Friday, May 31, 2013

Michigan Tacos

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

-The Tacos of Michigan's Fruit Country

Tacos are today what burgers were in the 1950's and these days theres quite a few Mexican Carnicerias that serve them while supplying groceries to the local Mexican population whom work for the farmers in the fruit fields of Michigan's Wine Country region. I've been going up around the Sister Lakes area for over a decade now and have always noticed them. We end Mexican Fiesta month with a road trip there to try three.

El Supermercado in Sister Lakes Michigan (Keeler Township)

This place is located right on US 152 and along with the other grocery store nearby and the gas station, it makes up for most of whats around as far as food and groceries go within a five minute drive from Big Crooked Lake. They have some good things as far as groceries go when cooking a fiesta. Foodwise their tacos are just ok. I've tried the steak and chicken ones and they're just not that good when your as spoiled as we are in Chicago. But they do make made to order pico de gallo and guacamole in an old Abuelo bowl and both of those are superb and perfect for the summer season. Not to mention they're a great deal pricewise. They make it so good for so cheap you don't feel the need to make your own. Its vacation.

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The Tacos (top) -- Lady behind the counter making the pico to order (bottom)

I found Arellano's Fresh Fruit Market and Restaurant while cruising down M-140 thru Covert which is a small little town which served as a stop on the underground that I have posted about before. The sign mentioned the making of their own tamales got me wanting to stop in and try some.

Along M-140 in Covert, MI

It wasn't the weekend so they had no tamales but they do have a taqueria so I decided to try a couple tacos while I was in there. I got a steak and tripas and they too were just ok. The tripe wasn't fried crispy like I like it to be. I hate it when its soft. Although I think this place was just getting started when I stopped in so I may check them out again this summer if I get the chance to do so.

Tacos from Arellano's Fruit Stand and Restaurant

So far my go to taco place in the area has been La Perla which is in Benton Harbor but more inland towards the farms. Its located on Napier avenue which is the exit you get off at on the highway and take into the area of Sister Lakes after about a 15 minute ride. En route sits La Perla at a bustling, for these parts anyway, intersection with a gas station opposite corner of it.

Benton Harbor, MI

This place has a very steady flow of customers of all races. They have meats and produce and other Mexican grocery needs like bottled pop and assorted chile peppers, fresh tortillas and the rest of the good stuff. Tacos are served in back and on weekends they sell carnitas and set up an al pastor spit outside.

The setup outside under a tent on weekends at La Perla

Their al pastor tacos are very good and as is the case with the greats, even better when you get those freshly cut charred pieces which come after the lunch rush. But for me its their carnita tacos that I just cant get enough of. I haven't found any as juicy and tasty in Chicagoland. They sell the fried bits of pork by the pound but I like to get a handful of tacos with the usual toppings of onion and cilantro along with fresh sliced avocado. I don't know if its the fact that I'm in Michigan away from the hustle and bustle for my annual August trip with good friends that makes these so magical but I do know that it's the expertly fried carnitas and fresh tortillas and toppings that make them taste great.

Carnita tacos from La Perla

El Supermercado
68010 Michigan 152
Benton Harbor, MI 49022
(269) 944-4140

Arellano's Fruit Market and Restaurant
36197 M-140 HWY
Covert, Michigan 49043
(269) 764-0615

La Perla
8080 E Napier Ave
Benton Harbor, MI 49022
(269) 944-4096

Monday, May 27, 2013

Chicago Taco Tour

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

We hope you've been enjoying our Mexican Fiesta special this month of May. If you scroll down you'll see "Tags" of different topics relating to each and every story posted here. "Mexican Food" is near the top. My favorite food to eat I cant ever get enough. Traveling Mexico on a culinary related itinerary is still on the upper half of my bucket list. God forbid that trip should never happen I can at least know I've ate it well while on earth here in Chicago. There's been some great taco round-up's of the 1000's of different offerings we have in this city and this week I want to add one more. Ladies and cavemen, I bring to you, 16 tacos you wont find everywhere. These offerings are worth seeking out when you get bored of the same old style but still want to eat something stuffed in a tortilla. 

