In our ongoing series featuring the specialties of the house at five different Chicagoland Mexican restaurants we visit the Northside, Southside and also the suburbs on this trip. Please feel to check out Part One HERE and then go read Part Two HERE once you finish this. Enjoy.
Odds are most people living in Chicago couldn't tell where the suburb of Northlake is off the top of their head. But those that do know and have no ties to the area whatsoever most likely know about it through Pollo Vagabundo. I know they've seen their fair share of city folk since the amazing Mike Sula did a really nice piece on them for the Reader back in 2010. The title of the story points out how the trek to Northlake from the city is worth it once you start eating the food. For those still wondering the town of Northlake sits just 17 miles west on I-290 or just take Grand. There's a few really good Mexican restaurants and Pollo Vagabundo is one the one I'd recommend you check out first.
My choices from the help yourself Salsa Bar
As the name of the place suggests it's the grilled chicken that they specialize in but it doesn't stop there. Pictured up above is a beautiful display of some of the 15+ homemade salsas which the owner, Carlos Payan, makes for his customers to enjoy with his food. It's quite amazing actually. I don't know how he even remembers the recipes for each of them. You could call it the best condiment bar in the country and wouldn't get an argument from me. The grilled chicken comes perfectly cooked each time I've been in and including it with a spoonful of charro beans and some rice in a flour tortilla topped with a different salsa for each taco ate is my preferred way of eating this delicious bird.
Grilled Chicken Plate
Carlos cooks up the flavors from his homeland, the state of Durango located in Northern Mexico. So you can also expect handmade flour tortillas, real deal Chihuahua style burritos made with those tortillas and also some really good specialty taco options such as steak and also chicken fajitas. You don't give a Chicagoland roundup of where to eat the best Mexican food without including this place.
Chicken Fajita Tacos__________________________________________________
Located on 26th street in Little Village
Hard to miss this when rolling down 26th street, the huge neon sign announcing "carne en eu jugo" is at least 15 feet in length however there isn't much on this place out there. I was surprised about that and tried it a while back after I found myself passing by and hungry. I ordered a bowl of CESJ and wasn't blown away by what I got but I did enjoy it. The broth could of been a little bit stronger and the steak a higher quality but I've had worse. Though they didn't bother me this order included tomatoes which I really didn't think it needs. Turns out one of my food circuit friends had been here and thought it was awful. However what he described wasn't what I got so maybe they got better and or have some consistency issues. Also of note is the tacos de canasta are dang good.
Carne en su Jugo__________________________________________________
I mentioned this great bowl of soup already in a SE staff special so I'm just going to quote myself again to remind you this is a great option this winter. "I'll throw out another great option. This one is found in Portage Park at an unassuming place called Pueblo Nuevo. While everything I've tried here, from the complimentary chips and salsa to the tacos, has been great, it's the bowl of pozole that keeps me coming back. They do a verde version with chicken that has a wonderfully potent broth that reaches maximum satisfaction when you add everything from the garnish plate into the bowl. Served Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the $7.50 special can easily make for a meal for two." It's still good and may even be available all week though call ahead of time make sure, the tacos are Tour Approved.
The Fox River Valley remains littered with great mom and pop un-yelped about Mexican spots and this one caught my eye with the mention of flour gorditas in the sign. I stopped in and tried one with beans and cheese. A nicely crisped exterior shell was complimented by a creamy inside. I enjoyed them the same way I do flour tortillas, great to have now and then though I prefer the traditional style.
Newly opened on 63rd Street in Marquette Park
When riding down 63rd street I spied this new place located next door to Taco Villa. Upon further inspection I spied the sign and read they they specialize in both "Tacos de Ollita" and also Tacos Ahogados" the latter of which I've tried before but the former was new to me. After stepping inside I was greeted by the all in the family operation and complimented with a comforting bowl of fideo and also a basket of chips with a terrific warm red salsa that would be the start of a great meal.
On the house
The tacos ahogadas come in orders of four. You get one ground beef, one carnitas, one bean and one potato with the order though I'm sure they'd let you mix and match if you asked. The tacos are fried to order and then just like a torta ahogada they get smothered in a light red sauce, chopped cabbage adds extra crunch. These are quite a treat and something I'll be indulging in when I'm near there.
Then there's the Tacos de Ollita which I looked up online before entering but only found results of places in Mexico. So I don't think these are a specific regional style of taco like those above but rather tacos made with the family matriarchs signature guisados. At least thats what the options of them make me believe. You can try them with guisado de pollo, chicharron, papas, birria and others. I decided to try the guisado de pollo since it was the first one listed and also the choripollo since the combination of both chorizo and chicken sounded good. These also came topped with just cabbage and were served on el milagro tortillas. Each one was tasty with the guisado de pollo being dominated by the red chile sauce (I was asked if I wanted red or green) and the choripollo being what you'd expect as far as flavors. This place will be popular in the neighborhood.
Tacos de Ollita__________________________________________________
101 West Grand Avenue
Northlake, IL 60164
3616 W 26th St
Chicago, IL 60623
4342 N Central Ave
Chicago, IL 60634
El Charro Mexican Restaurant
3141 W. 63rd St.
Chicago, IL 60629