The best tacos in 28 Chicago neighborhoods
Put down the pizza, and the hot dogs, and the Italian beefs -- dude, just for a minute, you can pick them back up when we're done -- and direct your attention toward the taco. From the Mom-and-Pop, Spanish-speaking spots all the way up to the many designer taco shops that rule the social media world, we've got lots to offer. Here's a favorite from each neighborhood:
Albany ParkTaqueria San Matias (address and info)
What you're getting: Taco alambre
This little Madre-y-Padre taqueria puts out one of the best regional tacos on the North Side. Finely diced steak joins bacon, sautéed bell peppers, and melted cheese to make one of the greatest taco combinations known to Chicago man.
Archer HeightsBirrieria Zaragoza (address and info)
What you're getting: Birria taco
Baby goat never tasted so sweet. This regional style of the more well-known barbacoa was brought to Chicago by the namesake Zaragoza family. The goat gets a long steam and is then rubbed with a ancho-mole sauce before being baked. The end result is one of the city's great culinary treasures, served on sturdy homemade tortillas strong enough to handle the juicy meat. Try them with the red fire-roasted salsa to get the full effect.
AvondaleTaqueria La Zacatecana (address and info)
What you're getting: Carne asada
Tucked away on a residential corner is this taqueria that's popular with both locals and folks driving by en route elsewhere. Tender skirt steak takes a turn on the grill before getting chopped up and thrown into a tortilla. Make sure to use the salsa verde -- it goes great with their grilled steak.
BridgeportTacos Erendira (address and info)
What you're getting: Guisado de puerco taco
Guisados (aka stews) are often used to make tacos. One of the better offerings in Chicagoland comes from this South Side favorite. Chunks of pork butt are simmered in a red chile sauce until they're fall-apart tender. It's one of my favorite tacos in Chicago, especially on a cold winter day.
BucktownEstrella Negra (address and info)
What you're getting: Breakfast tacos
We don't do breakfast tacos like Austin, TX -- then again, no one does. Still, there are some worthy options for tacos in the morning. Sitting at the front of the line would be the bacon, egg, and cheese offerings from this cute little BYOB hidden just East of Western on Fullerton. It's a great place to kill a too-much-whiskey-last-night-headache on the cheap.
East VillageAuthentaco (address and info)
What you're getting: Huitlacoche taco
This semi-new stop specializing in, uh, authentic tacos offers a handful-plus of guisado (stewed meat) options. The corn smut -- which doesn't sound too appealing, so they choose to call it by its Spanish name, huitlacoche -- is what you're gonna want to get; a savory, smokey, earthy, easily-adjective-able umami bomb served on handmade tortillas by the ladies in the window.
EdgewaterCookies & Carnitas (address and info)
What you're getting: Carnitas
If Edgewater ever becomes hip, give some credit to these guys for the movement. Originally of Green City Market fame, they're getting in on Chicago's newest culinary tradition: top-notch, designer tacos. Unlike many others around town, these come loaded.
Humboldt ParkCemitas Puebla (address and info)
What you're getting: Tacos Arabes
One of the signature Mexican restaurants in a great dining city. And while it can be hard to not order a namesake sandwich, two tacos for lunch can be just as good. Marinated pork is stacked tall on a vertical spit and cooked until crispy, then it's sliced off and placed in a pillow-like tortilla thats able to hold everything together as you savor each and every bite. Not to mention their smokey chipotle salsa is one of the best in the city.
Irving ParkEl Potosi (address and info)
What you're getting: Chorizo and egg taco
This small Mom-and-Pop taco shack looks like it belongs somewhere along the Southern California coast. Sometimes you just need a quick fix, and they offer that in their chorizo and egg taco. Fresh Mexican chorizo gets crisped up before a few eggs are mixed in. Much better than a McMuffin.
LakeviewBIG & little's (address and info)
What you're getting: Samurai taco
Everyone has their own favorite from here. Mine is the Samurai, which comes with fried whitefish, jalapeños, lettuce, and their special Samurai sauce. It's then topped with lime juice and sesame seed and makes for one of the better fusion tacos in town.
Lincoln ParkDel Seoul (address and info)
What you're getting: Sambal fish taco
Is this the best fish taco in Chicago? Maybe? Especially since it always comes with a perfectly fried hunk of tempura-battered fish that's topped with pickled red onions, Napa slaw, and their signature spicy sambal sauce. Not all fusion tacos are created equally.
Lincoln SquareLa Cabana de Don Luis (address and info)
What you're getting: Bistek con rajas
If you like spice, then this one is for you. Tender marinated strips of steak are stir fried alongside sautéed strips of jalapeño and onion. A very tasty taco.
Little Italy/University VillageDe Pasada (address and info)
What you're getting: Carne Asada Super Taco
As the neighborhood continues to shift from Italian to college kids mixed with nurses and doctors, the food selection expands. The Super Tacos are loaded with carne asada and topped with everything. These are best consumed after a night of barhopping up and down Taylor -- it's big with the college kids.
Little VillageTaqueria Los Barrilitos (address and info)
What you're getting: Taco al pastor
One of the great taco pockets in the city makes it hard to pick just one, but the tacos al pastor here are one of the most crave-worthy items in Chicago. Perfectly seasoned bits of meat are shaved off as you order. Pro tip: top it with some of their house-pickled onion with habanero to take it to the next level.
