I remember Friday nights were my favorite. Not because there was no school tomorrow (though that was a plus). Not because Friday Night Videos was coming on (dang, I just showed my age). Friday nights were the best because…tacos.
My Mom would buy one of those awesome Ortega taco kits and if you got really fancy you could put the meat in the taco shell and warm them together in the oven to keep the shell from breaking (aside: My Mom was not known for her culinary prowess. We all have our unique gift to offer the world and hers happened to be something else [I love you Mommykins]. end of aside) Anyway, that was the beginning of my love for tacos.
As I got older and my palate became more developed, I ventured outside of the box variety and into the more authentic offerings. Smoky salsas, tender meats and savory guacamoles began to call my name. I knew that I had a responsibility, a mission, to find the best damn taco joints in Chicago and tell you where to find them! So I put together a group of aficionados on a dope party bus, (some professional chefs… some amateur cooks…all taco lovers) and we embarked on a journey of public drunkenness (thanks to the margaritas and mojitos on the bus) while gorging on a ridiculous amount of tacos all around town. This was all for you…for you!
We scored each place based on: flavor, presentation, and overall awesomeness with a possible 21 points. Below is how they averaged out.
First stop, Las Asadas 2045 N. Western Ave. (773)235-5538. I wanted to try the specialties from each joint. You know, so they could put their best foot forward and all. We tried the Carne Asada here ($2.95 each). The meat was tender, but I really could have used some salsa/lime/guacamole/less onion. Total points: 13 The exhibition kitchen was very clean though! http://lasasadas.com/
Overall Appeal/Recipe: 4.8
Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan
Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan 1322 W. 18th St. (312)733-2613 So, the specialty here is the Goat meat taco ($3.05). Don’t make a face, try something new! It was delish!(shous). The meat to tortilla ratio was just right and the salsa that came with it was the perfect smoky goodness. They made us eat outside because they were closing soon, but whatevs. When you can eat a taco on the sidewalk in the cold while leaning against a brick wall and still be happy as hell….Total points: 15.8 https://www.bing.com
Overall Appeal/Recipe: 5.8
La Lagartija Taqueria 132 S. Ashland (312)733-7772 This place is so dope that they have two specialties, Pastor and Camaron [Pork and Shrimp] ($3.62). They brought out the tacos in pans in generous portions. The pork was tender and flavorful and the shrimp was cooked perfectly. They offered both salsa roja and verde which had just the right amount of heat. There is also a nice bar, accommodating staff, a decent amount of seating and some floor space for dancing (at least that’s what we used it for). The music was loud, festive and we had such a blast that we were sorry to leave. My only complaint is that the hours suck. They close at 9pm Monday – Friday and closed Sunday. Total points: 19.6 http://
Overall Appeal/Recipe: 6.8
Cemita’s Puebla 817 W. Fulton Market (312) 455-9200 (Not available for review) We had made arrangements to pick up the tacos. Unfortunately, when we called to say we were on our way they were closing early. That’s all I can tell you for now. http://cemitaspuebla.com/
Overall Appeal/Recipe: N/A Taste: N/A
Jerk Taco Man
Jerk Taco Man 4001 W. Jackson Blvd. (312)709-8281These are tacos with a Jamaican twist. This location has a walkup window and is located on Chicago’s Westsiiiiide! Their specialty is Jerk Chicken tacos. I love tacos and I love jerk chicken so needless to say I was excited about the combination. The meat was flavorful and moist. This taco though is not for the purist. In addition to the Jerk Chicken, they add cheddar cheese which as a lover of cheese I’m totally okay with (in this case only). So, it’s kind of a fusion of Jamaican/American/Mexican flavors. My main complaint was, if you can believe it, that there was actually too much meat on the taco! I could eat a week off one of these tacos. Okay maybe 2 days… Seriously, I literally could not finish the taco and I got a small! Fellas, this would be a good place for an economical (cheap) date! They also offer lamb tacos which is a definite possibility for next time.Total points: 19.2 http://www.jerktacoman.
Overall Appeal/Recipe: 7
Zaca Tacos 5925 S. Pulaski Rd. (773)581-9481 This place is so ballin’ that they actually have five locations! Their dining area is huge with tables that can accommodate large parties. We had the Steak tacos here. The flavor and texture were good, but the addition of salsas on the table rojo and verde (red and green) were necessary. The meat did have a nice, smoky aroma. I heard that the location on 71st street was better. I still thought this one was pretty good. I will be checking out the 71st street location and you know I’m gonna write about it! Total points: 16 http://
Overall Appeal/Recipe: 5.75
Tacos Erendira 3207 S. Halsted (312)567-0202 So, this joint’s specialty is Al Pastor (pork). We unfortunately, did not find the texture to be that tender. The flavor was fine, but again like earlier in the evening relied on the addition of salsa. Now to be fair, we had eaten a gazillion tacos by then. No, bump that, they could stand a little more seasoning in the meat! The restaurant was decorated in Mexican style complete with artifacty like tchotchkes. The staff was friendly too. It was a nice hang out spot. Total points: 14.6
Overall Appeal/Recipe: 5.3
Carbon Live Fire Mexican Grill 300 W. 26tth St. (312)225–3200 At this point the lazy bums on the tour, I mean my friends, refused to get off the bus. It was getting kinda cold outside, but whatevs! I braved the weather along with a couple of ma homies and delivered the tacos back on the bus to the spoiled asses! Chicken tacos are what we tried here and can I tell you…. they were delish! Very memorable with a good amount of smoky flavor. The salsa was on point, but you really only needed a little bit. They also have a selection of salsas which is an added bonus (spicy red, both mild and hot green, roasted red pepper [my jam] and corn pineapple). Look at their score…nuff said!
Total points:20 carbonmex.com
Overall Appeal/Recipe: 6.5
Los Comales 1544 W. 18th (312) 666-2251 http://www.
Overall Appeal/Recipe: 5.25
Lazo’s Tacos 2009 N. Western Ave. (773) 486-3303 http://
Overall Appeal/Recipe: 6.2
Well, that’s all I got for now. We ate tacos. We judged them. We judged each other. We drank and had a ton of fun. Remember, this was a sacrifice. Now you know where the dopest tacos in town live. I have noticed since that there are a bunch more taco joints sprouting up. I pledge to explore them all (well, most)! Wanna come?
Check out my take on tacos. Try my Cocoa Agave Bacon Taco Recipe here.