Monday, April 03, 2017

Taco Tuesday (...Wednesday, Thursday...): Biting Into the Proliferation of Posh Taquerias in North Shore Suburbia

As my big belly can attest, I like many different types of foods across numerous cuisines. (In 2013 into 2014, I published 50+ articles on Chicagoland restaurants representing various ethnicities, which I dubbed the "Chicago Dining World Tour.")

But I don't think there's any cuisine I like any more than Mexican food, and while in full-service restaurants I tend to order chimichangas, fajitas, chile rellenos or enchiladas--particularly with a dark mole sauce--I also love tacos.

Though a big fan of the ubiquitous homespun, mostly counter-service taquerias that dot the city of Chicago--and I'll cite a few below--in recent years one of my favorite restaurants has been a more refined variation.

I likely found Taco Nano (1743 Orchard Lane, Northfield; website) on Yelp and now tend to get there about once every couple months.

Among their standard tacos--ranging from $3-$4/each--I really like the Pork Al Pastor, Sea of Cortez and Adobe Skirt Steak.

But they also have a special "Taco of the Week" that usually sounds rather tasty and rounds out a trio with two of the above.

Though Taco Nano's guacamole is terrific, I usually forgo ordering it in favor of their delicious fried plantains and a cheese quesadilla.

A bottle of pineapple or mango Jarritos typically rounds out what has consistently been a delightful visit.

But more recently, I've noticed a number of other relatively posh taquerias on Chicago's North Shore--basically, north of my home on the north end of Skokie--and while I wouldn't say any outdo Taco Nano, I've enjoyed trying them out, not just to write this story.

As such, these aren't meant as ratings, or even overt reviews, as much as simply to highlight each of the places visited (just once so far, for the most part).

Located within one of the most beautiful strip malls you'll ever see--Plaza del Lago, on what was once known as "No Man's Land"--is Taco Lago (1515 Sheridan Rd, Wilmette; website).

As far as I was able to discern, none of the places I'll mention are run by the same people, but in name and menu, Taco Lago felt somewhat similar to Taco Nano.

Prices were a bit higher, and if you want 2 tacos they have to be the same kind. I got two Al Pastor tacos for $9 and also a steak quesadilla, but chips and salsa were complimentary.

(All the visits I'm referencing were of the dine-in variety.)

Also in Wilmette, but in the downtown shopping district, is The Trendy Taco (1195 Wilmette Ave, Wilmette). Unlike the others, this is a cash-only enterprise.

Even in the fonts and colors used on the chalkboard--which also had $3-$4/taco prices--this seemed quite akin to Taco Nano, but I'm pretty sure I asked and was told there was no connection.

Here too I got an Al Pastor taco--which came topped by a nice avocado salsa--accompanied by a Chipotle Tilapia taco and a Poblano Rojas, which was stuffed with peppers.

All three of these were really good, especially the poblano. For good measure, I also had a cheese quesadilla and a Jarritos.

The next place I tried, Taco Diablo (1026 Davis St, Evanston; website) is a bit different than the others in that there is wait staff, a bar and more menu selections. I also don't believe Evanston is officially considered part of the North Shore, but this was my first visit to a fairly new restaurant, so I'm including it here.

Although priced at $15 for 3 tacos--albeit with rice and beans, the latter declined by me--the selections here were the most unique and, in sum, flavorful.

Able to get three different kinds in my order, I got Smoked Brisket, Pork Belly & Chicharrons and Gulf Snapper tacos.

And I was also enticed by Pork Carnitas, Spicy Shrimp, Carne Asada, Lamb Barbacoa and Potato. (I'm allergic to poultry; hence no chicken or duck tacos.)

Along with the rice, chips and two kinds of salsa were provided. The green (verde) was one of the best I can ever recall having.

Although it also serves sandwiches--hence the name--Stacked and Folded (551 Lincoln Ave, Winnetka; website) also features a nice slate of tacos and merits being included here.

In one of Chicago's most affluent suburbs, the tacos were $5-$6 each, so rather pricey but quite delicious.

I got Braised Lamb with tzatziki sauce--so something like a gyros taco--an Ahi Tuna Poke and my cherished Al Pastor, which topped the pork with a cilantro lime cream.

Although more expensive than the other places I tried, I liked the vibe at Stacked & Folded--the staff was friendlier than elsewhere--and with several other appealing taco varieties, let alone sandwiches, I intend to return.

Lake Bluff is quite a bit north of the other North Shore towns in which I went taco hunting, but I remembered that a few summers ago I'd found a place close to the town gazebo.

It wasn't that easy to re-find, even online, as The Otherdoor (30 E Center Ave, Lake Bluff; website) not only has no taco in its name, it has no identifying signage on its facade.

If I hadn't come across it before, I likely wouldn't have revisited it now, but figured it merits inclusion here.

With three tacos for $8.85--and you can mix them, making this a better deal than elsewhere--I had a barbacoa, steak and pork belly, and enjoyed them all.

Like at almost all the places, Jarritos made for a nice beverage. There was a wide array of salsas to choose from and I appreciated being able to order just a cup of guacamole for under $4.

All in all, I think it's "bueno" that there is now quite a smattering of quality, reasonably new taco joints within 15-20 minutes of where I live.

But as something of a corollary to my North Shore taco exploration, I made a point of revisiting some more traditional tacquerias--mostly in Chicago proper--where I found the going rate for tacos to be about $1.80-$2.00 each.

They didn't have all the fancy sauces I found at the posh places, but invariably the tacos were very good and indirectly ridiculed the need to spend up to six bucks apiece.

And as a Mexican friend of mine conveyed when we had lunch at El Taco Veloz on Chicago Ave., true taquerias don't serve fish tacos; those are "only for the gringos."

So while the focus of this piece was on posh North Shore interpretations of taquerias, let me end by also listing a few of the more authentic variety. (Some of these are wait-service joints, but still inexpensive.)

- Taqueria Los Comales (9055 N Milwaukee, Niles and several other locations; website)
- El Pueblito (3941 Touhy, Lincolnwood)
- Taqueria Morelia (3943 W Lawrence, Chicago)
- El Taco Veloz (1745 W Chicago Ave, Chicago)
- Allende (2408 N Lincoln, Chicago)
- El Burrito Mexicano (936 W Addison, Chicago)
- Taqueria Uptown (1144 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago)

Their of the fancier/pricier variety, but I also really like the tacos at:

- BIG & little's (3 Chicago locations; website)

No comments: