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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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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Rikki Tikki Tikki Taco Joint – Taco Joint 1969 N Halsted St, Chicago IL



Type: Shredded Tacos

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Balancing good food and atmosphere is no easy task, and Taco Joint seems to be one of the places that goes for the chain restaurant feel rather than an artsy setting. If you like to play tourist and pretend you are in a Chili’s, then Taco Joint is the place for you. It’s deceptively small, but low lighting and candles give it a cozy feel.  But let’s say you really just want to stuff your face with delicious tacos until you have to ask your partner to drive home because you have rendered yourself incapable of thought and movement.  Taco Joint has at least 10 different tacos for you to do this with, including rotating specials that change depending on the day of the week. 

Taco Joint Dining Room

Let me get something straight here. I write a taco blog, so sometimes that means I need to eat as many tacos as possible in order to bring to you, my fellow taco lovers, the lowdown on what these places have to offer. So that might mean I order and eat 7 different tacos at once. And that is exactly what happened. But just because I eat all of the tacos doesn’t mean all of the tacos are good. I just don’t like to waste food. And I hate taking home half a taco. I usually think to myself, just finish that shit and make Kobayashi proud. 

Since I have so many tacos to cover in a short period of time, I’m going give you the long and short of it: Taco Joint has a shredding problem. Those mofos like to shred everything. Quite frankly, I was surprised they didn’t figure out a way to shred the margaritas we got. It was as if the chef recently purchased a food processor he really liked and just tossed everything in there. 

They had an al pastor (not shredded, but finely chopped) they made with chicken (gasp!) that actually was pretty good.The conchinita pibil and barbacoa were pretty much the same taco, albeit tasty in their own right. I mean, they nailed the flavors, but the shredding, man. It just equalizes everything. 

Taco Joint Taco Review

Barbacoa Taco

The carnitas taco might have even been better, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. It might have had something to do with the orange-fanta piquin glaze. Fanta. Sersiously. Like the soda drink. Don’t you wanna? Although honestly, you couldn’t really taste it. The taco did have what seemed to be chunks of cotija cheese that complimented it well. 

Taco Joint Carnitas Taco

Carnitas Taco

The michelada was pretty much the closest thing they had to a steak taco, and it was good! For some reason they hide it close to the bottom of the taco list and it was not among the tacos our server recommended, but it might have been the best out of the bunch because it was the only taco that wasn’t shredded. After a while of eating just shredded tacos you begin to feel like you just have a mouth full of paper. So the “Michelada” aka steak taco was a nice break from the shredding mania.

Taco Joint Michelada Taco

Michelada Taco

Here is where I shame you Taco Joint. Your fish taco was alright. Pretty much like every fish taco in the city, perhaps a little underseasoned and uninspired. But your taco of the day, the Arabe, was the laziest piece of crap taco I have ever encountered. I didn’t even finish it because it sucked that bad. Could it hurt to dress your taco? Have you heard of things called vegetables or cheese? Or if you’re really just going to do only meat inside a tortilla, at least salsa that shit up good so it doesn’t feel like i’m eating yesterdays leftovers. And to add insult to injury, they put it in a flour tortilla! What the what! I will cut you! No one should have to drink a sip of water with every bite just to get their food down. Bad Taco Joint! 

Taco Joint Taco Review

This sad, sad little taco.

Were the tacos at Taco Joint bad? Of course not. We’re they amazing? Definitely not. I would say teetering above average, but nothing that will knock your sombrero off. Unless I am in the area and I’m hungry or I am invited, I will probably not be returning to Taco Joint. It’s not a bad place, it’s just not really close to my stomping grounds and I wouldn’t really go out of the way for it. If I lived around the corner it would be a different story. Parking should be pretty easy, unless it’s a heavy shopping day on Halsted. Meters abound, so make sure you put some money in or risk getting a ticket. Although I have to say next time, I’m probably gonna just walk around the corner to Butcher and the Burger. 

I give Taco Joint 3.5 out of 5 stars.  Like Chicago Taco Talk on Facebook! facebooksmall

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

Holy Frijoles! Wholly Frijoles 3908 W Touhy Ave, Lincolnwood, IL


Type: Classy Mexican Restaurant Tacos 

Price: $$

Wholly Frijoles is a family owned Mexican Restaurant in Lincolnwood opened by former Lettuce Entertain You veteran chef Carmen J Villegas. If you’ve ever been to Wholly Frijoles, you know this dude has been saving the good stuff for himself, because the Mexican food at WF is a million times better than any LEY establishment I’ve partronized. However, if I’ve learned anything from this ridiculous and delicious taco blog, it’s that high scale Mexican restaurants do not always make tacos a priority on their menu. Will the tacos at Wholly Frijoles live up to the high standards of Señor Villegas? We shall soon find out. 

