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


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



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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I’ve got Del Seoul but I ain’t a Soldier – Del Seoul 2568 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL


Type: Korean Tacos

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Del Seoul has been on my shortlist for a while now, and I was finally able to make sometime to visit the Korean taco joint in Lincoln Park. Since the dawn of the taco explosion here in Chicago several years back there have been many incarnations that have expanded upon our traditional Mexican friend. From the fried avocado taco at Masa Azul to the roasted beet taco at Bullhead Cantina, tacos have come a long way from the ground beef, lettuce, tomato, and cheese in a hard corn tortilla shell we all grew up with. So when my friend Ron mentioned there were a couple Korean taco joints in Chicago, I would be amiss not to seize the opportunity to consume Asian delicacies wrapped in Mexican tradition. Korean and Mexican food seems like the ideal marriage, and like most diverse couplings, can produce some beautiful offspring.  

Del Seoul Taco Review

Art and Seoul

Del Seoul still manages to keep the warmth of a sit down restaurant despite the fast food feel. All of the ordering is done up front at the counter, and the menu is situated on television screens high on the wall behind the register. I noticed that’s the new thing lately, television screen menus. (I’m waiting for the day I can order my tacos from a hologram) After ordering, we were given a number and a styrofoam cup for water. I should probably mention my fountain soda water came out discolored, tainted with coca-cola. As much as I love lightly brown colored water, I dumped it and got some regular water from the ice tea fountain. 

Since I couldn’t decide what tacos I wanted, I ordered them all. All of the tacos! That’s the great thing about tacos, they are small enough so you can order a lot, and get the chance to try several different dishes in the process. Tacos are like the poor man’s Tapas.(unless you happen to be at Antique Taco or Cookies and Carnitas). We waited about 5 minutes before they brought my Korean tacos: Fried Shrimp, Kalbi (short rib), fried fish, spicy bbq  pork, and spicy bbq chicken. All of the tacos came with a secret slaw bathed in korean spices. They didn’t completely smother the tacos in cabbage, so the proportions were just right. 

Del Seoul Shrimp Taco

The infamous shrimp taco

The menu said the sesame-chili shrimp taco was their best, so it seemed like a good enough place to start. Panko crusted with a cilantro-onion relish and sesame aioli, the shrimp taco was definitely something to write home about. No wonder this is their most popular taco. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, and with the aioli slathered on the fried goodness, I’m pretty sure it gave me an endorphin rush. The relish complimented the fish perfectly, the whole thing culminating in a symphony of YUM. But wait…something terrible crossed my mind while eating this delicious taco. As crude as this sounds, I really kind of felt like I was just eating sweet and sour shrimp wrapped in a corn tortilla. You know what, it really doesn’t matter, because this taco still beats out many tacos I’ve tried around Chicago. I’m kind of surprised there aren’t more Asian taco places around town. All in all, a great taco, however I was maybe expecting something more exotic. Have I turned into a taco snob? 

Del Seoul Taco Review

The Kalbi (shortrib) taco

On to the Kalbi! This taco had more traditional Korean flavor to it than the others, although I felt it was a little heavy handed with the sesame oil. The short rib was just short of being overcooked and could stand to be a little more tender, but I’m really splitting hairs at this point. The taco was delicious, and I recommend it. Not my favorite taco of the bunch, but still totally awesome.  

The spicy bbq chicken and spicy bbq pork were essentially the same taco, different meat. They both tasted great, and also had that familiar Asian fast-food-flair. Maybe my exotic expectations were putting too much emphasis on the novelty of Korean tacos, not paying enough attention to was really going on inside the tortilla. The cilantro-onion relish was great. Tacos don’t have to be special, as long as they taste good, and these tacos were well above the mark. 

Fried fish taco

Sambal fish taco

Last but definitely not least: the Sambal fish taco. I don’t really know what to say about this taco, as it tastes pretty much like most of the fried fish tacos in Chicago. Everybody has the same go-to recipe: fried fish, some pickled vegetables, slaw, and aioli on a flour tortilla. Could this be another case of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”? Maybe, but I would still like to see some variety in our fried fish tacos. Regardless, this particular fried fish taco was quite good. The fish was juicy and piping hot and the balance of ingredients worked well together. 

