started to get a little excited. The space was small, and unlike La Pasadita, has no inside seating, save for a small counter to stand and eat your tacos. A hanging menu offered me a miriad of options, including cow tongue, chicharron (pig skin), al pastor, chicken, and several vegetarian tacos. These included rajas (poblanos), nopales (cacti), and a seasonal veggies taco. If you want more than tacos, Authentaco also offers quesadillas and platillos, which come with tortillas on the side.

Surprisingly, I was the only person there. I ordered a veggie, nopales, pastor, and chicken taco at the register. The gentleman informed me it was “Cash Only” and pointed to an ATM behind me. Luckily, I was prepared. After ordering my tacos I kind of stood around for a minute, thinking “Well, I guess I’m going to have to eat my tacos standing up”, until I noticed a door that led to a small back patio where some fellow patrons were enjoying their food. I went out back, and copped a seat at one of tables.

The back patio was pretty nice and had that comfortable gazebo-ish feeling. There was a mural of an old truck, with some cacti decorating the edge of the patio, offering a nice backdrop to the gravel filled enclosed lot. If you use your imagination, you can sort of pretend you are eating tacos in the backyard of a mechanic’s shop in Tijuana. Some gentleman were having a work conversation, and I noticed a couple ladies were seated with a six pack of beer, so I guess this place is BYO?  

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After a few more minutes, someone brought out my tacos, along with a cup of water that I had requested. They came out on a tray, in a metallic “taco holder”. They looked heavenly. I started with the al pastor taco. Magnificent. It was what the kids would call  “Amazeballs”. I don’t want to call it that because then I would feel like I’m eating someone’s balls. But if you have enjoyed the al pastor at Big Star or L’Patron, this taco is as good or better. For reals.

Biting into the nopales taco, I begin to realize these guys really know what they are doing. To keep an avid meat eater like myself happy, vegetarian tacos need to be on point, and this taco was off the hizzoook. It was incredibly flavorful and juicy, and who knew cactuses tasted so damn good? Well, I’m sure a lot of you knew that, but it’s more fun if you pretend you don’t. And of course there aren’t any prickly quills, so it’s not like making out with someone’s unshaven leg. Nopales? More like YESpales!

Next up: My old nemesis, the chicken taco. I don’t know what it is, but no one knows how to make a good griled chicken or grilled fish taco in this town. I’m sure there are plenty of you who will disagree with me, but unless these taco places have started marinating these tacos in something other than forced air, I have yet to taste one. Until now. This goddamn taco was so good I would have pooped my pants if it meant making more room for these delicious chicken tacos. We all know only Sith Lords deal in absolutes, and I am no Sith Lord, but I am tempted to say this is absolutely the best chicken taco in Chicago. The best Jerry!

Authentaco Tacos

Although still incredibly tasty, the veggie taco was probably the most disappointing of the bunch. It was a tad slimy, and with all the different cooked veggies, felt much closer to actually eating a taco full of amazeballs. Although I enjoy eating squishy cooked vegetables, they really need to be served in moderation, or at least with something dry or crunchy to balance them out. That being said, this was still a delicious taco, and I would not think twice about scarfing it down. If you enjoy murdering plants, cooking them until they are squishy and eating them, you will love this taco.

Before I finish, I need to expound here on the benefits of handmade tortillas. They can make or break a taco. First off, flour tortillas, get that shit the hell out of my face. I will cut you! Secondly, a good handmade corn tortilla is like the soft bed linens for the delicious taco fillings. Now, do you want to put your yummy taco fillings in a low thread count, raspy, uncomfortable corn tortilla linen you would find at the HoJo? Or do you want to lovingly lay them down to rest on a super soft, silky smooth corn tortilla linen of the Four Seasons? I think you know what I’m getting at here. And this is why Authentaco knocks it out of the ballpark. Their tortillas are simply divine. Soft, almost chewy, they provide the perfect resting place for your taco fillings. 

Does Authentaco serve authentic tacos? You be the judge. But it definitely is a bright, shining star among the many taco restaurants popping up in Chicago. Meter parking can be kind of tough on Ashland, but luckily it is right next to the Division blue line stop, so I recommend hopping on that train and or hitting that Ashland bus.

 * Side note: They do NOT carry steak tacos, which is rather unfortunate, but the rest of the tacos are so good it more than makes up for it. Maybe they will in the future? Who knows.

I give Authentaco 4.5 out 5 chiles. 