Tacos de Canasta

"Basket Tacos" are typically found found being sold on a street corner somewhere in Mexico City. If you know where to go in Chicago you can find them in the same fashion. Usually these are ate outside of restaurants because they're pre-made at home and placed in a basket to steam then sold somewhere on the streets. I call them taco sliders (small and steamed) and really like the ones served at La Chilangueada in the Cragin neighborhood.

Tacos de Canasta at La Chilangueada

I cant vouch for the authenticity of these little .99 cent gems but have no problem calling them good. They may or may not be made to order, if they are then they arent the real deal but a few of the filling options inside them are. When tacos de canasta are made they're done so to sit around for a while so stewed meats are typically used. The signature "Chilango" however has skirt steak, bacon, chopped cheap hot dogs and onions. Unconventional? Maybe. Tasty? Definitely!

The insides

Salsa is an option but other than that you just pop these lil tacos in your mouth and savor the flavors. I've found that when ordering them to go they get extra greasy but in a good way where the whole thing steams together even more so than when dining in. I've noticed these are one of the best selling items at this awesome little spot on Fullerton dedicated to some of the popular street eats of Mexico City. As good as the Chilango mix is, the Chicharron con Chile is addicting. I can eat ten easy if you put them in front of me.

Chicharron con Chile Taco de Canasta

Tacos de Birrieria

It's too hard to name any single taco "the best in Chicago" and anyone who's doing so is either biased or never been anywhere other than Taco Bell. But we can all have our lists of the ones we love best and included in mine are the Tacos de Birrieria at Chicago staple Birrieria Zaragoza. If you've never been, Goat is what they do and they do it really, really well. The place has a long list of loyal customers including me. Take a seat at the front where you can watch your tacos tortillas being made and get a lesson in good cooking from the family matriarch aka Mom.

Fresh Tortillas being made

A feature post is coming but for now let me just tell you why I love the slow roasted goat tacos here. First off the meat itself is amazing. Be not afraid, it's fresh and farm raised and tastes like a richer pot roast than you might normally eat. They make some of the best tortillas on site in front of you too. These hold together the goat meat which is juicy from being cooked in a pot full of flavor. Add to this what might be my favorite salsa in the city (Family Secret Hot Roasted Tomato) and I'm in taco heaven.

Tacos de Birrieria from Birrieria Zargoza

Tacos Alambres

La Lagartija on Ashland off Ogden is a chibbqking favorite. Their shrimp tacos are one of the best tacos of any type to be found around town. They also have really good al pastor and serve signature worthy alambres which in Spanish means wire. In many cases alambres are cooked on a skewer and then removed and served with tortillas. But they've evolved into something a little different. While the meat can vary, bacon, sliced peppers and melted cheese are always included. Served with a steam tray of warm tortillas, which at La Lagartija come homemade, these are make your own tacos. Very good ones.

Alambres at La Lagartija

Tacos de Fritangas

We're lucky yo have a great cyber space place like LTHforum in Chicago. I love to get around and explore what our city has to offer but could never cover the entire area without missing multiple gems. Taquerias specifically which we have tons of. There's so many and most of them offer similar menus while some places execute the offerings better. But some also serve things you wont find at many if any other places. La Chaparrita was rec'd by one of  LTH's founding fathers and he then spread word. This style is native to Mexico City and involves the use of a charola for the cooking of the meats.

Plate O' Tacos from La Chaparrita (Pic from LTHforum)

Tacos al Pastor

a spot that caught my eye on 63rd

Recently I was with Grub Seeker and Co. and we were cruising around the southside looking for tacos amongst other eats. I spied a place called Mario's that had a picture of an al pastor spit and upon further investigation saw said spit in operation along with another mention of them being their specialty. In we went. Tacos al Pastor came to Mexico City with Lebanese immigrants who were creating something similar to shawarma. As far as the cooking, slicing and crispness goes these were perfection. The problem was they weren't spiced all that well. Rather plain tastes ruined what could of been truly great.

