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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http://authentaco.com/

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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