When talking about America’s best taco towns, Chicago -- and its Hispanic metro-area population, which runs nearly 2 million strong -- must be mentioned. You’ve got small mom-and-pop taquerias scattered throughout the city, from the far Southeast Side all the way north to Rogers Park. Then there’s the modern Mexican that chefs like Rick Bayless have put in the forefront of the city's dining scene. The task of choosing where to grab a great taco can be a daunting one when you have so many options, so to alleviate any tortilla anxiety, we’ve come up with a bucket list of the 40 tacos you need to seek out.
The Chicago Taco Bucket List: 40 Tacos to Eat Before You Die
Taqueria El AsaderoAddress and Info
Chicago is a steak-taco town and this one here is the mayor. Extra dedication taken here means you're getting fresh steak directly from the grill to the tortilla. The final product is the most complete steak taco in town. Juicy charred beef mixed with cilantro, onion, and salsa verde inside a warm white corn tortilla is one of the great flavor combinations.
La Lagartija TaqueriaAddress and Info
Near West Side
The best shrimp taco in Chicago consists of three perfectly crispy shrimp that go inside a warm house-made tortilla. You really don't need much more than that but the crunchy slaw and aioli round it all out. Perfect snack for pre-Bulls and -Blackhawks games.
Big StarAddress and Info
The original hipster taco is still one of the best tacos anywhere. Crispy pork belly bathing in a beautiful red-hued chile sauce inside a wonderful house-made tortilla. So loved it’s rare to see someone eat just one.
Ribeye taco (w/ cheese)
Raymond's TacosAddress and Info
One of the best after-midnight snacks, the cheesy tacos are the signature item at Raymond's. Say yes to cheese on your tacos and you'll receive them with gooey American cheese dripping out from within the two tortillas it's melted between. Choosing the ribeye, which comes with grilled onions, morphs this snack into part taco and part cheesesteak, all of it amazing.
Fish n' chips taco
Velvet TacoAddress and Info
The Texas import has fit in well over on the Viagra Triangle. This spot specializes in tacos made with the flavors of other regional dishes, and some of them come through very well. The fish n' chips taco has all the characteristics of the English pub favorite inside a tortilla.
Taco al pastor
Taqueria Los BarrilitosAddress and Info
My favorite tacos al pastor in Chicago. Master taquero Jorge is using his unique family recipe from back in Mexico City. When you walk inside you can expect to see a fat cone of meat with a beautiful red hue. The tacos al pastor recipe goes back to Mexico City and features a few unique ingredients, including cinnamon.
Guisado de puerco taco
Tacos ErendiraAddress and Info
Residents of Bridgeport know all about the juicy pork sitting in a pool of red chile sauce and its healing ability during winter. For the uninitiated, try it in taco form and enjoy the warm vibes it brings to your insides.
Machaca breakfast taco
Jarabe Mexican Street FoodAddress and Info
Finally a place serving the most important meal of the day in taco form and it tastes just like the top spots in Texas. The dried beef mixed with eggs is a favorite breakfast taco of the people down there and should be the same for those of us up here.
Jerk chicken taco
Jerk Taco ManAddress and Info
Easily the most popular taco on the West Side, the line has been known to go around the block. Owner Julius Thomas is an ace behind the steel-drum smoker. His jerk chicken is already great served in the traditional way. But it's his jerk tacos that most people are in line for. The smoky meat gets stuffed inside a corn tortilla and topped with onion, cilantro, and lots of his special-recipe jerk sauce. Say yes to the orange cheese so you can experience the entire package.
La Internacional SupermercadoAddress and Info
Back of the Yards
This little supermercado served steak tacos so popular it ventured out and opened multiple taquerias that go by Paco's. Head straight to the source for some of the best steak tacos in Chicago. On the weekends you'll see the entire grill space dominated by skirt steak.