Taco al Pastor con Pina from Mario's

Fully Loaded Steak Tacos

El Milagro's monster steak tacos were originally featured back when this whole exploration first got started and they're still one of my favorite tacos in Chicago. If the name of the place sounds familiar that's because you've probably seen their tortillas and chips for sale which is their main business but they also have a couple places to eat. On 26th street you can find their signature tacos made with a hunk of grilled skirt steak placed on two of their tortillas spread with rice and beans and topped with cabbage. Two of these is all I need.

Signature Skirt Steak Taco from Taqueria El Milagro on 26th Street

Veggie Tacos 

If you're a regular reader than you know we dont do too many veggie dishes over here, plenty of other places you can go to find Chicago's best dishes without meat. Heck, hit up Next while you can. But there is one place I do get veggie tacos from now and then. L'Patron was already featured in the Fish Taco Tour in which I mentioned it wouldn't be the only time you saw them on here. This wont be their last feature either. The Rajas taco which is made with strips of roasted poblano makes me think I could just eat them if I had to go Veggie. But then I'd be suffering watching everyone else eat their steak, chorizo and al pastor. Pass.

Good Veggie tacos found on Diversey in Logan Square

 Walking Tacos

 Found at the Take Out Window at Big Star

If you've ever been to your home states fair you've most likely seen someone eating a walking taco. I've seen several variations including one served in a waffle cone and ones like they have at Big Star. A bag of Fritos with a meat-bean mixture added in with green onions and cheese makes for a tasty late night snack on the walk home from the bars. Plus at $2 it's a pretty damn good deal.

 The insides

Taco Truck Tacos

Slowly, no wait, VERY slowly food trucks with people cooking on board are starting to pop up around Chicago. In fact I spied one recently in the wee hours of the evening on Ashland parked outside what looked to be a popular night club. I was hungry and wondering what I was going to eat and seeing it helped me decide. Tacos and tamales were both stuffed to the brim with meat and good for late night eats.

Everyone could use access to mobile tacos...

Tacos Arabes

Cemitas Peubla on North avenue is a regular in my rotation that needs to get it's own post on here. Not they need the publicity as this is deservedly so one of Chicago's most well known spots for great Mexican food you wont find many others doing. As seen on Diners, Drive-In's and Dives.

Specialty Tacos from Cemitas Peubla

Tacos Arabes or "Arab Style Tacos" come from the Puebla region of Mexico where they're very popular. Heavily seasoned spit roasted pork is sliced like gyros and goes into a tortilla more like pita bread with a similar thickness to flour tortillas. These tacos were brought to Mexico from people who arrived from Iraq. In fact at first they were served with a yogurt sauce like tahini until it was replaced with salsa to please the locals palates. Cemitas Puebla's smoky chipotle salsa is also in the running for best in city, as are these tacos.

Inside of the Tacos Arabes

Tacos de Mariscos

If you ride around certain parts of the city you'll see that there seems to be an abundance of Mexican seafood houses. I'm not even talking about El Barco and Mariscos el Veneno which are both great in their own right, there's tons more than just those two though. It seems like alot of people from the Nayarit region of Mexico find their way to Chicago and open up a mariscos place when they do. I've decided that these places need to be further explored as theres so many of them and not much info out there on them.

Somewhat new Mexican seafood shop on Elston at Irving Park

I read over at LTH about a couple that were worth it and tried some tacos from one of them recently. Riveria Maya is a cute little BYOB with a really nice family behind it. I tried both a fish and shrimp taco and was pleasantly surprised by what I got. Instead of the more normal batter fried fish and shrimp they serve a chopped up version almost like hot ceviche cooked in lime, butter and garlic. Under $7 and I was stuffed.

