Six delicious (and attitude-free) taquerias
Carmela’s Taquería The walls are painted in bright, whimsical colors and dotted with the occasional painting. Yet, somehow, the divier parts of this tiny taqueria are what seem to stick out: the battered stools, the menu above the grill, the terse short-order cooks. Luckily, it takes only a few bites to forget about atmosphere. Order the tacos al pastor, tortillas bulging with pork carved off the spit and thrown on the griddle until dotted with crunchy bits of char, or a chorizo torta, the oily sausage mingling with avocado to rich, creamy results. After those, the look of the place will be the last thing on your mind. 1206 W Lawrence Ave (773-275-5321). El : Red to Lawrence. Bus: 22, 36, 81. Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $3.
El Norte You can get the same atmosphere—or lack thereof—at any of the taquerias that pepper this intersection of Ridge and Broadway. But you can’t get this gem’s fantastic housemade horchata redolent of cinnamon and nutmeg. You probably couldn’t find a mole as complex, with its sweet, long finish. A carnitas taco anywhere else probably won’t be as overstuffed or juicy. And you’d be hard-pressed to get such food at the same time—on the weekends, this place is open 24 hours. 5600 N Ridge Ave (773-728-0182). El: Red to Bryn Mawr. Bus: 36, 84, 136, 147, 151. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $7.
La Pasadita When this taqueria opened in 1976, did the owners have any idea that eventually they’d open an identical spot right across the street? Or a third next door to the second one? And did they know that their incomparable steak tacos would make this place the North Side’s iconic taco joint—the one we take visitors to, even if those visitors are fancy, four-star chefs? Most likely, the owners couldn’t imagine any of this. But for those of us who didn’t know Ashland Avenue without Pasadita, we couldn’t image it any other way. 1141 N Ashland Ave (773-278-0384). El: Blue to Division. Bus: 9, 56, 70. Sun–Thu 10am–1am; Fri, Sat 10am–3am. Average taco: $3.
Taquería el Asadero It’s not going to win any awards for most welcoming decor, but look past the Big Buck Hunter arcade game and the handful of tables that could use some busing, and you’ll find some of the freshest tacos in town. Meats are grilled on the spot (our favorite is the perfectly spiced carne asada), then sprinkled with fresh cilantro and onion and served up with a fiery, take-no-prisoners salsa verde. Wash it down with a cooling horchata and a side of creamy, made-to-order guac—served with a mound of fresh-from-the-fryer chips—that rivals the fancy tableside preparations you’ll find at upscale Mexican spots around town. 2213 W Montrose Ave (773-583-5563). El: Brown to Western. Bus: 11, 49, 78. Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $5.
Taquería los Gallos 2 On the weekends, this intensely popular taqueria is packed to the rafters with families enjoying steaming bowls of menudo and carne en su jugo—the house specialty. During the week it’s a bit mellower and menudo isn’t on offer, but you can still order the carne en su jugo. (This version of the primordial beef soup doesn’t come with grilled knob onions, so don’t forget to order them separately.) Not into soup? Order the carne apache, essentially carne en su jugo without the broth—steak, beans, radish and avocado served with tortillas. Folks from Jalisco say this spot is as close to home as it gets. 4252 S Archer Ave (773-254-2081). Bus: 52, 62, 94. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $7.
Taquería Tayahua This Little Village taqueria distinguishes itself by its location off the main strip, but also with its food, which is a step above the standard 26th Street fare. Camarones a la diabla, shrimp in a fiery red sauce, are flanked by a pile of buttery, corn-studded rice; caldo de res (beef soup) overflows with corn on the cob and a succulent, savory slice of beef; and tacos come with deliciously sweet grilled onions. Don’t worry about getting addicted—thanks to its late-night hours (open 24 hours on the weekends), you’ll never have to go without a fix. 2411 S Western Ave (773-247-3183). El: Pink to Western. Bus: 21, 49. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $7.