Logan SquareL'Patron (address and info)
What you're getting: Shrimp taco
It's hard to choose just one taco off the menu here, but you'll find yourself going back for their fantastic representations of fish tacos -- both the shrimp and the fish are heavenly. The fresh fried seafood packed into homemade tortillas exemplifies why tacos have become one of America's favorites.
Mount GreenwoodLa Fiesta Mexican Restaurant (address and info)
What you're getting: Taco Sombrero
This far South Side favorite has a few interesting taco options on its menu, including the Sombrero. It's made with steak that's simmered in a spicy sauce, bacon, onion, jalapeño, and cilantro. The tortilla gets a little dip in red enchilada sauce, making for a very pleasing taco with real spice in each bite.
Near West SideLa Lagartija Taqueria (address and info)
What you're getting: Shrimp taco
It's Bulls/Blackhawks season. If you're heading to a game at the United Center and need to eat beforehand, the shrimp tacos here are some of the better crustacean tacos you'll come across. Three pieces get a dip in a Negro Modelo batter before being perfectly fried. When you're wishing you were at that little oceanside taco shack you visited in Mexico, but instead have to go to work all week -- that's another good time to head here for a quick fix.
North CenterTaqueria El Asadero (address and info)
What you're getting: Carne asada
What separates the steak tacos here from most of the city's other options? The fact that they always grill strips of skirt steak to order, making them juicer than the rest of the competition.
Norwood ParkMom's Old Recipe Mexican Restaurant (address and info)
What you're getting: Tacos acorazados
These tacos are a specialty in both Cuernavaca, Mexico and on the menu here. Two homemade, open-faced corn tortillas are topped with rice and strips of breaded steak, and come served with special potatoes made with jalapeño peppers. Topped with a creamy honey chipotle mayo, the only challenge is eating these without a knife and fork.
PilsenCarnitas Uruapan (address and info)
What you're getting: Carnitas taco
This Pilsen stalwart has been going strong since it first opened in 1975. The goal was to bring the authentic style of carnitas made in Uruapan, Mexico to Chicago, and a generation later this spot still welcomes legions of new fans with their fried-to-perfection goodness.
Portage ParkEl Taco Feliz (address and info)
What you're getting: Cochinita
The cochinita served here isn't of the pibil variety that most people are used to. Instead, it's a cochinita estilo Guerrero. Five different types of dried chiles marinate a pork roast which cooks until it's fall-apart tender. It's the first meat mentioned in the taco section of the menu. It's also the owner's Grandma's famous recipe, which she used to sell street-side back in Guerrero. The final result is both sweet and spicy.
River NorthGT Fish & Oyster (address and info)
What you're getting: Fish tacos
While not a Mexican restaurant, it does sell lots of fish, so it's fitting that the fish tacos be our winner. While the fish used can vary, the crispy chicharrón toppings always give each bite some crunch.
Rogers ParkRocky's Tacos (address and info)
What you're getting: Tacos pioneros
The specialty tacos from this torta-driven spot can be quite satisfying... if you're even feeling up to the challenge. Steak, bacon, and ham sit atop a literal bed of cheese, joined by grilled onions and cactus. You'll get this served in platter form ($10) with rice and beans, plus tortillas on the side. It's pretty much the same style as alambres. A little research shows that this dish may have originated at a popular food stop in Michoacán, Mexico called Taqueria Pioneros.
UptownCarmela's Taqueria (address and info)
What you're getting: Tacos al pastor
The first sign you should be looking for when it comes to good al pastor is a trompo spinning with marinated pork meat on it. And Carmela's has exactly that.
Ukrainian VillageTaqueria Traspasada (address and info)
What you're getting: Suadero taco
The second outlet of this restaurant almost always has steady business, no matter what hour of the day. There are lots of ways to go, but the move here is the steak suadero taco. Made with chunks of beef from a different part of the cow than the standard skirt steak, the end result features a smoothly textured meat with a crispy exterior.
West LoopBar Takito (address and info)
What you're getting: Fish tacos
The newest outpost from the ever-expanding Takito empire features an upscale modern take on fresh Mexican cooking. Look no further than the fish tacos, served on a house-made herb tortilla. Paired with kimchi, crispy rice, and avocado, they take on some modern Asian flair without hiding the freshness of the fish.
West LawnZacatacos (address and info)
What you're getting: Steak tacos
The first location, of what's now a handful, opened up in 1996. To this day the steak is still being cooked the same way -- over open flames before being loaded into a tortilla. The fact that there's most always foot traffic means your steak won't be sitting for long after it's finished grilling -- resulting in a worthy taco for this list.
Wicker ParkAntique Taco (address and info)
What you're getting: Pork carnitas
In the land of designer tacos, these are maybe the best. Well-fried hunks of pork are rubbed with a tamarind glaze and topped with bacon, spinach, onion, and queso.
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Titus Ruscitti is a contributing writer for Thrillist and the man behind Chicago Taco Tour. You can join him on his taco-specific travels throughout the cityscape there, or his general food ones on his blog, where he's single-handedly tackled close to 1,000 food stops. Follow him @chibbqking.