There’s only been a few places I’ve visited where the tacos were good all across the board, and Del Seoul is one of them. On their website it says they are a family owned business inspired by Korean and Asian street food who believes fresh, unique and popular, not trendy, customer-focused food is the way to go. I couldn’t have said it better myself. If you’re in the Lincoln Park area and are in need of a good taco, this place comes highly recommended. Even the snobbiest of taco snobs should be able to enjoy it. Parking can be a little rough on Clark, but you should be able to find a metered spot within a couple blocks. Tacos range from $2.75 – $4.00 each, but most of them are around 3 bucks. If you go, make sure to pick me up a few. 

I give Del Seoul 4.25 out of 5 chiles. 

Del Soul can be found at 2568 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL (773) 248-4227

School of Tacos: Carmela’s Taqueria, 1206 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, IL


Type: Hole-in-the-wall tacos

Price $$ 

In my hunt to review all of the best (or worst) taco spots in Chicago, I have been avoiding the places that I frequent or know to be good, mostly because I fear my own bias will creep into the review. Carmela’s is a spot I’ve been going to for many years now, and I finally felt it was time to give it the review it deserves. 

Although I am not a fan of absolutes or generalizations, I used to live by the rule that the smaller the taco joint, the better the tacos. This golden standard I lived by throughout my twenties and early thirties served me well, but as the landscape of tacos in Chicago changed with the opening of places such as Big Star and Antique Taco, I came to realize more love was being put into Chicago’s favorite Mexican son, the taco. Despite the big push for more complex and daring flavors, I will still always hold the tiny hole-in-the-wall spots close to my heart. Carmela’s is one of those spots. 

Carmela's Taqueria Taco Review

I can call you Betty, you can call me Al Pastor.

Carmela’s is located in Uptown, across the street from the Riviera and around the corner from the Green Mill. I remember the very first time I came here seeing a framed article from Chicago Magazine on the wall, praising their al pastor tacos. So what did i do? Like an idiot, I got three steak tacos. But my subsequent visit proved to be more fruitful, as I wanted to know what the big deal was. They had this gigantic, sweaty spit of pork with pineapple and onion all over it that looked totally monstrous. Up until that point I had only seen gyros on those things, so I was curious as to what the hell it was. I ordered an al pastor taco and was shocked, I am not kidding you, straight-up shocked at how delicious these things were.

Thinking about this I realized that I actually attended a School of Tacos. Starting off Elementary School with the good old crunchy, hard shell, ground beef taco most of us are familiar with. Cheese, lettuce, tomato, a solid taco, no doubt. From there, in my twenties, a ritualistic graduation occurred on late nights at La Pasadita that schooled me in Steak Taco Junior High. Not only did the steak taste better than ground beef, but the combination of onions, cilantro, and salsa was completely new to me and blew my Taco Bell-eating mind. Just as it was when I got my first locker in junior high, I felt like I was hobnobbin’ with the real deal. And then came Carmella’s. Complex flavors, new kinds of meat, and what the hell, is that pineapple in my taco? I was now an adult, and eating tacos that would have looked completely foreign to me as a child. With the addition of all the fancy taco places that have opened up, I guess you could compare places like Big Star, Masa Azul, and Antique Taco to Taco University, allowing Chicagoans to explore different interests in the taco world. Fried fish taco? Yes, I will take that course. 

Carmela's Taqueria Taco Review

Abuelita making tortillas.

So here we are, at Carmella’s, 2014. I am by myself, and I have ordered a skirt steak taco (they have a skirt steak taco that is different from the regular steak), an al pastor taco, a chicken taco, and a cachete (steamed beef) taco. All the tacos came out with onions and cilantro, with the exception of the chicken taco, which had lettuce and tomato. They also served me a little lime wedge for every taco I ordered. It’s the little things. Don’t think I don’t notice when I get four tacos and they only give me two lime wedges, or two of those itsy bitsy little salsa cups. Then I have to conserve salsa to make sure I have enough for every taco. Sure, I can ask for more, but I shouldn’t have to. We deserve better! 

The skirt steak taco was pretty good. They grilled it right there, fresh (no reheating). I have to admit, it was a little salty, even for my tastes, but still very delicious. I noticed the guy seasoning it while it was still on the grill. Gastroscience at it’s best. 

