Every time we are back in Chicago we are in the mood for tacos! We take music classes on Armitage, so when we are in the area we usually stop at El Azteca aka Taqueria Azteca Poncitlan (4158 W Armitage Ave.) for some tacos. A caveat: there are about 4 different signs indicating different names for this place some say Taqueria Poncitlan, others say El Azteca. Our hunch is El Azteca moved into the space formerly occupied by Poncitlan (the sign says it has been there since 1987), and didn’t change the main sign… but who knows! You’ll know when you are there. The inside is cute, if a little cheesy – with brightly painted carved tables and chairs and carved wall art.
Tag Archives: al pastor
The main thing we miss about moving away from Chicago is proliferation of taquerias there – you could pretty much throw a stone and hit a taqueria on every corner. Sadly, we had pretty much given up on the taqueria-style Mexican food in the area, but we found a shining beacon of hope in the unlikeliest of places – Akron. It’s true – La Loma Taqueria (459 Darrow Rd, Akron, OH 44305) in Akron makes some of the best al pastor this side of Clark street. La Loma is located in a nondescript strip mall on the outskirts of Akron, a pretty unlikely location for crazy delicious and authentic tacos.
What led us to La Loma were reports of a trompo in this location – the gyro-esque spit that is required to make a proper al pastor taco. Surely enough, when we entered the taqueria we were greeted by the fully loaded trompo! In terms of tacos La Loma delivers on value and variety. At a very reasonable $1.50 each, it is feasible to try all of the meat options: carne asada, barbacoa, chorizo, chicken or tongue. We tried both al pastor and chorizo, our go-to taqueria order. Other options available with the same meats include burritos, tortas on homemade telera bread, quesadilla, flautas, sopes and tamales.
The tacos were the real deal – served on small, fresh corn tortillas, they were topped with the requisite onion and cilantro. Plus, there was a healthy slice of fresh pineapple – the holy grail of al pastor tacos – which is sometimes left off at other taquerias. The pork was spicy and the outside was well-charred, like we prefer. As a plus, there is even an impeccably clean store attached to the taqueria selling a variety of Mexican and other Latin American foods and sundries. We snagged some dried guajillo peppers and Mexican cinnamon sticks, staples we needed for recipe production. La Loma’s one flaw is that it is located a bit of a drive from where we live. However, we know we will be back when the inevitable, insatiable taco craving hits.
One bit of Chicago lore is that on the intersection of Ashland and Division nearly every storefront in sight is a La Pasadita taqueria. It’s true, there used to be 3 Pasaditas within a 1 block radius, but a little while ago, one of them closed, and reopened later as Authentaco [closed] (1141 N Ashland Ave). Upon entering you can rest assured that it is not just a reincarnation of La Pasadita. The whole restaurant is about the size of a postage stamp (“restaurant” is a very loose term), it is a basically just a stand up counter, a massive flat top, and a cash register. There are no seats, and no credit cards. However, this is a taqueria with a difference, the motto of the restaurant is “farm-to-taco” so the emphasis is on fresh ingredients and flavors.
So how it works, is you choose the meat, and then how you would like it served – as a taco, torta, quesadilla or plate. As for meat, there are basic options like carne asada, chorizo and pork al pastor, but also more unique options sweet potato al pastor. Aside from sweet potatoes, there are ample veggie options, including squash blossoms and nopal (cactus), which is nice for the veggie crowd. We also appreciated the appearance of the huitlacoche, our favorite corn fungus, which we got in quesadilla form. For tacos, we picked the pork al pastor (our go-to to test out a new taqueria). While we waited for our tacos, we sipped on a tasty horchata.The huitlacoche quesadilla was excellent, with delicious melty cheese, and was stuffed to the brim with huitlacoche. The al pastor was good, but there was too much soupy sauce, and the meat wasn’t really charred like al pastor is supposed to be. The tacos were over $3 each, but the size is a little bigger than at the typical taco joint, and we probably only needed 2 apiece, rather than 3. However, the real stars were the tortillas. The tortillas are made to order and pressed and griddled right before your eyes. They are exemplary, and completely made the meal. Definitely go to Authentaco for the huitlacoche and stay for the tortillas – and bring your vegetarian friends.
After our trip to Mexico City, we became obsessed with finding the best tacos al pastor in Chicago. We found some excellent tacos al pastor at Xoco – but there were some downsides – it is only available once a week, and was a little pricey. We wanted somewhere we could get a cheaper tacos every day of the week to satisfy our true al pastor cravings. One name that kept coming up on our radar was Taqueria Los Barrilitos (3518 West 25th Street, Chicago, IL), so we knew we had to visit.
We rolled up to Los Barrilitos on a cold night just before Christmas, and before we committed to dining, M peeked in the window to make sure there was a trompo piled high with marinated pork. There was! We had been burned before by places that were rumored to have a trompo, but did not in reality. Score a point for Los Barrilitos! We were excited the place was festooned up brightly for Christmas, lights, decorated tree and all (even the cactus had bows for Christmas). There was no menu: you just chose from a small selection of tacos including steak, al pastor and tripe. The trompo looked pretty amazing, so we went with only the al pastor tacos ($1.75) each and a horchata rice drink.
The tacos were brought out pretty quickly by a kind waitress, along with pickled habaneros and two salsas. The tacos were bigger than we expected, and came on warm corn tortillas with the traditional onion and cilantro toppings. The al pastor was a standout, with a great color, flavor and a nice char. It definitely reminded me of some of our favorites from Mexico City. Our only knock against them was that there was no pineapple, part of the intrinsic al pastor experience.
We polished off our tacos pretty quickly and the cook even let us take a few pictures of the trompo on our way out. He actually seemed kind of humored that we took such an interest in the trompo. We left Los Barrilitos in a better mood than after most meals of 2014. These tacos al pastor are the real deal, and for the right price! Please visit Los Barrilitos ASAP (for both the al pastor and for the festive cactus).
So you don’t have plans for Wednesday night? Ok, now you do. You plan is to go get tacos al pastor at Xoco (449 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL)! Every Wednesday after 5 PM, Xoco’s main draw is the al pastor, made from layers of seasoned pork, topped with pineapple carved right off of a trompo (a giant meat cone – much like the one used to make gyros) Mexico City style. When we went to al pastor day at Xoco, Rick Bayless was even there to monitor and maintain the trompo. Nice – that’s quality assured!
It is $11 for 3 tacos on corn tortillas, which come in a basket with a small side of a spicy chipotle salsa. We thought the price was a little steep, but we figured we were paying for quality – and we were – everything was delicious! The al pastor meat was flavorful and had a deep red color with a nice crispy crust, just how we like it. Each taco was also topped with a crispy slaw (non-traditional) and slices of pineapple (traditional). Xoco’s was probably the best rendition of al pastor we had in the city so far, though it made us mostly want to go to Mexico City. The corn tortillas were a little cold, which was our only knock against the dish.
We plan on making a visit to Xoco’s Tacos al pastor a Wednesday night tradition. A trompo is the key to delicious tacos al pastor, and they are relatively rare, so finding one is a great thing. We have word that the al pastor tacos will be available at Xoco until March, so make a visit while you still can.