 Fish and Shrimp Tacos from Riviera Maya

Tacos Dorados

Chicago doesn't seem to have many places doing this popular style of taco. But if there's going to be any it's most likely to come from the Eastside of the city. It seems that there's some tradition of the deep fried taco in these parts and the towns across the border in Northwest Indiana. Take Taqueria Hacienda at 97th and Commercial as example.

Locals Favorite on the Eastside of the City

Hacienda is a nice stop for those seeking their crispy taco fix. It's labeled as both a taqueria and a restaurant but it's more the latter. There's many options for Mexican in the area and I can vouch this place is good one. On top of this the people working have been really kind my visits. They have tacos dorados on the menu and you get them in three's with rice and beans. I was tempted by the steak offering but stuck with my traditional filling of picadillo aka ground beef. It's mixed with some potatoes and veggies as well as lima beans and was quite pleasing as far as seasoning.

Taco Dorados from Hacienda

These weren't deep fried whole (meat in the tortilla folded over/held together with tooth picks) aka "Closed". Just the shell was fried fresh then the beef went in followed by the toppings aka "open" style. Nonetheless the shell was fried fresh and remained crunchy and the filling was really good. Well executed. I tried their dorados de papa (potato) and they too were quite tasty while fried closed. Next time I need to ask them to do the dorados de papa with picadillo instead of potato, fried closed. I'm betting I'd really like those.

Tacos Dorados de Papa

Longy Tacos

Speaking of hard shell tacos anyone ever had a Longy? They were created by a guy who used to run a long gone bar called Longy's in Lombard. A Tribune article from 1991 explains how the family who runs/opened El Zarape in Wheaton brought these popular eats back to being available in this area.

El Zarape in Wheaton, IL

When the Jeminez family came to the suburbs from Mexico City in 1969, husband Jesse took a job cooking at Longy's. They saved up and inched closer to the dream of owning their own place. Now they have a few spots including the Santa Fe Cafe in Glen Ellyn. Longy tacos are corn tortillas filled with a beef and refried bean mixture making for an almost creamy filling. They're pan fried until crispy and I've tried them from El Zarape and also Santa Fe and have noticed they're available on other menus around this way. Tastes for them have come since my first bite so you know I like. Looking forward to getting back there.

Longy Taco from Santa Fe Cafe in Glen Ellyn, IL

Breakfast Tacos

I've never been to Austin, TX but when I do I look forward to trying some breakfast tacos which are one of the regional eats they're famous for. We dont have many spots doing those here in Chicago. Someone needs to come here with one of them food trucks you find all over there.

Estrella Negra on Fullerton just east of Western

In the meantime I find my fix at Estrella Negra, a little Latin influenced BYOB. One of the best breakfast (served 11a-3p daily) deals in the city. Six bucks gets you three tacos with choice of chorizo or bacon and eggs topped with jalapenos, cilantro, tomatoes and sour cream served with some excellent salsa verde.

Excellent Breakfast Tacos at Estrella Negra

Fusion Tacos

Making tacos with Asian influenced ingredients became a thing when an food truck in LA made them so popular that you can find them all over the globe now. We have a few spots in Chicago including a relatively new place out by Midway called Dos Ricco's doing Mexican-Asian cooking. I'm a sucker for fusion Asian and will get a full report on this place up ASAP. I liked a few things and the taco was one of them.

Korean Carne Asada Taco from Dos Ricco's

Cheesy Tacos

Popular taco stop at Blue Island and Damen

Raymond's has a few locations and there's many who swear by them. If you go in there on a weekend around lunch the place is packed. If you go there at 2am you'll find the same situation just different clientele. The sheriffs love it and so do the folks who just got released nearby. I've never had a burger but get cravings for cheesy tacos when drinking and sometimes even when I'm not.