Carmela's Taqueria Taco Review

Basket of love.

It’s possible the salty skirt steak taco ruined my chicken taco because it tasted kind of bland to me. It was still delicious, do not get me wrong, just not as flavorful. I probably couldn’t even really tell you what it tasted like because I was still tasting my skirt steak taco. 

The cachete (steamed beef) taco was pretty good. Interestingly enough, it looked like a regular steak taco. I think they must grill it for a minute after they steam it. It was tender and soft, like a love letter from a 16-year-old Mormon. My only beef (pun intended) was that it was a little too fatty for me. I’m okay with a little, but generally I prefer to be eating actual meat. 

Carmela's Taqueria Taco Review

Carmela’s familia, no doubt.

Over the years, the al pastor at Carmela’s has gone down in quality. At times the marinade is too powerful and it comes off salty, other times it’s a little weak. This time it was a little overcooked, the onions were kind of burnt, and where’s my pineapple? Regardless, it still tasted good.

Technically there isn’t parking in front of Carmela’s, but there is a 15-minute blinker spot, and without fail I always park at that spot and put on my blinkers. It’s probably not the best idea, but I can guarantee you those tacos will be eaten in less than 15 minutes. If you’re not comfortable with that, you should be able to find a metered spot on Broadway. They close at 10, so no late night eating, unfortunately. 

I give Carmela’s Taqueria 4.0 out of 5 chiles. 

Carmela’s can be found at 1206 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago IL (773) 275-5321

Beer and Loathing in Wrigleyville: DS Tequila Company, 3352 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL


Type: All-You-Can-Eat Tacos 

Price: $$$

I don’t hang out in Wrigleyville much, but when my friend Stefania from Pizza for Life asked if I wanted to check out DS Tequila Company’s all-you-can-eat taco night, you bet your taco eating a** I said yes. Just to make sure they weren’t trying to get me in the door with one or two crappy taco options, I checked the menu, and sure enough, there was a plethora of seemingly fancy tacos at my disposal. Our Father, who art in heaven, Taco be thy name.

Margarita slushy machines!

Margarita slushy machines!

When we walked in, a friendly host immediately checked my ID, so this is not really a place you can take the kiddos. After a little table switch we sat down and began to look at the menu. Our server gave us a spiel about all their specials that I could have sworn included jalepeño poppers and pizza shooters. It seemed to go on for days. That’s great and all, but I just want to get to stuffing my face hole with all-you-can-eat tacos!

I started off with three tacos: a coffee rubbed steak taco, a battered fish taco, and a crispy chicken taco. However, in tiny little letters on the menu under “Tacos” there is a disclaimer that says all of their tacos are served on handmade flour tortillas, with gluten free corn tortillas available upon request. Serving me a taco on a flour tortilla without telling me is like kicking a cancer kid in the balls on Christmas. I tried one anyway. After all, they were handmade. And you know what? Handmade or not, it was gummy and just reaffirmed my necessity for a taco to be served on a corn tortilla. It actually might have worked if the tortilla were toasted a little more. 

The tacos themselves were not as small as I was expecting, considering it was all you can eat. The meat in the steak taco looked like somebody accidentally dropped it in a can of Folgers. It actually tasted pretty good, but the steak was dry. The spicy aioli wasn’t bad, however it was not spicy at all. And the corn tortillas were a million times better than the flour tortillas, but they started to fall apart mid-taco. Unfortunately, it only goes downhill from here, folks. 

The battered fish taco was meh, in every sense of the word. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great. I’m pretty sure if you went into your freezer and nuked up a fish fillet, dropped it in a tortilla and slapped some tartar sauce on, it would pretty much be what I ate. Also, for some reason the term battered fish reminds me of a goldfish that is in some kind of terrible domestic situation. 

The crispy chicken was seriously offensive to my taco sensibilities. I pretty much felt like I just took a bite out of a crispy chicken wrap from McDonald’s. I didn’t even want to finish it, but I felt like a douche ordering more all-you-can-eat tacos when I still had food on my plate. I will not even dignify this taco with any more insults. 

