Monday, July 29, 2019

Chicago's Street Taco Scene

- On the road with the 'Chicago Taco Tour'

It's not quite to the likes of "taco trucks on every corner" but Chicago has a legit street taco scene. Before we get into them let's get one thing clear. Street tacos come from the street. It irritates the heck out of me when restaurants describe their tacos as "street tacos" when they're being served from the comfort of a nice open air kitchen at $5 a piece. Street tacos don't have to be cheap but they aren't meant to be fancy. They serve a need and that need is something quick and delicious. If I have to walk into a restaurant sit down greet the water guy and then answer the waitresses question about whether or not I've eaten here before after which she'll give me some time to browse the menu then you don't serve street tacos. The only time one should be waiting on street tacos is when the stand is so busy there's a line to eat. Then you wait and get high off the smells coming from the truck.

Tacos de Canasta from a vendor in Piotrowski Park

Before we get to the goods I cant guarantee that these spots will always be around. They could go away real quickly out of nowhere. Sometimes to reappear in an actual storefront and other times never to be seen again. That's been the case with the family from Cuernavaca that used to set up shop near Sacramento and Milwaukee right where a new development is going in. Your best bet for finding most of these is the weekend. This is by no means a complete list as there's always more to be had. Heck just yesterday I came across a popular new to me tacos de canasta vendor but they ran out as I waited in line. Next time. Do you got a favorite spot? Email so I can try them. Also for those interested in a personal taco tour of these spots or others I'm giving private tours (for now) to groups of 2-4. Email for info. Otherwise feel free to embark out on your own.

Tacos de Discada from Memo's Tacos (6322 w. Grand - Storefront with Street stand on weekends)

La Chaparrita Ricos Tacos de Canasta

The La Chaparrita name is one most who love tacos in Chicago know. But did you know they have a second location? It's not quite the same as the original but the brother in-law also does tacos de canasta on the streets. Found South on Kedzie (near 31st) in an old docking lot on most mornings. These are some of the better tacos de canasta in Chicago as they're made fresh each morning and then left to steam while waiting to be sold. Yes that's the traditional way to make them but not all places do them this way. I think the fact they're served from a literal stand makes this so. You have to make them before you go. Choose from about 4/5 fillings and enjoy them with chopped cabbage and pickled jalapenos and carrots on top. You can also find tamales and aguas frescas from these guys.

Tacos de Canasta on Kedzie

 Tacos De Canasta Rossy 

This Hermosa pop-up is one of my favorites. Every weekend (morning into early afternoon) a large extended family sets up shop in a storefront at 4138 W. Armitage. I'm not sure how long they've been there but I first noticed them a couple months ago and since then the place has been packed. You walk in and you'll see three or four different coolers with ladies picking stuff out of them. Those are the tacos de canasta or if you want to be exact in your description they're tacos al vapor as technically they're not served out of a basket. It doesn't matter bc these are super good. They make four different fillings with beans, potato, chicken in mole, and a spicy chicharrón. For those who've been watching the "Taco Chronicles" on Netflix and really liked the tacos de canasta episode - this is your spot. 

Tacos de Canasta on Armitage

Tacos El Torito

If this little stand looks familiar you're probably not mistaken. The Tacos El Torito people have built a small empire and now have multiple stands across the city. I believe they originally got their start in an empty lot across from the Regal City Movie Theater on Western. These days one of their stands can most always be found on Kimball near Joong Boo Market and also along Clark in Rogers Park. They offer up one type of taco and it's cabeza (steamed head). They've inspired others to do the same in that I've seen imitators so to say.

Taco de Cabeza from Tacos el Torito

Lucido's Tacos

We may have reached a new peak for tacos al pastor in Chicago. These are from Lucido’s Tacos. Again not technically street tacos but instead "house tacos". Lucido's is a wkd only taqueria ran out of a house at 2359 S. Hamlin in Little Village. I found it one day while what else? Driving by. It reminded me alot of a few of the restaurants I've visited in Mexico in that it's ran out of a house. It's a full fledged family operation with the trompo basically being one of the children. It's taken such good care of I knew when I walked in that I had come upon some real deal tacos al pastor. It was perfect.

a peek inside

Notice the thinly layered meat cut directly from a trompo in the picture below? It never touched a flattop. I’m in love. I also tried a ‘Taco el Toro’ made with chopped al pastor crisped up on a flattop with chorizo in a bath of spicy red salsa. It was awesome. Don’t be intimidated to enter the house. The family that runs this place is from Jalisco and is as friendly as can be. I need an excuse to throw a party so I can have them come through with a taquiza. Hopefully they achieve all of their dreams.

Tacos al Pastor from Lucido's Tacos

Neza Kitchen

This yellow taco truck sets up daily in a lot just off the train tracks at 3300 S. Pulaski. There's always regulars pulling up in their car (the lot is vacated) and popping out for tacos. They sell what they call Mexico City style street food in tacos and quesadillas. The fillings are all your standard offerings which you can see in the menu on the truck in the pic above. You may notice the Suadero listed as that's what caught my eye. Their description of "just try it" is a good one as I always do whenever I see it on menu. This is one of a few tacos Mexico City can actually claim on it's own. Suadero comes from the part of the cow between the belly and the leg. It's cooked like carnitas in that it's fried until tender. Neza has a nice selection of salsas and gratis items like grilled onion and cucumber.