Cheesy Tacos from Raymond's

If you order your tacos with cheese here you dont get shredded chihuahua. They take a slice of American cheese and place it between two corn tortillas basically making it a quesadilla. Only after it's cooked to a golden hue and the cheese is melted do your choice of meat and toppings go on. The meat is ok not great but they go thru tons so it's always freshly cooked. It might not be "Authentic" so to say but tell that to all the Spanish speaking families chowing them down on Sunday mornings. Count me a fan like them.

The insides

La Chilangueada
5131 W Fullerton Ave 
Chicago, IL 60639
(773) 237-6638

Birrieria Zaragoza
4852 S Pulaski Rd 
Chicago, IL 60632
(773) 523-3700

La Lagartija Taqueria
132 South Ashland Ave
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 733-7772

La Chaparrita
2500 S Whipple St 
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 247-1402

Mario's Tacos
4540 W 63rd St 
Chicago, IL 60629
(773) 582-8226

Taqueria el Milagro
3050 W 26th St 
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 579-6120

2815 W. Diversey 
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 252-6335

Big Star
1531 N Damen Ave 
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 235-4039
Cemitas Puebla
3619 W North Ave 
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 772-8435
La Riveria Maya
4009 N. Elston Ave.
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 463-7641

Taqueria Hacienda
9710 S Commercial Ave
Chicago, IL 60617
(773) 221-5743
El Zarape
325 W Front St
Wheaton, IL 60187
(630) 260-1122

Santa Fe Restaurant
426 N Main St
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137
(630) 790-3311
Estrella Negra
2346 W Fullerton Ave 
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 227-5993
Dos Ricco's
6445 S Cicero Ave 
Chicago, IL 60638
(773) 284-9088
Raymond's Tacos #2
2406 S Blue Island Ave 
Chicago, IL 60608
(773) 254-5301

Friday, May 24, 2013

La Placita de Durango

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

The food world is a fun place. Not only do I really like to eat but I love to explore. Not just food, but neighborhoods, towns, cultures and all the other good stuff to be found in this diverse country we live in. With the internet today there isn't much that hasn't been uncovered but we all know there gems out there waiting to be found. Luckily La Placita de Durango was found a while back over at LTHforum. This is the type of place I seek out and try to share with folks who care. Luckily theres others doing the same.

Locals favorite on 51st Street in Gage Park

It took me a while to get over here despite having known about it for a couple years. Luckily world class food explorer Mike Sula wrote it up in the Reader re-triggering my want to go. La Placita specializes in cuisine from the state of Durango located in Northwest Mexico. It's cowboy land there and their dishes reflect that lifestyle. I love hunting down places offering different regional variations of Mexican food and this place is the perfect example of why.

Burrito and Gordita Plate

Many purists will tell you that burritos are a product of Mexican-American cooking. They are if they include big store bought flour tortillas filled with lettuce, tomato and sour cream. But tell the folks of the Norteno region they arent authentic the way they do them down there. Housemade harina tortillas smaller than your average ones get stuffed with wonderful fillings such as deshambra (shredded beef) and chile pasado (dried poblano peppers). Gorditas are filled with Mexican cheeses less common than chihuahua and cactus too.

Half of a Quesadilla

Then there's the quesadillas stuffed with chicharron prensado. Sula describes them as "shaved from loaves of pressed pork skin, and reconstituted in a creamy, fatty sauce with a hint of something like mustard." While the heartburn from this was big time, so were the flavors inside. The food served here is the type to keep a Cowboy going until the day is over.

The insides

Specialty of the house might be their "Beef Jerky Soup". Called caldillo de carne seca it's made with dried beef and packs a pretty heavy punch when consumed. Joining the carne seca are potatoes, cactus and onions sitting in a dark green broth that obviously has some fat in it. 