I ordered two more tacos, a shrimp taco and a chorizo taco. They were both actually not that bad. The shrimp, though rubbery, had a tasty pineapple pico de gallo topping. Rubbery shrimp doesn’t really bother me all that much. The chorizo taco was pretty good, but I can’t help but think that they just drowned it in a spicy Manwich sauce.  

DS Tequila Company Taco Review

The main offender

We also ordered chips, which came with three different salsas: tomatillo, spicy ranch, and red salsa. The tomatillo had avocado and ended up being creamy and gross, like they had babies barfing up peas and half & half into the salsa bowls in the kitchen. Their spicy ranch salsa tasted pretty good, but for some reason it felt wrong to be dipping my chips into ranch dressing. You just know someone’s Mexican grandmother disapproves. The red salsa was the best and most like a traditional salsa. A little chunky and smoky, it tasted all right.

Parking might be kind of tough since this is the Wrigleyville/Boystown area, but if you come during the week you should be okay. You will have to pay a meter, though. I do not like giving places bad reviews, so you should really come check it out for yourself. You might like it. My recommendation: If you are really hungover on a Thursday and feel like you can eat your weight in tacos, come to DS Tequila Company and eat them out of house and home. Despite the not-so-amazing tacos, it really is a pretty awesome deal. 

I give DS Tequila Company 2.5 out 5 chiles. 

DS Tequila Company can be found at 3352 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL (773) 697-9127

Taco Review: Tio Luis Tacos, 3856 S. Archer Ave., Chicago, IL


Type: Mexican Restaurant Tacos 

Price: $$

On their website it says that the Chicago Tribune gave them the title “Best Tacos in Chicago.” We shall see about that. Arriving at Tio Luis, we noticed a police car outside, which is usually a good sign. Cops drive around a lot and really enjoy eating, which i’m sure you know if you have ever seen a Chicago cop. The place is bright and friendly, and there are lots of tables. We were able to sit wherever we wanted, and they immediately brought out some chips and roasted red salsa.  They also had squeeze bottles of tomatillo salsa, red salsa, and a green creamy sauce I’ll call soylent green.

Tio Luis Carrots

Without pickled veggies, I just don’t carrot all.

The roasted salsa was tasty. It was chunky and garlicky, with lots of flavor. If this salsa were a rapper, it would be Flavor-Flavio. The red and green salsas were much milder and a little watery, but not terrible. However, the soylent green was the most offensive of the three. It tasted like nothing and everything at the same time. I actually think it was a kind of creamy cilantro concoction, but it just didn’t work for me. Unfortunately, I forgot to snap a photo, so you will have to use your imagination or go and try it yourself. They also had a little box of pickled carrots, and pickled snacks are the best of all the snacks. In case you didn’t know, in heaven there are pickled vegetables everywhere.

So far what I’ve learned from eating tacos from all over Chicago is that different taquerias usually specialize in making one or two types tacos really well. I have yet to visit a place that knocks every single taco out of the park, but it’s better to be good at one thing than mediocre at everything, right? Tio Luis is no exception.

I ordered steak, al pastor, and chorizo tacos. Unfortunately they had run out of barbocoa, which I was keen to try. They did have tongue tacos, but I wasn’t really in the mood for tastebud on tastebud action. 

Tio Luis Tacos

What you tacoin’ about Willis?

I forgot to ask, but I’m pretty sure the tortillas were made in-house. They had that freshly matted feeling to them, like they were just pressed the same day. They also did not fall apart, which is a sign of a fresh tortilla. All the tacos automatically came with cilantro and onions, which scores bonus points in my book. Get that lettuce and tomato outta my face!

The chorizo taco was damn good. I gotta say, I feel like a lot of the time chorizo tacos are overpowered by the marinade. I think it’s because the pork is ground very finely, which allows for excess marinade to really saturate the meat and seep out when it’s cooked, drowning the taco in chorizo juice (somehow that sounds dirty). I’m not sure what kind of Santeria is being practiced here, but Tio Luis was somehow able to avoid that. The balance of marinade and meat was perfect. Maybe some more veggies or a little potato in the mix would have been nice, but really it held up on its own quite well and the pork was delicious. 