Wholly Frijoles Taco Review

Abuelita making some holy frijoles

Much of WF is decorated in fine Mexican art, that I must say is quite impressive. I was seated in a corner near a painting of a ghostly woman making stew. In the very back of the restaurant there is a painting of a Native American that appears to be mourning a woman laid out on some boulders in the shadow of snow peaked mountains. Let’s hope she didn’t buy the farm from eating the tacos at Wholly Frijoles. 

Upon being seated my server informed me her name was Duvy, wrote it and underlined it on my table. So I guess there will be no mistakes about who my server is. I ordered the taco dinner which comes with soup or salad, so of course my fat ass opted for both. She brought out chips and salsa, and I have to say, the salsa was so good I was ready to hold someone hostage for more. Red and chunky with onions and garlic, they loaded that salsa with everything under the Mexican sun.

Wholly Frijoles Taco Review

Duvy keepin’ it real on my table

The salad was also quite delicious, a nice departure from a typical house salad, with finely chopped iceburg lettuce coated in a light, viscous sour cream dressing. The salad also was generously adorned with chopped tomato, onion, and little tortilla strips, adding a lovely texture that made it fun to eat. Face it, we all want Doritos in our salads, we just don’t know it yet. The tortilla soup was also fantastic. Drizzled with sour cream and a light touch of cilantro, the soup also had some of those delicious tortilla strips. I have to say, I love a chef that knows the awesomeness of crunchy food. 

Alright, the real reason I came here: the tacos. My tacos came out with a small bowl of beans (no rice), each on two handmade tortillas. Since there was a rainbow of delicious animals at my disposal, I ordered chicken, steak, and al pastor for my taco dinner. One thing WF did that was hella splendid is they put the toppings under the meat. That way things don’t go falling all over the place and you are sure to get a mouthful of both the meat and toppings in each savory bite. No more scooping stuff back into my taco, that’s clearly for losers.  I would also like to mention the fact that there was a substantial amount of meat in each taco, making them a tad difficult to eat. This is not a terrible thing. 

Wholly Frijoles Taco Review

Marinated in crack

Clearly, they marinate the chicken in crack here and throw it on the grill before serving it, because that sh*t tasted so good I wanted to move into the back room to keep up my habit. Taco meat tastes so much better when it’s grilled vs cooked on a burner. One taco in and I was ready to have J Carmen Villages cater my Big Fat Mexican Wedding, and I’m not even Mexican. The chicken taco sat upon a bed of lettuce and tomato, and had a nice drizzle of sour cream on top. I used the salsa they brought out with the chips to dress my taco properly. 

The carne asada taco was just as exquisite, offering a delicious grilled flavor to a fine cut of skirt steak, cut into rather large slices. The steak was tender and was not at all difficult to eat, except for maybe just fitting the damn thing into your pie-hole. This taco also sat upon a bed of lettuce and tomato, which for some reason was not offensive to me at all, and worked perfectly to balance out the taco. I prefer cilantro and onions on my steak tacos, but everything worked so well together you could have put twigs and berries in that sh*t and I probably would have scarfed it down like it was Thanksgiving.

Wholly Frijoles Taco Review

Al Pastor

The al pastor taco was the only real, sort of disappointing taco of the bunch. And it wasn’t even that disappointing, it was actually pretty good. It just had that ‘reheated in burnt oil on the griddle’ flavor, which I am not a huge fan of. Look, I totally understand it’s not always easy to have meat cooked to order, especially when it’s supposed to come fresh off a revolving spit, without having it completely dry out. Sometimes these things can’t be avoided, but special attention should be paid to the method of reheating, a lot of times oil burns and taco lovers no likey. 

Reheating methods aside, this place is extraordinary. They manage to avoid the fine dining taco curse, and it makes me happy I can eat awesome tacos and not be price-gouged by places like Antique Taco and Cookies and Carnitas. With the soup and salad, the whole thing cost me 13 dollars. If you’re stuck anywhere on the north side near Lincolnwood, I recommend you stop here for lunch or dinner and melt your Mexican loving faces off with this amazing food. If you live up here, I’m sure you already know about it. Parking can be a little tough, but if you’re lucky you can find a (free) spot on the side or behind the building. Whatever you do just don’t let yourself get sucked into going to the Long John Silver’s across the street. 

I give Wholly Frijoles 4.25 chiles.

Wholly Frijoles can be found at 3908 W. Touhy Ave Lincolnwood, IL

Cookies and Carnitas and Beers, Oh My!: Cookies and Carnitas 5757 N Broadway, Chicago IL


Type: Cookies and Tacos 

Price: $$$$$, BYOB

As soon as I heard about a place that specializes in cookies and tacos, I knew I had to get on that ASAP. I came hungry, because when you have to cram numerous tacos in your face for the sake of posterity, you have to have the eye (and stomach) of the tiger. Just outside of Loyola in Edgewater, Cookies and Carnitas is off the beaten path, but is a nice oasis in the otherwise mostly dry landscape of North Broadway. The red walls and wooden tables provide a warm and homey feel. There is art on the wall from local artists, it is good to see the art and restaurant community supporting each other. 