El MetroAddress and Info
The best item at this hip spot specializing in Mexican street food has got to be the taco de pescado. It's a wonderful mold of warm-weather flavors sure to heat you up. Beer-battered tilapia and sliced red cabbage give it plenty of crunch while the chipotle-mango dressing and Salsa Valentina give it some spice that the pico de gallo helps cool down.
Tacos al pastor
XocoAddress and Info
There are some good things about cold weather in Chicago, one of them being the tacos al pastor at Xoco. Every Wednesday starting at 5pm you can get a taste of what Rick Bayless and his team love about late-night snacking in Mexico City.
Loncar's LiquorsAddress and Info
For many residents of the city's East Side taco day is Wednesday and not on Tuesday. That's because this beloved longtime neighborhood tavern dishes out its famous deep-fried tacos each week. Though you'll receive a bottle of salsa to dress the crispy tacos, it's all about the neon-orange sauce used on the chicken. Ask for some if you don't see it.
Bistek asado taco
Taqueria El MilagroAddress and Info
The boss of all steak tacos. Many are familiar with El Milagro tortillas which are used by vendors all over Chicagoland but only those in the know are aware of the restaurant next door to the tortilla outlet. Here a steak taco is one big chunk of meat cooked on the grill until nice and charred. The only toppings it needs are some crunchy cabbage and the house salsa and all you need is two of them tops.
Cemitas PueblaAddress and Info
Tony Anteliz has created a mini empire with his popular Mexican sandwich spot. As good as the sandwiches are, it's the taco arabe that stands out as the most unique offering. Popular in Puebla, Mexico these tacos have a Middle Eastern background with Mexican flavors. They're slightly spicy, super smoky, and always a crowd-pleaser.
La Cocinita (address and info)
The best chicken tacos in Chicago are also the best food truck tacos. Juicy shredded meat topped with a kickin' chipotle sauce, some crunchy cabbage, and cheese inside a well-heated tortilla has all the flavors and textures one wants in a top taco.
AuthentacoAddress and Info
Often called corn smut, the secret to this potent veggie offering is in the toppings. Order it with a scoop of guacamole and some shredded cheese and you will be pleased. Oh, and those tortillas!
Texas tacos w/ brisket
Rub's Backcountry SmokehouseAddress and Info
BBQ in a tortilla is one of the great cuisine mash-ups of our time. This North Side smokehouse takes its succulent brisket and stuffs it inside a flour tortilla to create a great example of the genre.
Carnitas UruapanAddress and Info
Pure porky goodness. It's the spots that do one thing and one thing only that always seem to shine. That's the case with the family-recipe carnitas at this Pilsen staple. You can get the meat by the pound or in taco form with a lovely red salsa with mild heat to complete it.
Tuna poke taco
Big & Little'sAddress and Info
Near North Side
Chicago's beloved seafood spot makes some pretty good tacos too. The tuna poke takes sushi-grade tuna and stuffs it inside a hard-shell taco. It's the number-one seller on the menu for a reason. It tastes great!
Tacos de sabinas
Nuevo LeonAddress and Info
We've all heard the news by now but the owners said they'll be back. So when they are the first thing you should do upon hearing the news is head on over and get the house-specialty tacos de sabinas. You'll be eating one of the best plates of tacos in Chicago and helping this local favorite make a roaring comeback.
Rocky's TacosAddress and Info
This Rogers Park favorite is known for its ginormous sandwiches named after well-known futbol players but don't overlook the tacos. Particularly the tacos pioneros which is a platter of meats with lots of cheese and even some sauteed veggies for good measure. We advise trying this one on an empty stomach as there’s lots to eat off your plate.
El CarritoAddress and Info
West Rogers Park
There was a time when this stretch of Lincoln was a desert for good tacos. Not anymore now that these guys have opened up shop. House-made tortillas get filled with worthy ingredients such as the crispy fried fish topped with jalapeño cabbage slaw and chipotle aioli. No need for the chains anymore.