The steak taco was the most disappointing of the three. The chunks of steak were too large, which resulted in my taking a bite that caused a steak tug-o-war between my my mouth and the taco. Not cool, Tio. I also found the steak itself to be pretty bland and a little dry, but the delicious salsa and freshly made tortillas made up for it. A bad steak taco is a sin, and if I am starving, aka hangry, I might hulk out and flip tables over a bad steak taco. 

Tio Luis Taco Review

Movie stars getting fresh next to us in the window.

The staff was overly friendly and multiple people checked on us regularly. They were so nice, in fact, that it got a little weird and I was starting to wonder if there was some kind of hostage situation going on in back. We paid credit, and they had no problem splitting the bill. There is plenty of parking on Archer, but it’s all metered. Although their al pastor is nothing to scoff at (indeed it is quite good), I would not say this place is worthy of the title “Best Tacos in Chicago.” I’m not sure who’s being paid off at the Trib, but I will have to see about getting on that taco payroll. 

I give Tio Luis Tacos 3.5 out of 5 chiles. 

Tio Luis Tacos can be found at 3856 S. Archer Ave., Chicago, IL (773) 843-0098

Taco Review: Masa Azul, 2901 W. Diversey Ave., Chicago, IL


Type: Fine Dining Tacos

Price: $$$

I must say, proper signage is really the best way to get me inside any restaurant. So many times I have been duped by awesome looking signs and goofy mascots only to find mediocre food inside. But Masa Azul’s greenish-blue hue drew me in like a fly to a bug zapper. I was planning to review more tucked-away, secret hole-in-the-wall spots, like for some dumb reason I should be worried about my “taco cred.” I will get to them eventually, but honestly I don’t give two chips. If they have tacos, I will review it. 

Masa Azul Taco Review

Winner buys tacos.

Masa Azul is a dark room with a wooden motif. They have artwork on the wall that consists of pool sticks arranged in a fashion to look like an agave cactus, an idea I would have come up with if I were 21 and created my own tequila bar in the basement of my apartment. The cheesy DIY art really didn’t matter, though, because the ambiance of the room was great. It was dark but not too dark, the tables weren’t super close together, and there wasn’t any obnoxious music playing. I would call this place very date friendly. 

Masa Azul Taco Review

Heart of the Dead in the background, El Primero in the foreground.

I had forgotten my ID and wanted to drink on this taco excursion. Lo and behold, they did not card me! Obviously my Latin charm must have played some Hispanic Jedi Mind Trick on our server, or maybe the tequila gods were happy with me because I woke up today without a hangover. Let me start off by saying that the drinks here are freaking good. Made with care and precision, they weren’t heavy on imported spices or syrups, just straightforward and mixed perfectly. I recommend getting the “Heart of the Dead.” If you don’t finish it in less than 5 minutes, you have greater willpower than I. 

We ordered an appetizer. I only took a couple bites of it because I find my taco tongue is at it’s most discerning with a clean palate. They only have three tacos here: a fried shrimp taco, a fried avocado taco, and a carnitas taco. The tortillas are handmade. The menu online says they have a goat taco, but it was not on our menu. Lame-a-tronic. 

The shrimp taco was delicious. And what a shrimp, what a shrimp, what a shrimp, what a mighty good shrimp it was.* It was not rubbery, the seasoning in the batter was minimal, and they did not put too much chipotle mayo on it. I have to say, although I love a tasty sauce slathered on almost anything, it really tends to drown out the all the different subtle flavors that are happening, be it from the pickled veggies, the batter, or the actual shrimp. The seasoning in the batter of the fish taco at Antique Taco is more pronounced, but there is something to be said for the minimalist approach if done correctly. 

The avocado taco was exquisite. I have never eaten fried avocado in my life, and I am telling you, you will sell your first born for this goddamn taco. I am a card-carrying consumer of animal flesh, and this avocado taco was way better than many of the meat tacos I have eaten in this fine city. You don’t feel like you’re just taking a bite out of an avocado someone rolled around in their leftover calamari crumbs. They are very careful about how they construct their tacos at this place. It just goes to show, with a little love, you can have a taco you will trade in your 2001 Ford Escort for.