Cookies and Carnitas Taco Review

Sucka! You just paid 20 dollars for a few tacos!

Cookies and Carnitas does not have a website, but let me tell you folks, the tacos aren’t cheap. Antique Taco managed to win me over in spite of their inflated prices, so I wanted to give Cookies and Carnitas a fair shake. In turn, they gave me a fair shake and shook all the money out of my pockets! If that old adage – you get what you pay for – was true, I would have gotten four tacos made of solid gold. Not to sound like a cheap-o or anything, but when 4 tacos costs me over 20 dollars, I expect maybe a table side mariachi band or a bag of cheap magnets to come with it. 

All their tacos come out on El Milagro tortillas (two per taco) and are served with ‘smokey’ beans, chihuaha and cotija cheese, pineapple, cilantro, sour cream, salsa, and shredded cabbage. Holy extra toppings Batman! Look… I enjoy all of the above ingredients in tacos, but more does not always equal better. It’s like when you’re a kid and you decide to mix all the different soda available at the fountain, and then you try it and you realize it tastes like complete shit. The salsa verde was wonderful and tasted genuinely homemade. The smattering of charred pineapple was a nice touch that had some brilliant moments. But Cookies and Carnitas has a heavy hand that would make Guy Fieri look like Giada DeLaurentis. The subtle flavors were drowned out by the amalgam of all the toppings. 

Cookies and Carnitas Taco Review

Art for sale!

Of course, you can always ask to have your tacos served the way you want. I ordered an aged skirt steak taco, a pork shoulder taco, a goat taco, and a fried portabella mushroom taco. I have a confession I should probably make here: If there are two tortillas per taco, I try to eat my taco with just one tortilla. For me, two is unnecessary, unless it begins to fall apart, which I assume is why they do it in the first place. Cookies and Carnitas doubles up their tortillas, and right on cue, the first layer fell apart into the safety net of my second tortilla. 

On to the meats! The pork shoulder was excellent. It took me a little while to warm up to it, but mid-taco I realized these guys know what they are doing when it comes to pork. Hence the name Cookies and Carnitas. The pork was juicy, flavorful, and tender. Well done, boys. 

The goat taco was similar to the pork shoulder: moist, soft, braised in beer and their own special blend of herbs. It did not taste gamey, but tasted like goat, if that makes any sense. Not a home run, but good nonetheless.

Cookies and Carnitas Taco Review

Steak Taco close up!

The aged skirt steak taco was…..interesting.This is not meant to be a dis, but whatever seasoning they used on the steak reminded me of those little taco seasoning packets you buy at the grocery store. It tasted exactly like that! Take that information and do with it what you will. Some people might really like those taco packets. Also, the texture and flavor of the steak seemed to be a little off for skirt. I was thinking maybe they braise the steak a little, which obviously would change the texture as well as the flavor profile. Maybe the aging has something to do with it. I can only assume I will get softer as I get older. That said, the steak was tender and delicious, despite the McCormick Taco Seasoning packet they maybe didn’t use.

Now to address the fried portabello taco. I knew this moment was going to come. You know, even when I feel it is justified for me to completely rip apart a taco or a restaurant, I feel bad because it is still somebody’s livelyhood. The purpose of my blog is not to keep people away, but to encourage them to go and find out for themselves. What I might think is a terrible taco might be the perfect taco for somebody else.That being said, this was the worst taco I have ever eaten in my entire life and any past lives I might have lived. I would not wish this taco upon my worst enemy. I’m fairly certain these tacos were served at Guantanamo Bay. I don’t know what they did to those poor portabella mushrooms, but I can make a taco out of the sole of my shoe taste better. It’s amazing how just the wrong seasoning in a batter can turn something beautiful into a horror show. Suffice to say, the taco went unfinished.

Cookies and Carnitas Taco Review


That’s pretty much it. Ease up on the toppings, make your own tortillas, and maybe experiment with some different recipes for the steak and portabella mushrooms, and you guys at C&C will have tacos worthy of the prices. Not that you will listen to me, I’m just a guy who writes about tacos. What the hell do I know. Parking is fairly easy on Broadway, and if you’re lucky enough to get a spot right in front, you won’t have to pay a meter. The place was fairly empty when I went, but it was early on a Tuesday, so it might get busier on the weekends. I should mention that the guys that worked there seemed like pretty nice and cool dudes. It’s also BYOB, which helps take some of the sting off the prices. Don’t forget to take the poll below!

I give Cookies and Carnitas 3.5 out of 5 chiles. 

Cookies and Carnitas can be found at 5757 N Broadway, Chicago IL (773) 769-2900

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