Taco de Suadero at Neza Kitchen

Tacos Y Salsa Truck

I've come upon this truck a few times. Most recently near Richmond and 47th. The reason I like this truck so much is it has the best salsa bar by far of any of the trucks. Taco fillings are mostly typical and I'm sure they got other things but I cant remember exactly what. Both the carne asada and suadero are solid. Said salsa bar which sits in front has it all. You can dress the tacos up nicely.

Fully Dressed Tacos at Tacos Y Salsa

Boritacos Food Truck

You'll find the Boritacos food truck parked in Humboldt Park on most nice days. They're a Puerto Rican owned taco truck that also offers up jiabritos. They slang a delicious taco alambre which is Spanish for wires which is what the cheese is supposed to mimic when you eat your alambre platter with a fork. In taco form it just comes in a tortilla. Boritacos makes their alambre with steak, bacon, chorizo, peppers, and cheese. It's one of the better bites from the food vendors found around the park.

Taco Alambre from Boritacos

 Kilbourn Park Cafe 

You gotta love Chicago's City Parks system. We have some really good ones. Kilbourn Park is located off of both Addison and Roscoe on Kilbourn street. Closer to Addison you'll find a little permanently parked food truck. They have an extended menu of Mexican offerings including full breakfast plates and tacos. I sat in the sun and enjoyed a taco campechano which is slang for mixed.

Taco Campechano (Steak/Chorizo) at Kilbourn Park

 Taco Stand at Montrose and Hamlin 

I haven't seen this family yet this summer. So I wasn't sure to include them or not but just in case they're still there I wanted to share. This spot reminds me a lot of the previously mentioned stand over near Sacramento and Milwaukee. They have a really nice setup with aguas frescas available too. The cecina and barbacoa tacos are both really good. Made even more so by a top notch salsa bar.

Barbacoa (L) and Cecina (R) Street Tacos

Pescaditos Estilo D.F (2732 W. Cermak)

Next stop is an absolute gem. There's nothing else like Pescaditos estilo D.F in Chicago. It's a literal mom and pop stand where the pop fry's sliced filets of fish while mom collects the cash. They set up Fri.-Sun. from about 3p to 8p. I was hesitant to share this spot bc it already has a loyal following and the lines can get long. That said they deserve to sell out early each day even if that means a few people don't get to enjoy their slivers of fish fried fresh. Come back tomorrow. If you go to my instagram stories and check the 'ChiStreetFood' video you can watch the guy as he swirls around a bunch of fish that's frying away in his comal shaped fryer. Technically these arent tacos bc they're sold as is with lime and a little cup of El Tapatio which goes perfectly on the fish. That said most people buy them in bulk and return to their homes where they put them in tortillas with cabbage etc.

Fried Fish Strips from Pescaditos estilo D.F

 Taco Loco of Pilsen 

Pilsen probably has the highest concentration of street taco stands in the city. Walk around on a weekend night and you're sure to stumble upon a few of them. One of the most popular is Taco Loco which is no secret. They have a listing on google, yelp etc. It's a streetside stand set up at 2022 S. Leavitt in front of what I believe to be the owners house. The fillings here are pretty typical but I'm partial to the steak which gets cooked with a bunch of sliced onions. The chorizo is pretty good too as he crisps it up real nicely. The option to add pinto beans is one you dont see everywhere although when I do it usually tends to be at street tacos spots like this. The big hit here is the house salsa bar.

Street Tacos in Pilsen

Chavelo's Tacos Estilo Guadalajara

One of the city's best kept dining secrets right here. Just in that this place takes the gold for most authentic "atmosphere" by which I mean it's a setup like you'd find in Mexico. Every Fri., Sat. and Sun. night the team from Chavelo's (2702 W. 47th st) sets up shop in the parking lot of Mariscos Tio Luis (4225 W. 47th st). They have a special taco that you wont find at many spots in Chicago. It's the Taco Dorado estilo Guadalajara. Birria de Res is cooked in a reddish liquid that's used to dip the tortillas into and then stuff with shredded beef. They then cook the taco on a flattop turning it semi crispy. These are ate all over Guadalajara and I love them. Chavelo's makes a really good one. Also great is the lengua which when good tastes like the richest of rich beef. The salsas are nice if a bit limited in that they only have two. But both of them work great on the tacos dorados de Jalisco.

Tacos at Chavelo's

El Asador

One night on the way home from Chavelo's I noticed another outdoor setup just down the block. The guys at El Asador (4117 W. 47th st.) also have a weekend gig where they make tacos outside. They have a fresh spit of al pastor as seen in the picture up above. They slice them into thin almost individual pieces but don't sleep on these. Some of the better ones outside of the top spots most commonly mentioned. I'm pretty sure this is also BYOB as most of the tables had sixers of Modelo.

Tacos al Pastor from El Asador

See ya next time @chibbqking #ChiTacoTour


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