I like to save the worst for last, and I have to say, I was a little disappointed in the carnitas taco. The flavor was there, there was plenty of meat in the taco, and they stuck with the minimalist theme by adding just a smattering of pico de gallo on top. The main problem was that the taco was too oily. I don’t mean grease from the pork; it was more like they just cooked it in too much oil. Which is a shame from a place that clearly makes fantastic food. That said, it was still a good taco, and if you eat it you will enjoy it. I mean, we’re talking the low end of the super delicious spectrum here. 

Before I finish this taco review I want to touch on a few things. The service was great. Our server asked us questions to figure out what we liked, checked on us on a regular basis, knew a lot about the food and drinks, and made recommendations, which helped our decision-making process. Also, that appetizer I told you about was simply fantastic. I don’t want to go on about it too much because this is first and foremost a taco blog, but seriously it was awesome. 

Parking is easy on Diversey, and you don’t have to pay a meter, which is nice. If you live around Logan Square and are thinking about getting some Mexican, you should really come to this place before you go anywhere else. 

I give Masa Azul 4.0 out of 5 chiles. 

Masa Azul can be found at 2901 W. Diversey Ave., Chicago, IL (773) 687-0300

*The shrimp did not have a voice like Barry or a Denzel face

Taco Review: Bullhead Cantina, 1143 N. California Ave., Chicago, IL


Type: Fancy Bar Tacos

Price: $$$

When I walked into Bullhead Cantina it was pretty loud. Not with music, but tables filled with drunk, happy houring twenty somethings who had taken over the bar. My old man “Turn down the racket!” urge was beginning to bubble up, but then I thought it was a good thing there was a friendly bar in Humboldt Park that allowed people to simultaneously drink copious amounts of alcohol while stuffing their faces with 12 different kinds of tacos. 

Bullhead Cantina Wall

Jimmy John’s Cantina?

Our very friendly server came by, and we ordered some chips and salsa (not complimentary @ $4 a pop). The salsa she brought out was pretty much just blended tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños. But for it’s simplicity, it was surprisingly good. Friday night is $5 dollar craft cocktail night, so we decided to take full advantage and order as many drinks as our wallets and livers could handle. Bullhead “Cantina” (which serves mostly whiskey and bourbon) has a lot of knickknacks and dumb signs on the walls that do little more than fill up space and make it look like a Jimmy John’s. But this is not Chicago Interior Design Talk, it’s Chicago Taco Talk, so let me get back to the matter at hand here: Motherf*cking tacos.

I ordered four tacos: hanger steak, southern fried chicken, brisket, and al pastor. My taco partner ordered all vegetarian tacos: roasted beets, spicy avocado, sweet potato, and kale and grits. Let me start with the steak taco. The hanger steak was delicious, sliced long and thin, and seasoned well. It was tasty, but there wasn’t too much of it present in the taco. More meat please! There was also a good amount of sour cream, which tasted good but was not completely necessary. Whenever places add a ton of sour cream, I start to wonder “What are you hiding? Do your tacos suck?”

Bullhead Cantina Tacos

Meat tacos. Macos.

I should add that all tacos come with pickled cabbage, which had a vinegary taste to it and was kind of strange paired with sour cream. The southern fried chicken taco, as delicious as it was, had nothing southern about it. They were really just regular miniature fried chicken tenders. The Colonel would have been disappointed. They didn’t even try to figure out at least 5 of his 11 herbs and spices.

On the other hand, the brisket taco came with a ton of meat. It was dry rubbed and not smoked. It tasted alright, but when I think brisket, my expectations are raised. Maybe I am being too critical here, but it could have been spicier. And saltier. And smokier. It was still not a bad taco, so I devoured the whole thing. 

On to the al pastor. The best of the four, marinated nicely, though lacking a little salt for my taste. There were pineapple and veggies, but for some reason all of the flavors weren’t working together. There seemed to be a crucial component lacking. It was still a damn good taco and I have a feeling one the most popular ones there.

Bullhead Cantina Veggie Tacos

Veggie Tacos

As for the vegetarian tacos, I had a bite of the sweet potato, which was great. There wasn’t too much potato, and it was balanced nicely with the sour cream and vegetables. I also tried a slice of beet from the beet taco. Normally I hate beets; they taste like fresh garden soil to me. But this beet was beatific! Maybe it was the citrus marinade or the roasting, but I actually liked it. However the kale and grits taco was the clear winner. I was fully expecting it to taste like baby food mixed with lettuce, and it totally did, but it was great! The grits were buttery and delicious, and the kale really soaked up the flavor of the white wine and garlic, as well as adding a nice texture to the taco. I have a sneaking suspicion the veggie tacos here are much better than the meat tacos. 