Taqueria MazamitlaAddress and Info
A small family-run spot which has a mostly local clientele, this place doesn't grill the steak but makes each and every little bit extra crispy and always uses fresh red onion and cilantro as the toppings. The warming of the tortilla is key to a good taco and here they open that door each time they make one.
Carne asada taco
L' PatronAddress and Info
One of the most popular taquerias in the city is also one of the best. All the taco options are pretty fantastic but the carne asada stands out for size and texture. The large chunks of steak are never chewy and the cilantro and onion is always fresh. The $.80 upcharge for a thick handmade tortilla is very much worth it.
Taco al pastor
Mario's TacosAddress and Info
Mario makes the same tacos al pastor here that they did back in Mexico City. The meat comes from a cone and is most always sliced to order. Thinly shaven crispy pork with his family mixture of chilies and aromatics shining bright red with achiote. This is how tacos al pastor are supposed to be served.
Cochinita pibil taco
Taco JointAddress and Info
You can always count on a vibrant display of colors when you order the specialty of the Yucatan at this Lincoln Park watering hole. You can also count on juicy pork with mild peppery flavors mixed with citrus from the beautiful pickled onions atop the meat. A thicker-than-normal house-made tortilla keeps everything together.
Crispy tripas taco
La ChaparritaAddress and Info
Ask any Chicago taco-eater worth their salsa, “What's the best taqueria in town?” and they'll mention this place if they know what’s up. While all the Mexico City-style tacos are killer, it's the crispy tripas that stands out most. Imagine you're eating a bacon taco and just let it crunch.
Crispy potato taco
Tacos TequilasAddress and Info
This Logan Square sit-down spot has lots of good taco options but the crispy potato is one you won’t find anywhere else. Mashed potato puree with epazote, salsa verde, cream, and cheese makes for a great way to start your meal. Or you could order four and call it dinner.
Pork carnitas taco
Antique TacoAddress and Info
Pork on pork, how can this not be good. We love all the chef-driven taco options on the menu at this Wicker Park favorite but cant get enough of the carnitas option. It's sweet, it's smoky, and crispy bacon is a topping.
Birrieria ZaragozaAddress and Info
Considered the GOAT by many. The goat taco served on a warm house-made tortilla is one of the best things to eat in all of Chicago. Its silky-smooth texture makes for some of the best roasted meat anywhere. On top of all this, you basically become family after a few visits.
La CecinaAddress and Info
Back of the Yards
One of the best bang-for-your-buck tacos in town. This spot chops the dried beef into pieces and throws it in a homemade tortilla thick enough to withstand a spread of refried beans and a huge dollop of guacamole. Take one to go and you'll still get chips and a smoky house salsa.
Buzz Bait TaqueriaAddress and Info
Chicago's first fish taco-focused taqueria is putting out a top-notch fish taco (who would have thought?). The signature taco consists of several large chunks of Sapporo-battered cod served over a crispy Baja slaw with mango salsa and yogurt sauce. Just like they make out West.
Crispy fish taco
Takito KitchenAddress and Info
Another one of the city's fine purveyors of chef-driven tacos also serves one of the best modern Mexican takes on the fish taco. All the tortillas are made in-house and the crispy fish taco uses a hibiscus tortilla to mold together the rest of the Southeast Asian flavors. It's colorful and full of flavor.
Tortilleria Los GamasAddress and Info
The draw here for most locals is the fresh masa and corn tortillas made on site, however it also has a taqueria putting out one of the city's top tacos. The choriqueso taco takes the universally loved queso fundido, mixes in some chorizo, and puts the end result in a house-made corn tortilla.
La PrincipalAddress and Info
The address is in Evanston but the CTA Purple Line drops you off directly across the street at the Main St station. It's worth the ride to try this spot's take on lengua aka cow tongue. Just imagine it's pot roast and you're in for one of the beefier tacos you'll ever bite into.
