Since I arrived in Chicago in the Fall and was bombarded with pizza and hot dog dining options, my serious taco search began. I didn’t realize how much tacos were a weekly staple in my diet in Texas until my favorite taco spot wasn’t nearby. Other than Nuevo Leon in Pilsen that has authentic salsa, tacos, and all around ambiance and Cemitas Puebla, where I ordered the tacos even though the owner scolded me in Spanish for not ordering their famous sandwiches (cemitas) that were simple with corn tortillas, chicken, cilantro, and onions just like in El Paso where I hail from, I’m still on a hunt for more of Chicago’s best tacos.
And then I saw an episode of Chicago’s own Chef Jeff Mauro, who won The Next Food Network Star and cooks on his Aunday morning show, The Sandwich King, and believes “everything’s better between two slices of bread”, but tacos totally count. (Jeff, if you are reading this, I want to cook with you!) He visited an authentic Chicago Mexican restaurant called Tierra Caliente with no more than 5 stools at the kitchen counter and was housed in the back of a Mexican grocery store. I immediately asked my food-loving office if they had visited the nearby Chicago taco restaurant in Wicker Park. Three days later, a few of us visited and it lived up to everything I expected.
While they didn’t have chicken and I don’t eat beef often, I embraced the closest-thing-to-Mexican-food-in-Chicago menu and experience. The bowls overflowing with charred jalapenos on the counter drew us in. Two salsas, sweet and spicy, and a splash of lime, elevated the flavors of fresh corn tortillas, fresh herbs and onions, and marinated meat that was rotisserie’d and shaved like a Mediterranean shawarma.
In contrast (but a swell one!), Antique Taco, also in Wicker Park, features a menu that’s modern, casual, and creative. The homemade flour tortillas were fluffy and fresh. The Sweet and Spicy Chicken taco with fresh jalapenos was fresh and full of flavor. But the star of the lunch was the Market Mushroom taco. Marinated mushrooms were meaty, savory, tangy, and a perfect contrast to crunchy, peppery and fresh arugula with a robust guajillo pepper cream. I meant to snap a photo of the interior which had antique (true to its name), homey, and almost Southern charm from the jar of Canel’s old-time gum that my family and I used to see at the market in Juarez, Mexico when I was younger, to the cloth napkins.
So there you have it, two more Chicago taco restaurants, both in Wicker Park, both conjuring reminiscent flavors and memories of authentic Mexican and vintage, comforting and bold flavors. And my search for more Chicago taco spots continues – which are your favorites?