They ran out of the pomegranate they were putting in my margarita as well as the smoked tequila we wanted to try, which was kind of a bummer. The drinks were kind of weak and our server was also super slow in bringing us the check, but it was Friday night and the cocktails were 5 bucks. It wasn’t her fault, and you get what you pay for. You might need to park at the meters on Division, but if you’re lucky you can get a free spot on California. This place is cash only, so remember to hit up your bank beforehand!

Bullhead Cantina Veggie Tacos


I give Bullhead Cantina 3.5 out of 5 chiles. 

Bullhead Cantina can be found at 1143 N. California Ave., Chicago, IL (773) 772-8895

Taco Review: Perez Restaurant, 853 W. Randolph St., Chicago IL


Type: Mexican spaceship tacos

Price: $$$

I decided to give the West Loop another shot and visit this little Mexican restaurant called Perez. I remember having a couple tacos from there once before, but my memory is fuzzy once again, this time due to the fact I quickly scarfed them down in my car before attending a paid market research session up the street for Budweiser

Perez Wall

Take me to your taco leader

What immediately struck me about this place was the room. The walls are shiny and metallic, and you feel like you are about to dine inside a Mexican spaceship. There is some cool art, but it doesn’t really hide the fact it looks like a giant meat locker. I really didn’t mind; I actually thought it was kind of cool. They really should have played up the spaceship thing. Estos tacos son de Mars, amigo! 

When I finally looked at the menu, I was excited to see they had goat tacos, in addition to the standard taco fare (steak, al pastor, chicken, and chorizo). So what did I do? I ordered all of them except the chicken. Looking back now, I probably should have just ordered the chicken and not angered the taco gods, but at the risk of over-ordering (and overeating), I stuck with the four.

Perez salsa

The Satan salsa is on the left.

I am getting a little ahead of myself here, because I forgot to mention the salsas. They put out a basket of chips and two bowls, one with pico de gallo that was tasty and surprisingly spicy, the other was a roasted salsa that was so black and delicious I think it might have been made by Satan himself. I even ordered an extra bowl of it after we ran out.

After some lively discussion, our server brought out our food. My tacos came out four in a row, with cilantro and onion, on a plate with some lime slices. Let’s start with the goat. It was tender and delicious, albeit incredibly fatty. Not just, like, fatty pieces of meat, but a good part of it was actual large chunks of animal fat. You know, I can appreciate a fatty piece of meat; if done right it really bolsters the flavor. But this was just too much. At times I was wondering if there was Jell-o in my taco. No bueno, Perez.

The steak taco wasn’t any better. Even though it was filled with actual meat, it really lacked any kind of seasoning or flavor altogether. What exactly was the cook doing back there? Clearly navigating the Mexican spaceship and not seasoning my tacos. I’m not sure what cut of meat they used; it actually wasn’t bad, but the taco could have been way better if properly made.

Their al pastor taco was okay. It seemed like they got the flavors right but did not marinate it long enough. It didn’t really have that strong of a flavor, did not seem spit roasted, and lacked pineapple. I wouldn’t kick it out of bed, but I won’t praise it either.

I started wondering if they actually had other salsas, so I asked the server, who informed me that they have red and green salsas. Why didn’t they bring these out initially? After ordering the green, I had come to find out why. Too sweet and viscous and missing an important component (possibly garlic), the tomatillo salsa was a swing and a miss. I didn’t even bother to ask for the red because I had already annoyed our server enough.

The chorizo taco was probably the best one. My tortilllas (two to a taco) started dissolving, and I found it best to pick up a fork and get to shoveling. I did not eat them consecutively, which might have been my downfall, and I admit my palate might have gotten lost along the way. The chorizo had a good flavor and wasn’t too greasy, which is not easy to accomplish with chorizo. It tasted great but lacked an accompaniment, such as potato or another vegetable.

