Friday, August 21, 2020

Back of the Yards Street Taco Tour

- On the road with the 'Chicago Taco Tour'

Regular readers might remember a popular post from last year featuring street tacos in Chicago. Well today I have a sequel to that. We'll be heading to the Swap-O-Rama Flea Market on Ashland where on weekends there's a large concentration of street vendors surrounding it. The Swap-O-Rama has three locations in Chicago but it's the Back of the Yards location on Ashland that's the most popular. Although they're open on some weekdays you want to visit when it's at it's peak on the weekend.

Swap-O-Rama on Ashland

The flea market itself is pretty massive. I'd say it stretches for a few blocks (each way) outside and then there's probably 100+ vendor stalls inside. I'm not going to lie. Most of what's being sold is junk. But not everything as you can find stuff like ziplock bags, car tires, socks, and even toys for kids. It's a family affair as the walkways are lined with them out enjoying their weekends. As far as my interests go there's a few vendors specializing in chiles, nuts and candy, and also beans. It's a $2 entrance fee to get in and will take you at least 40 minutes to walk around all of the outside. It's big.

Sights from the Flea Market

The flea market is cool for like 15 minutes but the real reason you want to venture out here is the street food found outside the market. The best place to start is the corner of 42nd street and Marshfield. This is where the action is. Depending on the time of the day you're likely to find more than 20+ vendors lining both Marshfield from 42nd street to 43rd street and then also 43rd street from Marshfield all the way down to Western. The vendors on 43rd street are a bit more spread out so you may want to drive up and down as opposed to walk. Parking is pretty easy though it can get busy on Sunday's. I've visited a few times this summer and only a few of the vendors have been there every time. They seem to come and go so consider this the best of what's been there on my visits.

Sights from Back of the Yards 

Mesquite Grilled Steak Tacos

Despite it's size there's only a few food vendors inside the actual market. One of them was worth stopping for as soon as I smelled the smoke. I don't have a name but it's easy to find this stand as it's directly to the right of the indoors entrance. You'll see a crowd and if they're grilling the steak you'll see a cloud of smoke hovering above. They grill beef over mesquite charcoal and load the tacos up with a couple handfuls worth of smokey steak. I could easily down a few but there's lots to eat here.

Carne Asada Taco in the Swap-O-Rama

Tacos De Canasta 

Today's virtual walk through will start at the corner of 42nd street and Marshfield. On a few of my visits there's been a family selling tacos de canasta in the morning. Some vendors will arrive earlier than others and leave earlier too. I'd say peak time is from 10a-1p. Tacos de Canasta being one of the most popular forms of breakfast in Mexico. They're getting big here too finally. Click HERE for more.

Tacos De Canasta in Back of the Yards 

Tacos de Cabeza

Cabeza (cow head) is another popular breakfast taco in Mexico. I've had some amazing tacos de cabeza down there. They don't seem to be quite as good here but I was intrigued by this stand that sets up on Marshfield here and there. Both the cabeza and al pastor are worth stopping for. 

Cabeza Taco in Back of the Yards 

Carnitas Tacos

You can pretty much count on this family from Michoacán to be selling carnitas on both Saturday's and Sunday's. They've been up and running on each of my visits. You can tell they're popular bc cars will pull up and order a bunch of food to take somewhere and eat. Carnitas are fried up on site in a huge copper pot and available a variety of ways. Whether it's in a taco or quesadilla they make the tortillas for both on site. Really nice family with multiple generations working. Loved the surtido taco.

Carnitas Taco in Back of the Yards

Tacos de Birria

This stand on Marshfield just off 43rd (across from Don Bigotes) popped up a couple weeks ago. They're selling birria de res which if you read my recent story on you'd know is one of the hottest trends in food. You can find my recent story on where to get it in Chicago HERE. In the meantime add this little stand to the list. They make their quesabirria by putting the cheese in between two tortillas which isn't as good as melting it with the meat but it's still a nice taco with tender birria.

Quesabirria in Back of the Yards 

Tacos Acorazados

I stopped on 43rd as soon as I saw the sign for these. “Battleship tacos” are a regional specialty from Cuernavaca where they load them up with rice, hard boiled egg, grilled onion, nopales, guisados, and more. Not only are these rare in the States but they're pretty rare in Mexico outside of Morelos as well. Steak Milanesa is a popular filling and is a great choice here. This little stand is ran by a lovely couple from Cicero via Cuernavaca. Ask for "milanesa con huevo por favor". Their rice is so good.

Taco Acorazado in Back of the Yards


One of the most popular stands is this little blue awning that covers a large frying pot. These guys sell gorditas, pescadillas, and pieces of fried fish. I saw one girl eating what looked like a jalapeno stuffed with shredded fish, breaded and then fried. They also sell tacos de canasta and have a taco truck that parks on Archer near Montgomery. Pescadillas are hard shell tacos with shredded fish and sometimes cheese inside. One of the guys makes these nonstop as another fries them and another collects cash. The tortillas are held together with tooth picks so be careful for those if you try them. I cant eat more than two but damn they're delicious. Another thing I love about street taco stands is they usually have a really good salsa bar setup and that's the case here. Look for them on 43rd street. They seem to be there every weekend from what I can tell. Worth the stop for sure.

Pescadillas in Back of the Yards 

Tacos al Pastor 

There's a few stands selling al pastor sliced from the trompo. None are as good as Lucido's but this one based out of a loading dock on 43rd is still worth a stop. It's more of the Chicago Style al pastor in that it's sliced pretty thick from the cone and then blackened up on the flattop. If you've had the al pastor from Tierra Caliente or El Heredero on the city's Northside this is very similar. The difference is in the salsa bar. This stand probably has the best salsa bar on the block as there's at least ten options on the table including a fantastic smokey red salsa served out of a molcajete. Great setup.

Tacos al Pastor in Back of the Yards 

Barbacoa de Borrego

If you turn down onto 43rd street from Western you'll go down a couple blocks and then this stand will be the first one you pass. It may be the most popular of them all as there's always a crowd and I tried to go once around 1p and they were already done for the day. Their specialty is barbacoa borrego but they also serve up carne asada and a few other common taco fillings. That said it's the lamb they tout so that's what they consider their specialty and I stop for specialists. These were a great breakfast the day I ate them which was about 93 degrees so the aguas frescas was extra refreshing. 

Barbacoa de Borrego Tacos in Back of the Yards 

See ya next time @chibbqking

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