Chefs’ Picks: Chicago Tacos

Plan a taco tour in Chicago with a little help from these local chefs, who share their favorites.

Chicago may get the most credit for pizza and hot dogs, but it’s also a great place for tacos. Restaurants, street carts and tiny storefronts all turn out first-rate tacos in the Second City. Plan a taco tour with a little help from these local chefs, who share their favorites.

Big Shrimpin’

Quiote lures crowds with its creative takes on traditional Mexican food, including excellent shrimp tacos. "I love the camarones tacos at Quiote,” says Chef Doug Psaltis of RPM Italian and RPM Steak, who loves “the sweet and spicy combo of the roasted shrimp and pineapple.”

The shrimp tacos are also the top choice for Ashlee Aubin, chef at Spanish-inspired Salero. He describes the dish as “perfectly spiced grilled shrimps with a little pineapple and cilantro, all inside fresh housemade tortillas.”

Gotta Get That Goat

Though Chef Brian Enyart serves Mexican food at his Dos Urban Cantina in Logan Square, he’s not above tracking down an authentic taco elsewhere. His go-to spot is Birreria Zaragoza in Archer Heights. “It’s a wonderful family restaurant that has the best goat in the city [which makes] for excellent tacos,” Enyart says.

Tacos With a Side of Song

Executive Chef John Manion spends his days cooking Argentinian cuisine at his bustling spots, La Sirena Clandestina and El Che Bar, so it’s often on the late side when he finally has time to satisfy his taco cravings. Manion’s picks are the carne asada tacos and the cecina tacos (a dried beef specialty) from El Taco Veloz. The joint is a long-time fixture in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood, an area known for authentic Mexican food. “The tacos are solid,” says Manion, but he confesses that there’s another attraction that draws him to this spot. “I actually go for the late-night karaoke on weekends. It’s serious.”

Try your hand at carne asada tacos with this recipe from Tyler Florence.

Photo by: The Youngrens ©Copyright: 2011 The Youngrens, Inc

The Youngrens, Copyright: 2011 The Youngrens, Inc

El Taco Velez’s killer combination of karaoke and tacos has made this spot a chef hangout of sorts. Another fan is Danny Grant, executive chef and partner at swanky steakhouse Maple & Ash. “El Taco Veloz always feels like the best party you snuck into,” he says. His mainstay is chicharron with verde sauce, which comes from a secret menu. “It’s available for those in the know if they ask for it. I generally visit after work, so I know they will make it for you at any hour!” explains Grant. “The rich chicharron is perfectly balanced by the spicy and tart verde salsa.”

Make your own chicarron tacos with this recipe from Marcela Valladolid.

Cabeza for Days

When Executive Chef Carlos Cruz of Saint Lou’s Assembly isn’t working, he’s often trekking out to get his favorite taco, the cabeza tacos at El Torito, a food cart underneath the I-94 bridge. “That's all that they do,” Cruz says. “Steaming hot tortillas with seared, piping-hot cabeza piled on top and finished off with some onions and cilantro. I like to drench those bad boys with their delicious salsa verde!"

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