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Out of the Frying Pan and into El Fuego – El Fuego 8018 Lincoln Ave Skokie, IL

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Type: Patio Tacos

Price $$$ 

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For many years Skokie has been seriously lacking a decent taco joint. It has always felt incomplete to me without a real place to get decent tacos. Sure you could pay out the nose at El Tipico for some bland restaurant style tacos that won’t make grandpa’s dentures come unstuck, but if you really wanted something even remotely close to classic Mexican street fare, you had to venture to 4 Hermanos in Niles or El Pueblito in Lincolnwood…until now. (Cue dramatic music).

El Fuego opened up in the summer of 2014 smack in the middle of downtown Skokie, effectively giving the middle finger to The Village Inn, which has ruled downtown Skokie’s eating establishments for many years. Instead of charging an arm and a leg for a fancy Mexican dining experience, these guys are happy to just sling some good old fashioned tacos and Mexican food your way. A mere minutes away from the Skokie Public Library and Ace Hardware, you can a purchase a garden hoe, catch up on some Samuel Beckett, and chow down on some tacos all in one afternoon. 

On the sign outside there is a suspiciously happy wild-eyed chile that looks like he just hit a crack pipe right before giving the thumbs up. It’s likely he does not know his fate lies eviscerated in my salsa and subsequently in my belly. The front dining room is rather small, but a decent paint job and fancy wooden furniture help give it that “We just opened and like to keep things simple but don’t want it to look like complete shit” feel. I have no doubt paintings of Aztec Indians crying over scantily clad maidens will soon adorn the walls. However, the real star of El Fuego is the back patio. It is huge, and on a nice summer day it is only a few tiki torches away from becoming a decent late night hang out spot for Skokie’s happy hour crowd and misguided youth. 

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Getting down to business, I ordered four tacos. On my menu it says “TOO INSURE THAT OUR FOOD IS ALWAYS HOT AND FRESH, WE PREPARE ALL FOOD AT TIME OF ORDER. ALL DELIVERYS $2.50”. I always find it endearing when places misspell things, like when shrimp becomes ‘scrimps’ at my favorite Chinese restaurant. All tacos are served with cilantro, onions, lettuce, and tomato. I prefer just cilantro and onion, but for the purpose of proper investigative journalism, I always default to however the chef prefers to serve the dish. I have ordered burgers at semi-fancy gastropubs, asking for ketchup and mustard, only to have the server give me that look of simultaneous disgust and pity before informing me my burger is fine just the way it fucking is.

My waitress immediately brings out a small dish of red salsa with a large basket of chips. The salsa is delicious and clearly made in-house, possibly slaved over by someone’s grandmother, but I cannot confirm. After several napkin rescues (it was a little windy) and one water refill, my tacos arrived. They looked pretty good, but there was no tomatillo salsa in sight. Of course I could have just scooped up some of that red salsa for my chips and dressed my tacos with that, but Jesus Christ, I’m not a caveman, I do have some standards. 

Several business people are seated as I wait for my extra salsa. One of them loudly began exclaiming how he loves enchiladas but maybe should get something different this time. How about the tacos, asshole. Man, I must be getting hangry. I cannot get distracted. I am here on a mission. 

My salsas finally arrive: one bottle of creamy tomatillo and a bottle of orange salsa, which after squirting on my tacos, looks suspiciously like cheese whiz. My order:  “El Fuego”, which is a steak chorizo and hot sauce taco, a regular steak taco, a barbacoa taco, and an al pastor taco.

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To be completely honest, I couldn’t really tell the difference between the steak and chorizo taco and the regular steak taco. Maybe my taco pallet is off, but it just tasted like a regular old steak taco. It wasn’t bad, but I have a feeling the flavors would have ‘popped’ a little more if the lettuce and tomato wasn’t fucking up the flavor profile. The barbacoa taco was so-so, possibly a little dry. The al pastor was magnificent. Strangely enough, it tasted more like steak than the regular steak taco did. Pineapple was present, but there was room for more. I can always use a little more pineapple in my life.

Regardless of the dyslexic flavors, the tacos themselves were not bad. The meat was not overcooked and marinated well (perhaps a little underseasoned, but I like salty tacos), the tortillas were fresh, and all together the tacos might have exceeded expectations if not for the lettuce and tomato. For you carnitas lovers out there, El Fuego does not have carnitas tacos, so you’re SOL. 

After asking my waitress if they served alcohol, she informed me they do not, but will in the future and plan on extending the location into the building next door, effectively turning it into a sports bar, much to my chagrin. I told her there are a million sports bars and not enough margarita slinging taco joints, but I don’t think she really understood. She just kind of nodded with this look on her face that said “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand why you no like sports bar?” We shall see what will become of El Fuego. I was pretty happy, and in the immortal words of the Terminator “I’ll be back”. Parking is usually pretty easy at the lot up the street on Lincoln Ave. 

 I give El Fuego 3.5 out of 5 chiles. 

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