I hate to say it, but the best thing about this place was that dark salsa. If they could fill one of those beer helmets with that salsa in it, I probably would have ordered it. The service was friendly and timely, but for $3 and $3.25 a pop, the tacos were nothing to write home about. If you want throw down that kind of money I suggest walking up the street to De Cero.

I give Perez Restaurant 2.5 out of 5 chiles.

Perez Restaurant can be found at 853 W. Randolph St., Chicago IL (312) 421-2488

Taco Review: La Cocina, 2901 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago


Type: Vegan-Friendly Taco Spot

Price: $$

There comes a time in every meat-eating taco reviewer’s life when he will have to review meat substitute tacos. I really love veggie tacos; however, meat substitutes would not be my go-to if I wanted to have a meatless taco. But my love for tacos is strong, and I would not dare snub any taco without really giving it a fair shake. Or bite. Or several bites. So I wandered on over to La Cocina in Avondale to see what their vegan tacos were all about.

Upon arriving at La Cocina I noticed two things: One, that it was almost completely empty, and two, that there was no visible menu. We walked up to the front, and my taco partner Jessica handed me a to-go menu, from which I guess you are supposed to order. The guy taking my order was really nice. He was incredibly friendly and seemed like he was in an awesome mood. He also seemed really stoned, which might have explained things. He wore one of those funny little paper cook hats, and he wasn’t even cooking, which is pretty great in itself. I ordered chips and salsa and he was all like, “Nah, dude. Don’t worry about it. I’ll totally bring those out for free!” So that was cool. We ordered our tacos and took a seat by the wall.

Hail Seitan! Also, my mustache can tickle the person next to me.

Hail Seitan! Also, my mustache can tickle the person next to me.

Speaking of the wall, there was a pretty incredible mural on it. I really do appreciate it when taco places have cool art, it just makes the experience that much more enjoyable. There were also some paintings that I assume were by local artists. I noticed that there was a little sign with a mustachioed guy explaining what seitan is and they that use Upton’s (which is produced here in Chicago).

I’ve only had salsa served two ways: either in little bowls or squeeze bottles. At La Cocina, they do the latter. I am by no means a chips and salsa snob, so I have no problem squirting that saucey saucerton onto a chip and chowing down. Tomatillo salsa is usually my favorite, but this time it was the other way around. The red salsa was spicy and delectable and almost tasted like a Mexican Sriracha. The salsa verde was lacking, and it was definitely not as spicy.

Stoner dude brought out our tacos, which were wrapped, in baskets. I ordered two vegan tacos, chorizo and chicken, and two meat tacos, steak and al pastor. I first attacked the vegan tacos. The chorizo taco was delicious, it actually tasted more like steak than chorizo, which I was okay with because it still tasted good. And it didn’t really feel like I was eating a meat substitute. If I were drunk and closed my eyes, I probably would have been none the wiser. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for the chicken tacos. They tasted good, don’t get me wrong. Seasoned nicely, though maybe lacking in salt a bit. I think it might have had to do with the size. There were huge chunks of seitan, and when chunks of anything are that big, you can’t help but taste mostly what it’s made out of. If you dig the taste of seitan, then you would probably love these tacos. I mean, they were huge.

Cocina tacosThe meat tacos, if I were to make a fair comparison, were probably not as good as the vegan tacos. I mean, I liked them more just because I like meat tacos more, but if you wanna get into semantics, the vegan ones were probably made with more care. The al pastor was delicious but tasted nothing like al pastor. It actually tasted like steak, which was weird. No pineapple, mind you. And the asada, well, was pretty good. They were made with skirt steak, which does give them bonus points. But I think there is something fundamentally wrong when your al pastor tastes more like steak than your steak tacos. Regardless of this grave error, I still made those tacos my bitch.

The last thing I would like to add is that it was freezing in there. So if you take a trip to La Cocina, I recommend wearing your ugliest christmas sweater and maybe those gloves with the fingertips missing so you can eat your tacos. We got parking right away, but I can see it being a little tough in that neighborhood. You can probably find metered parking on Kedzie, unless you’re lucky enough to get a free spot on a side street. They close early, at, like, 10, which is too bad, because I think these tacos would be better enjoyed on a late drunk night. And there is no delivery for lazy folks (like me).

I give La Cocina 3 out of 5 chiles.

La Cocina can be found at 2901 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago (773) 588-5799