Monday, May 3, 2010

Tierra Caliente

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

Its already time for another holiday special. So get the tequila and Tecate ready because were celebrating Cinco de Mayo at S'C'&C. I am a man who loves me some Mexican food. Its tough to pick and choose one single cuisine as your favorite but it is and always has been Mexican for me. Since I am from Chicago it isn't something that is very foreign to me. I've been enjoying the food and culture since I was a youngin. I am very confident in my belief that Chicago is as good of a city as any in the US and probably the best when it comes to good Mexican food stops. I know some of you already sayng "no way, its LA dude" and some are saying "Houston has the best" and others from NYC are claiming they "have the best" like they do everything in New York. I wouldn't put NYC in the top 20 cities for Mexican cuisine in the country. But the truth is Chicago has the highest Mexican population east of LA and Mexicans living in Chicago come from all 31 Mexican states so all different type of its cuisine can be found here. I waited to bring this spot to you over the holiday because it is one of the Chi's best taquerias in a city with 5,000+ of them.

a locals favorite at Ashland and Blackhawk

Chicago has so many Mexican restaurants and grocery stores with taquerias inside that 1000s can go unnoticed to people not living near them and they stay under the radar just like Tierra Caliente was up until this past year. But there is good reason this grocery store with a taqueria inside has grown an army of followers from the city to the suburbs, from the gringos to the vatos and anyone who's ever paid a visit to one of the cities great lunch stops. The grocery store is your typical neighborhood Mexican grocery store and has produce and a meat counter to go with the other essentials for grocery goods for its Mexican based clientele. When you enter and go to the back and look to the right you'll see some tables a counter and a little kitchen that slang's out tacos (that's what you get here) and some really good specials on the weekend such as menudo. I haven't had the pleasure of trying any of the soup but the star of the show here are the tacos al pastor.

The main attraction at Tierra Caliente

I have always loved the Mexican gyro taco and have been on the hunt for places that actually use a cone, cut the meat off of it and cook near perfect al pastor. I have found my place like so many others already have. The tacos al pastor at Tierra Caliente are seasoned full of flavor and when you get them on a good day they are the best $2 can get you that I know of around here. Since the cone needs time to go around and get crispy charred pieces of pork if you catch them on an on day, these are as good of a taco as you can get in a city with unlimited supply of them.

taco al pastor from Tierra Caliente

The counter is pretty much always packed at lunchtime and until recently it was with mostly Mexicans who know where the best bang for your buck on tacos in the city is at. The guys working the taqueria are good men and stuff the tacos with about as much meat as you can get in a tortilla. Even though there isn't much space this place puts out some great dishes like birria de chiva (goat) which is rich and full of amazing flavor. They cook the goat up in this huge pot for hours on end and take the stew meat and make amazing tacos and gorditas that just cant be matched with that I have found elsewhere. The birria here has made my love for long braised goat meat as big as it ever was. I've never been a big fan of goats. That's why I like to eat them.

birria de chiva taco

-Got Beef? tacos de carne asada

The steak tacos sometimes are an afterthought over at Tierra when the al pastor spit is sitting there in front of you rolling around tempting you with its hourglass figure and the aroma from the birria de chiva floods the air. But this is a place that does up wonderful tacos and the tacos de carne asada are very good options here too. The steak is very good when the place is packed because its being thrown on the grill and then chopped up and stuffed in tortillas within minutes of being cooked. So if its really packed and you can smell steak in the air then its a good time to get some steak tacos. If its real slow inside then you get al pastor tacos.

Steak taco from Tierra Caliente

Rating Scale 5/5

steak: 4 (when fresh off the grill)
cilantro/onions: 4
tortilla: 4
salsa: 5

Score: 17/20

It doesn't end there my friends as far as top notch taco selections. Tierra does up different types of taco campechanos which according to the good people at LTH refers to something from the "Campeche city or state, bridge to the Yucatan" These tacos are basically combos of two different meat selections available and can be on special over the weekends and other various days. They do have a taco campechano on the menu board which consists of the al pastor and carne asada both featured above. These favorites of mine are like Mexican cuisines ode to the almighty Chicago combo. I love them. What's not to like about beef and pork? Not a damn thing! The same answer goes for what's not to like about Tierra Caliente? Not a damn thing! Happy Cinco De Mayo.

Tierra Calientes tribute to the combo

Tierra Caliente
1402 N Ashland Ave
Chicago, IL 60622


Ben said...

Lot of excellent taco options on Ashland, but this is one of the best. I only wish they were open later...

Denver On a Spit said...

That is one good looking taco. I'm going next week when I'm home.


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