Refuel On Mexican Street Fare At The Taco Joint

By Melissa Wiley in Food on Jul 9, 2012 4:00PM

We have a soft spot for hard tacos. We also crave quality Mexican fare after an arduous afternoon perambulating the pricey boutiques along Armitage in Lincoln Park. Add these two bits of information together and you find us sitting expectantly atop a stool along the bar at Taco Joint Urban Taqueria and Cantina, braced for something sapid and splashed joyously in pico de gallo.

In truth, there’s much more than hard-shelled tacos to be found at the Taco Joint—for starters there’s the soft-shelled variety as well. The short walk east from the nearby brown line station past a pastel symposium of storefronts peddling the latest in timeless European skin care is a flimsy excuse for feasting on elotes, grilled corn on the cob gaily festooned with mayonnaise, cotija cheese, and chile piquin. But it’s tasty all the same, and for an eatery with “joint” in the title, this laid-back cantina deserves to be more than an afterthought. Its no-fuss food is simple, fresh, and at a price point that can make a recent purchase at a neighboring dress shop look like highway robbery.

We usually find that two tacos and an order of antojitos, or Mexican street snacks, make for a solid, satisfying lunch. All tacos arrive fresh on a shiny steel plate for $2 or $3 a piece. Before you assume they’re a complete steal, however, be forewarned that they are on the diminutive side. Taco-itos is really more like it. But make the most of this culinary nod to the Lilliputians and sample and share. In terms of variety, these savory little guys are riddled with big ambition. Our personal favorites are the ceviche, featuring citrus-cured tilapia, and the cochinta, with Yucatan-style pulled pork, but the Lebanese-influenced arabe and barbacoa brisket deserve a hearty honorable mention as well.

None of the portions operate on a large scale here, so we recommend treating the menu as a shared-plate one and sliding a cecina gordita round the table clockwise while the rojo guacamole and the malanga chips take the counter-clockwise route. The bar in the front room generally sports a freely bonhomous vibe, so you’ll likely not lack for company if you decide to eat here alone. You can also order and eat curbside if you so desire. It is Mexican street food, after all, and you may very well want to eat, shop, and spree all at once.

Taco Joint Urban Taqueria and Cantina is located at 1969 N. Halsted St., 312-951-2457. Open Sunday - Thursday 11:30am - 10pm, Friday and Saturday 11:30am - midnight. Their take-out window is open late.