Taco en CARBONado
Taqueria TayahuaAddress and Info
The specialty taco at this cute little Pilsen taqueria is all sorts of spicy. The type you need in your life. Picture an extra-tender piece of grilled steak. Now imagine some onions and jalapeño slices cooking with the meat. It all goes in a perfectly griddled tortilla and comes accompanied by a fantastic avocado-based salsa. If you're not hungry, restart your computer and try again.
Carnitas de Aguascalientes taco
Carniceria AguascalientesAddress and Info
This popular Little Village grocery store makes some wonderful tacos next door. Handmade tortillas get filled with wonderful-smelling guisados aka stew meats. The first one listed is the house special carnitas and it comes sitting inside a fiery red chile sauce. Perfect on a cold winter day.
Sambal fish taco
Del SeoulAddress and Info
Chicago's original fusion taco spot still serves the best fusion taco. The never-small and always well-fried piece of fish dominates the tortilla. Pickled red onions add a little bit of zing while Napa slaw adds extra snap to each bite.
La QuebradaAddress and Info
Crispy chorizo with exceptionally fresh cilantro and onion on a beautiful handmade white corn tortilla. That in and of itself is good enough to make this a top taco, but when the complimentary salsa molcajete goes on it becomes the type of taco you think about while daydreaming at your desk.
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1. Taqueria El Asadero2213 W Montrose Ave, Chicago
2. La Lagartija Taqueria132 S Ashland Ave, Chicago
3. Big Star1531 N Damen Ave, Chicago
4. Raymond's Tacos2406 S Blue Island Ave, Chicago
5. Velvet Taco1110 N State St, Chicago
6. Taqueria Los Barrilitos3518 W 25th St, Chicago
7. Tacos Erendira3207 S Halsted St, Chicago
8. Jarabe Mexican Street Food2255 W Taylor St, Chicago
9. Jerk Taco Man4001 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago
10. La Internacional Supermercado4556 S Ashland Ave, Chicago
11. El Metro1959 W Chicago Ave, Chicago
12. XOCO449 N Clark, Chicago
13. Loncar's Liquors3201 E 92nd St, Chicago
14. El Milagro3050 W 26th St, Chicago
15. Cemitas Puebla817 W Fulton Market, Chicago
16. La Cocinita5801 S Ellis Ave, Chicago
17. Authentaco1141 N Ashland Ave, Chicago
18. Rub's Backcountry Smokehouse6954 N Western Ave, Chicago
19. Carnitas Uruapan1725 W 18th St, Chicago
20. BIG & little's860 N Orleans St, Chicago
21. Nuevo Leon Restaurant1515 W 18th St, Chicago
22. Rocky's Tacos7043 N Clark St, Chicago
23. El Carrito6019 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
24. Taqueria Mazamitla3610 W Belmont Ave, Chicago
25. L'Patron Tacos3749 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago
26. Mario's Tacos4540 W 63rd St, Chicago
27. Taco Joint1969 N Halsted St, Chicago
28. La Chaparrita Taqueria2500 S Whipple St, Chicago
29. Tacos Tequilas2919 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
30. Antique Taco1360 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
31. Birrieria Zaragoza4852 S Pulaski Rd, Chicago
32. La Cecina1934 W 47th St, Chicago
33. Buzz Bait Taqueria1529 N. Wells St. , Chicago
34. Takito Kitchen2013 W Division St, Chicago
35. Los Gamas Tortilleria Y Restaurante3333 W Armitage, Chicago
36. La Principal700 Main St, Evanston
37. Taqueria Tayahua2411 S Western Ave, Chicago
38. Carniceria Aguascalientes3132 W 26th St, Chicago
39. Del Seoul2568 N Clark St, Chicago
40. La Quebrada5100 S California Ave, Chicago
This classic, hole-in-the-wall (cash only!) Mexican joint has south-of-the-border food down pat, doling out go-tos like delicious (and cheap) tacos, burritos, and homemade guacamole and horchata. Our favorites include the steak and al pastor tacos and the carne asada burrito.