Caldillo de Carne Seca aka Beef Jerky Soup

One taste and I was hooked on this cold winter day. It was this trip here that made me realize theres more to be found out there, not everything has been uncovered and the places that have, they might be doing something new so dont just forget about it and move on to the next spot. You never know what you might be missing if you do. I'm starting to further explore the Mexican spots in Chicago away from the popular neighborhoods and know I'm going to find something good that hasn't been uncovered. Do stay tuned.

The insides

La Placita de Durango
2423 51st St
Chicago, IL 60632
(773) 434-3711

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Outdoor Mexican Dining

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

Summer is finally here! Personally I like eating Mexican food year-round but it can be soothing in the summertime too. There's just something about sitting outside on a nice day with a margarita by your side enjoying some of the finest cuisine this world offers. So I thought we'd put together a list of some places where you can do this here in Chicago. Get out and enjoy the weather while its here.

Las Fuentes

Popular outdoor dining spot in Lincoln Park

There's been a Mexican restaurant at the corner of Wrightwood and Halsted for what seems like as long as I've been alive. I cant say if it's always been Las Fuentes but they've been there for a while now. I stopped thru last summer becasue I wanted to do exactly what I described up above while eating some food.


People come here for the patio. It's a nice place for families and friends in the neighborhood to be able to walk over to and spend some quality time together. Sure it might not be the best Mexican restaurant you've ever been to but the patio kicks ass and the drinks are strong. The food isnt bad, just not life changing.

Flautas from Las Fuentes

El Tapatio

Popular outdoor spot at Ashland and Roscoe

First up, awesome neon. I really respect places that continue to light up their 1970's and before that neon signs. Same situation as our first stop here. I might not seek out Tapatio in the winter time but when the weather is warm and their patio is open it's a great place to enjoy some outdoor eats. One thing I've noticed at these family style sit-down Mexican restaurants is they always have bomb house salsa for starters. No exceptions here. Enchiladas are usually my go-to order at spots like this and El Tapatio's are tasty.

Chicken Enchiladas from El Tapatio 

Antique Taco

Hipsteriffic Mexican in Bucktown

On our fish taco tour we stopped thru quite a few of these new wave of taquerias that are taking Chicago and elsewhere by storm. They use ingredients and make drinks served a step above what you'd find at mnay other taco shops in town. Antique Taco opened with some hype in Bucktown last year that I thought it pretty much lived up to. This is a nice place.

Antique Taco Salad

Their signature salad pictured above might of been the best salad I ate all year when I tried it. It's really good especially in the heart if summer when corn is king. I'm also a fan of both the grilled ribeye taco and the fish tempura ones. I wasn't sure I was going to like this place when they opened but they surprised me with nice hunks of ribeye inside rather than chopped pieces. Fresh toppings and tortillas rounded it all out.

Antique Tacos

La Quinta de los Reyes

New Spot on Elston in Albany Park

I stopped into this location of a place that was once and still might be in Berwyn. I was searching around the web trying to find some real deal shrimp taco dorados when results led me to this place. One day I was driving by and decided to try their version. I was a little bit disappointed that despite them being labeled as "Tacos" they were served as Flautas. Still I liked them and would check out what other offerings they have.

Shrimp Flautas

Big Star

Where the patio is always packed

We cant have a round-up of good places to eat Mexican food outside without including Big Star. I've argued with people who claim they serve the best tacos in Chicago but I wont argue with those who say it has the best outdoor drinking space in the city. It's a great place to soak up the sun while sipping some booze. The food is pretty damn good too. Not the best but damn good. Take the tamales they now offer on special as an example. These masa made beauties might be near the top. It took me back to A1 Beanery of all places and had me wanting to return for one the next day.

Big Star Pork Tamale

Las Fuentes
2558 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 935-2004

El Tapatio
3400 N Ashland Ave 
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 327-5475

Antique Taco
1360 N Milwaukee Ave 
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 687-8697

La Quinta de los Reyes
4821 N. Elston
Chicago, IL 60630
(773) 685-1111

Big Star
1531 N Damen Ave 
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 235-4039


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