Food & Drink

Everywhere in Chi to celebrate not-Mexican independence

Published On 04/28/2013 Published On 04/28/2013
Delicious Mexican food

Did you know Cinco de Mayo isn't actually Mexican Independence Day? Did you know if you tell people that this Sunday, they'll think you're so boring? Did you know if you instead tell them where to find the best guacamole, margs, waitresses, and other choice nuggets of wisdom, they'll be forever indebted to you? So, yeah, get this knowledge that'll actually prove useful in maximizing your Cinco de Mayo revelry. Best Margaritas Mercadito 108 W Kinzie St; 312.329.9555 When there're nearly 100 tequilas on the menu, you’ve got a fun problem on your hands (yell out whatever remedial Spanish you know and chances are it's a tequila they serve). The Aztec-themed parlor whips up mean margaritas in both fruity and smoky varieties; try the Big Nose Goes to Mexico for blanco and reposado tequilas, dark rum, guava, almond, and fiery spices. Click here for more marg madness... Craziest Taco Filling Don Pedro Carnitas 1113 W 18th St; 312.829.4757 The deep-fried brain tacos at Don Pedro Carnitas are tasty enough to have you empathizing with the walking dead. The pig brain has a savory, soft interior with a tasty crust that plays well with their salsa. Click here for braaaains... Best Salsa L'Patron Tacos 2815 W Diversey; 773.252.6335 This place could win for any number of categories, with their tasty homemade corn tortillas, or guacamole with pomegranate seeds and dried cranberries. But it’s their rotating seasonal salsas that really make their hand-battered tilapia tacos sing. Not literally. That'd be off-putting. Salsa to your heart's content... Best Guacamole Frontera Grill 445 N Clark St; 312.661.1434 Rick Bayless has been pushing guac at Frontera longer than you've been alive (possibly), so whether you go with the green chile-kicked classic or something more adventurous like a mango number with queso cincho, you're in good hands. You know you want some, Hass... Best Outdoor Space Big Star 1531 N Damen; 773.235.4039 There's a reason another Thrillist denizen recently dubbed Big Star the best outdoor spot in the city, and, considering the quality of their tacos and margs, it's clearly not going to relinquish that title for Cinco-celebrating. Click here to see even more... Best Nachos Hub 51 51 W Hubbard St; 312.828.0051 While the automatic cheese dispenser at Wrigley put up a valiant effort, Hub 51’s pulled chicken nachos knock it out of the park (!) with a mix of white cheddar and Oaxaca cheeses to go with chile-braised chicken, guacamole, and roasted salsa. Passing them up would be... nacho best move... Hottest Waitresses Ay Chiwowa 311 W Chicago; 312.643.3200 Not only does this Rockit property have beeritas and jalapeno margaritas, but the women serving them up could pass as lucha libre ring girls. Maybe you can impress them with a moonsault on the dance floor, which is decidedly better than standing in the corner wearing a Rey Mysterio mask. Say it... Ay Chiwowa! Best Tequila Selection Masa Azul 2901 W Diversey Ave; 773.687.0300 The nearly 90-strong list runs from blancos to single-barrel extra anejos, and includes a selection of mezcal and lesser-known sotol (made from a plant known as the Desert Spoon, which may have you hallucinating more than Homer after a Guatemalan insanity pepper). The agave runs strong here...

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1. Mercadito 108 W Kinzie St, Chicago, IL 60610 (River North)

After becoming a Mexican resto institution and favorite in NYC, Mercadito is now in Chi town and just as good. They're serving up creative, updated tacos -- pastor with grilled pineapple, chipotle-glazed pork belly -- along with some interesting guacamole alternatives, including one with mango. Best of all may be their nearly 100 tequila options, which, rest assured, go towards some crazy good margaritas.

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2. Don Pedro Carnitas 1113 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608 (Pilsen)

This extremely authentic taqueria lets you order porky goodness by the pound and sample their fares while you wait for them to carve up your pig. You can also build your own tacos with their carnitas, cilantro, onions, and fresh, warm tortillas, or opt for the more adventurous route and go for their deep-fried pig brains.

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3. L'Patron Tacos 3749 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

If you thought you could only get decent Mexican street food south of the border, think again – for Chicagoans, it’s as easy as a trip to Logan Square. The market-driven menu at L’Patron includes highlights like carne asada and the signature la gringa, a tortilla with al pastor, Chihuahua cheese, pineapple, and a side of rice and beans. While seating is available, this counter-service taqueria is a lunch hotspot, so get there early to snag a seat and chow down.

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4. Frontera Grill 445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

Frontera Grill is Rick Bayless' first-established restaurant, and it serves up high-end casual Mexican fare inspired by Rick's years of delicious anthropological research South of the border. The margaritas are delectable, and there's even one you can order (the splurge margarita) that will probably leave your pockets empty but your stomach full. The authentic Mexican flavors are best enjoyed on the sidewalk patio where you can people watch.

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5. Big Star 1531 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Chicago)

A lot of things about Wicker Park's Big Star will make you feel like you're in Texas. First, there's the taco-centric menu that features a dozen taco varieties and necessary sides like guacamole and queso. Then there's the drink selection, which is heavy on whiskey, tequila, and craft beer. The massive outdoor patio begs for you to order a margarita and drink the day away, especially during the summer when the seasonal music series is in full swing.

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6. Hub 51 51 W Hubbard St, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

With a menu that includes sushi rolls, great burgers, and a decent amount of wit ("Celebrate all you want, but we don't sing Happy Birthday."), choosing a standout from Hub 51 wasn't easy. But that doesn't mean we didn't do it -- oh, no, we did, and the winner is Hub's small but delicious selection of Mexican dishes, from their pulled chicken nachos and fish tacos to the chicken enchiladas.

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7. Ay Chiwowa 311 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60654 (Near North Side)

Ay Chiwowa's a late-night cantina with cool graffiti decor, 80 different tequilas, and a menu with snacks like tacos and tortas.

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8. Masa Azul 2901 W Diversey Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

For a tequila experience you won't forget, head to Masa Azul. This 50-seat spot serves up nearly 90 different types of tequila varieties. It's not just drinks either, Masa Azul offers great tacos, ceviche, and guac! You know what goes great with Cinco de Mayo? Honestly, any of Azul's nearly 100 tequilas. Narrowing down the list would just be foolish.

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