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.
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.
One of a few Raymond's locations across the city, this location is known for its tacos. The tacos are made after a slice of American cheese is melted between two tortillas -- it's hard to imagine a better late night eat.
Slinging more than a dozen modern and traditional varieties, this Texas-based taco shop planted its first non-Texas outpost right in the Viagra Triangle. Try the Indian-inspired crisp tikka chicken (spicy pepper sauce, buttered cilantro basmati rice, raita crema, and Thai basil), the American-inspired bacon burger (served on a flour tortilla, of course), and a side of elote-style rotisserie corn with the famous red-velvet cake for dessert.
Little Village's Taqueria Los Barrilitos is one of Chicago's best taco spots; their tacos al pastor are one of the most crave-worthy items in the city. Perfectly seasoned bits of meat get shaved off as you order. Pro tip: Top it with some of their house-made pickled onion with habanero to take it to the next level.
This is a Chicago favorite that offers mouth watering pork stew, chicken, and steak tacos. Don't miss their salsa either.
Seeking tacos in Tri-Taylor? Head over to Jarabe, the former food truck turned brick and mortar specializing in all things Mexican.
Jerk Taco Man, the eponymous owner of this shack in West Garfield Park, makes inspired eats that merge his Jamaican heritage and love of Mexican food. These tasty treats bring out the crowds, so beat the rush and pre-order online.
Find some of the best grub in Chicago at this neighborhood grocery store which stocks all the basics and hosts a taqueria in the back.
We could name great unknown taco joints all day long, but our current fave is this new, Mexican street food-themed spot from the two sisters (Betty and Veronica, we kid you not) who run the equally under-appreciated Cafe Gaudi. They’ve got a wider range of tacos than most places, serving up everything from fish tacos to cochinita pibil. They’re all tasty and artfully made, and almost nothing is over three bucks.
Conveniently next door to Top Chef master Rick Bayless' upscale Mexican joints Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, XOCO (derived from Mexican slang for "little sister") is a quick-service cafe with communal tables and a central wood burning oven. The aromas of Bayless' take on classic made-to-order south of the border street fare is sure to draw crowds from all over.
This South Chicago dive slings shots and beers, but we're lining up for their deep fried tacos. Served every Wednesday night, these cheesy, crispy pockets of goodness are worth the trek.
When you’ve had your fill of Los Comales and Big Star, head to Little Village for some uber-authentic Mexican courtesy of the fine folks of El Milagro. And yes, the restaurant is owned by the same people who make those corn tortillas you just bought at the Jewel last week.
This family-owned, West Loop Mexican spot prides itself on specializing in Poblano foods, and being "the only restaurant in Chicago that serves the Cemita sandwich." Owner Tony Anteliz frequently visits Oxaca for authentic Mexican cheese and other goods. He crafts the sandwich with Krakus ham, guajillo-rubbed pork loin, and breaded pork milanesa, all topped with avocado, smoky chipotles, and Oaxacan string cheese. The joint's salsas and chipotles (made in-house) are not to be missed.
Originally started in New Orleans, this food truck entreprise traffics in highly delicious, customizable Mexican street fare. Build your own meal out of tacos, arepas and burrito bowls, pick a protein and a zesty sauce, and you're set. The truck's location changes weekly, so be sure to check their website before you go.
With a focus on traditional ingredients, Felipe Caro (of Picante and Delish Diner) brings authentic Mexican fare to Wicker Park at this modern spot on North Ashland.
You're likely going to want to gather around one of two live-fire barebecue pits when you turn up at this spot. Rest assured your tastebuds will be just as satisfied as your eyes once you sink your teeth into the Saint Louis spare ribs whether or not you opt to go with one of the four house-sauces.
