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The 17 Best Taco Joints In Chicago

By Staff in Food on Jul 10, 2013 7:30PM

Chicago isn't nationally known for its tacos, but it should be. While pizza and hot dogs get the national spotlight, Chicagoans know tacos are among our specialties. We could have made a list 50 tacos long for you. Maybe once you add your suggestions to the comments, we can make it more than 50.

Two chile relleno tacos from La Pasadita. Photo Credit: Moacir P. de Sá Pereira

La Pasadita is recognized by non-taco eaters as that weird place with three locations on the same block, each featuring a big yellow sign saying, "Often imitated, never duplicated." Taco eaters claim one of the spots is undeniably the best. We used to say the original location on the east side of Ashland was the best spot, but it has closed. Sure, the history (dating back to 1976) is interesting, but how are the tacos? La Pasadita keeps it simple, and you should, too. Don't muck up your tacos with any toppings other than onion, cilantro and green salsa. —Samantha Abernethy
La Pasadita has two locations: 1132 N. Ashland and 1140 N. Ashland Ave. Plus they have two "express" locations at 4968 N. Elston Ave. and 2925 W. Irving Park Rd.

Rubi's Tacos. Photo Credit: Benjy Lipsman

For years we'd heard of the amazing Mexican street food at the Maxwell St. Market. But it was only last year we finally ventured down there and discovered that perhaps the best tacos in the entire city are only available for a few hours each Sunday. From 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., Rubi's cranks up their trompo, fires up their grill and starts pressing out tortillas to feed the long lines of hungry customers. The Maxwell St. market mainstay sells about two dozen varieties of tacos, including their famous al pastor, as well as asada, chicharones, beef tongue, mole, huitlacoche, squash blossom & more. The thick tortilla are made fresh right in front and then filled with tons of meat (or veggies) and topped with onion and cilantro or lettuce and tomato. Two varieties of salsa are available on the tables and their salsa verde in particularly is amazing. Your best bet, especially during the summer, is to arrive on the early side (before 10 a.m.) or expect long lines. —Benjy Lipsman
Rubi's is in Maxwell St. Market on Des Plaines at Cabrini

Chorizo tacos from Cemitas Puebla. Photo Credit: Arnold Gatilao

This Humboldt Park staple may be best known for its cemita, but their tacos arabe may be the best dish on their menu. A mélange of Mexican and Lebanese culinary influences with shwarma-style roasted pork and onion served on a tortilla with the thickness of a pita, it's another example of the cuisine of Mexico's Puebla region brought to Chicago's doorstep. —Chuck Sudo
Cemitas Puebla is at 3619 W. North Ave.

Las Asadas Photo Credit: Facebook. Lazo's Tacos Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski

There are three taco joints near the intersection of Armitage and Western avenues. How does one choose? Well Arturo's has the biggest sign at the corner, and draws the late-night (read: drunk) clientele. Don't go to Arturo's. Everything they do well, Lazo's does better. Like Arturo's, Lazo's is open 24 hours. But Lazo's is also three times larger, has a full bar and sometimes there is live music and salsa dancing. It's as good a spot to go for a two-margarita lunch as it is to grab a drunken meal. What to eat? Don't miss the al pastor tacos and try the green salsa. The carnitas and chicken tacos are good, but if you want steak, see our next review. —Samantha Abernethy
Lazo's Tacos is at 2009 N. Western Ave.

Also near the taco-heavy intersection of Armitage and Western, Las Asadas is the smallest of the three. As the name suggests, their carne asada is the best item on the menu. Don't even bother to get a steak taco at the other two locales. If you're a daredevil with spicy food, try the black salsa. —Samantha Abernethy
Las Asadas has three Chicago locations at 2045 N. Western Ave., 3834 W. 47th St., and 3243 N. Pulaski Rd.

The patio at Big Star. Photo Credit: Big Star's Facebook

Once I went on a date to Big Star with someone who refused to taste the al pastor taco because he hated pineapple. You can imagine what happened next… but after that I stuck with the much more fulfilling relationship I’ve carried on with the spit roasted pork shoulder and corn tortilla. The blend of savory, slightly crispy marinated meat with pineapple whose sweetness is tempered by onion and cilantro cannot be over hyped because it’s that damn delicious. Don’t have hours to spare lined up on Damen? Head to the bar to order or avoid the hipster hordes altogether and opt for the to-go window. Either way, liberal use of the tomatillo salsa is highly encouraged. —Jessica Mlinaric
Big Star is at 1531 N. Damen.

Sweet and spicy chicken tacos from Antique Taco. Photo Credit: Antique Taco's Facebook

We initially rolled our eyes at Antique Taco's Pinterest-y vibe and Big Star-esque yupp-ster clientele waiting in a somewhat long line. We nearly considered a trip to Harold's across the street. Yes, the wait is a bit long, but the staff is friendly, and we're glad we waited. The flavors are nowhere near traditional, but the tortillas are, and they're fresh. It's the perfect canvas for interesting flavor combinations like the sweet and spicy chicken. —Samantha Abernethy
Antique Taco is at 1360 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Birrieria Zaragoza. Photo Credit: Heather Sperling
"Do one thing and do it well" is the motto of this Archer Heights restaurant and what they do better than anyone in Chicago is roast goat. Rubbed in salt and steamed, bone in, for five hours, then marinated in an ancho sauce and lard, what is normally a tough meat melts in your mouth. Birria tacos go for $2.75 each but you'd be better served buying a pound of goat, with tortillas and going to town. —Chuck Sudo
Birrieria Zaragoza is at 4852 S. Pulaski Rd.

