-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City
If its one particular cuisine that Chicago is rich in than Mexican would be the first type that comes to my mind. Its pretty obvious to me that the reason I love Mexican more than any other food has alot to do with where I'm from. Because Chicago has the most Mexicans east of LA and has more Mexicans from the 31 Mexican states than any other city, we are rich in its food. It was in Cancun of all places that I fell in love with tacos al pastor. One of Mexico City's signature food items they are said to be a Lebanese/Mexican hybrid of a taco and gyro or shawarma. The problem is that while many and most Mexican taquerias around town serve tacos al pastor 9 out of 10 of them don't make them the proper way which makes them anything but authentic. For the taco to be real AP it needs to be spiced pork shaved off of a cone and not just pieces of it fried up on a griddle. The difference in taste and texture is huge when done one way and the other. What makes AP so good are the crispy charred pieces of pork that are cooked on the spit and cut off and thrown over tortillas as soon as its ready. Unfortunately too many places these days don't do it the right way unless its what they specialize in. We do however have a few that do it up right. In the next installment of the great al pastor hunt I present to you El Burrito Amigo. Located on Grand ave. just west of Laramie its a place that is always packed with people and most are from Mexico.
Don't let the burrito in the name fool you...this is a locals type spot
For the taco to be real AP it needs to be spiced pork shaved off of a cone and not just pieces of it fried up on a griddle. Many places in Mexico City will also put a real chunk of pineapple on top of the meat and cut pieces of it off and add them into the tacos too. The difference in taste and texture is huge when done one way and the other. What makes AP so good are the crispy charred pieces of pork that are cooked on the spit and cut off and thrown over the tortillas as soon as its ready. What exactly constitutes an authentic taco al pastor is up for debate. Some places use just cilantro and onions with an option of salsa. Other places like in Mexico City sometimes mix the onions in with the layered pork and cook them into the meat and always include shaved pineapple. One thing I know for sure is that unless they have a spit with pork layered on it that is being cooked while rotating and pieces cut off as they are crisped it isn't the real version. Another problem with finding the perfect al pastor is you kind of have to be there at the right time to get a faultless taco. So the best time to go is when a place is busy and the best time to order them is if you can see them in action doing it the right way upon entering a taqueria. At Buritto amigos they have a cartoon right in the window letting you know that they do fresh al pastor from 5:00 to 9:00 Monday thru Saturday. Just for the record though sometimes that's not the case.
One of the best style of tacos around (Pic by kudho from LTHforum.com)
Also up for debate is who exactly introduced these tacos and where they did that. There is a Mexican chain called El Tizoncito which was founded in 1966 and they claims to have introduced the taco al pastor to the people. Unfortunately too many places these days don't do it the right way unless its what they specialize in. While the name of Burrito amigo may sound like your average Big-10 burrito joint its really not. Most of the people that eat here are locals from the neighborhood and most of them tend to go with the tacos al pastor but many other items are ordered. Its nothing fancy you get your food on a paper plate and hope to find a seat. In the summer they have a few picnic tables outdoors. If the spit is on and they are cutting from it then these can be some of the best tacos al pastor in the city. The problem is there are times when they pre-cut it the meat drop it into a bucket and then recook the pieces on the grill. This takes away juices, flavor and that crispy texture that is so perfect for them.
Running spit at EBA with the condiment topping bowls in front
I mentioned above how what exactly belongs on a taco al pastor is up for debate and that different places use different toppings. Such is the case at Amigo where they offer traditional cilantro and onions however the onions are grilled and not raw. They also put a nice amount of cooked red salsa at request that I think is really good on them along with a few roasted jalapenos and sliced radish and limes. I always order at least three since they are just tacos and I always get everything on them with one of them including cheese. I must say that when this place is on these are some of the tastiest tacos in town and also one of my favorites. Check it out.
Tacos al pastor with everything from Burrito Amigo
El Burrito Amigo
5238 W Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60639-3044