You can find carnitas at almost every Mexican supermarket and taqueria in town, but when you want the real thing, head over to Pilsen and enjoying them at this family-owned spot that has basically nothing else on their menu.
BIG & little's is Chicago's one-stop wonder for fish 'n chips. There are also po'boys, truffle fries, burgers, and.... need we keep going? Just get there.
Nuevo Leon is legit, authentic Mexican that has a stellar menu and impressive service.
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.
This restaurant serves up no-frills, made-to-order Mexican street food. The menu includes carne asada tacos, chicken flautas, elotes in a cup, and you-gotta’-try-‘em thick-cut mole fries.
This authentic hole in the wall in Avondale serves up super fresh OG Mexican delicacies for dinner and lunch.
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.
Meat is king at Mario's, a West Lawn neighborhood taco spot. Try the Al pastor tacos (named one of Chicago Tribune's best), or swap out for carne asada or chorizo...the options are endless.
This Lincoln Park joint serves up regional Mexican street fare and you can bet your taco-stuffing-face that includes elotes (Mex corn), ceviche, papas con chorizo, and guac.
Make a visit to Little Village to check out this corner grocery which serves some seriously bomb tacos and tortas. The fresh juice drinks are also on point.
This Logan Square eatery is run by folks who've been in the business for more than 20 years, and that's reflected in their flavorful and festive eats. If that doesn't sell you, then just consider you can get yourself one of their terrific tacos for only three bucks.
Antique Taco's a brick-n-mortar mash-up of an upscale taqueria and a Cracker Barrel, sporting barnwood tables, mismatched china and, of course, for-sale antiques ranging from glassware to old Jays potato chip tins. The fare includes housemade tortillas with Slagel Farm ribeye and boozy agua fresca.
This cozy counter-serve spot on the South Side is owned by a friendly family who bring Chicago a beloved regional specialty from Jalisco, Mexico: spicy, braised goat, or "birria." The grass-fed, locally sourced goat is the one and only dish you'll find in this unfussy, orange-accented space -- served in tacos, in quesadillas, and by-the-pound so you can take the tender, piquant meat with you. The move is to order the birria tatemada, which places the goat on chewy, freshly made tortillas. On the side, go for the fire-roasted salsa presented hot inside a stone bowl.
The crispy tripe tacos at La Cecina are of Chicago legend. Add some guac and get ready to chow down on some truly authentic Mexican fare.
Fish tacos are having an extended moment at this Old Town spot, courtesy of the people from Lou Malnati's pizza and Kamehachi. With half a dozen different varieties and beachy décor, you might forget you're in the Midwest.
A small plate taqueria from a Carnivale vet (no, not Nick Stahl) putting a contemporary twist on Latin fare, Takito Kitchen makes good use of the gutted car wash space that most recently housed Sabor Saveur, with exposed pipes and distressed cedar lining the narrow corridor leading to a skylit back room decked with a graffiti mural touting the resto's name.
This Mexican resto may not have frills, but their simple menu can't be beat when it comes to cost and taste. Your choices are pretty much limited to tacos, tamales, sopes, picadas, burritos, tortas, quesadillas, and enchiladas, but that's all you need here.
Elevated street food is the name of the game at this trendy Evanston resto/art gallery. Try the sinfully sweet churros for dessert.
At this no-frills Pilsen haunt, flavor comes through in the form of expertly cooked grilled meats-- try the al carbon. Vegetarians need not feel left out, as the mushroom quesadilla is equally complex.
Here's another dope neighborhood taco spot to add to your South Side "to eat" list: Carniceria Aguascalientes, which specializes in al pastor and chicharron (pork skin) tacos, all on housemade tortillas.
Inspired by the Korean taco craze that's become a food truck staple across the land, DS is bringing that street ethos to a takeout-focused brick 'n mortar joint covered in food cart-esque sheet metal and three flat-screens touting the menu, so finally TVs'll actually help you stuff your face in front of them.