Zaragoza is the gold standard for birria in Chicago but this Pilsen shop comes a very close runner-up. This place is a favorite of Rick Bayless and it's an earned endorsement. Served with lime, cilantro and onions, you won't want salsa to get in the way of the flavor of the goat here. —Chuck Sudo
Birreria Reyes de Ocotlan is located at 1322 W. 18th St.

Bullhead Cantina offers both traditional and twisted tacos. You can stick with the carniats slow-cooked in banana leaves and fried, or you can try out the grits and kale taco with a pineapple-bourbon reduction. We're still emotional over the first beet taco we had there. And there's something special about their sour cream that we can't quite figure out. Bonus for vegetarians: They promise their vegetarian tacos are free of animal products like lard and chicken stock. —Samantha Abernethy
Bullhead Cantina is at 1143 N. California Ave.

If the photos of pigs and pork-themed tchotchkes aren't dead giveaways, this Pilsen storefront traffics in arguably the best carnitas in Chicago. Buy it by the pound and ask for extra tortillas; you'll need them. —Chuck Sudo
Carnitas Don Pedro is at 1113 W. 18th St.

Tacos from La Lagartija Taqueria. Photo Credit: La Lagartija Taqueria's Facebook

Opened in 2010 by Luis Perea and Laura Cid-Perea of Bombon Bakery fame, this sit-down taqueria offers a broad menu of Mexican favorites. But the stars are the tacos, served in home made tortillas. Their signature taco is the crispy shrimp taco. Imagine excellent baja fish tacos but with the most perfectly, lightly tempura battered fried shrimp instead of its flakier cousin of the sea. They also serve a proper al pastor taco sliced off a trompo that's near the top of the pastor pyramid, and quite capable renditions of carne asada, chorizo, and other popular tacos, too. When seated, you'll receive a basket of tortilla chips and a variety of excellent salsas, from tangy tomatillo to roasted red chile de arbol, along with fiery habanero pickled red onions. Any work great to spice up your tacos. —Benjy Lipsman
La Lagartija Taqueria is at 132 S. Ashland Ave.

This local family-owned chain serves up some of the largest tacos in Chicago and they don't scrimp on the ingredients. The al pastor tacos here are teeming with marinated pork and you'll need extra napkins to wipe the neon orange grease from your fingers. Vegetarians have plenty of options here, including beans and avocado or potato, which is one of the better versions we've had outside of Big Star. —Chuck Sudo
Zacatacos is at 5925 S. Pulaski Rd. and 3949 W. 71st. St. in Chicago, 8460 S. Harlem Ave. in Bridgeview, 6224 W. Cermak Rd. in Berwyn, and 3837 S. Harlem Ave. in Berwyn.

The al pastor tacos at Tacos Erendira. Photo Credit: Chuck Sudo

The al pastor tacos at this Bridgeport storefront have made our best cheap eats list and earned Chicagoist's "One Great Dish" distinction. But you can choose from beef, chicken, chorizo, pork or beef stew, or even non-meat options such as avocado and beans. At $1.85 each you can stock up and have two or three meals. —Chuck Sudo
Tacos Erendira is at 3207 S. Halsted St. Cash Only.

Some people in Lincoln Park go to the neighborhood's hip dining hotspots like Alinea and Sprout for a night out. If you're a DePaul University student struggling under the weight of student loans and dipping into your stash of laundry quarters so you can afford a bottle of Wolfschmidt, you do not. That doesn't mean we alums didn't eat well though! Allende was always there for us — even until 5 a.m. on weekend nights. Nestled at the corner of Fullerton and Lincoln, Allende's tacos are still some of the best I've tasted in Chicago and the fact that you can get two of them, rice, beans and chips for around $5 will never get old. What's my favorite thing about this place? The salsa. It's strong with cilantro and onion but still sweet and mild. My recommendation is to put that 'ish on everything. —Katie Karpowicz
Allende is at 2408 N. Lincoln Ave.

Fish tacos from Carbon. Photo Credit: Chuck Sudo

Even with chefs across Chicago paying closer attention to their seafood, the range of fish tacos across the city are few and far between. One of the better ones comes courtesy of Carbón Live Fire Mexican Grill, with locations in Bridgeport and West Town. The fish tacos here are the closest you're going to come to actual Baja-style without booking a trip to the West Coast. They use tilapia encrusted in tortilla and fried to tender, golden perfection. The fish is then served on a flour tortilla (make sure to request a change to corn) and served with fresh shredded cabbage and a creamy tequila lime sauce. Good as Carbón's fish tacos are, their steak taco may be even better. The steak is grilled on an open flame and served with onions, cilantro and your choice of Carbón's signature salsas. For a completely unique dining experience, I recommend visiting the Bridgeport store and eating 2-3 of these on Carbón's outdoor patio, located directly underneath the Dan Ryan expressway. —Chuck Sudo
Carbón Live Fire Mexican Grill has two locations: 300 W. 26th St. and 810 N. Marshfield Ave.

This is a weird, dusty corner grocery store in Edgewater selling the usual convenience store fare and a variety of imported candies. Grab a Coke in an old school glass bottle and sidle up to the counter. A man with one of the biggest smiles I've ever seen and a "#1 Dad" mug will cook up great tacos on the big flat-top grill in front of you. Don't expect a fancy bowl of guacamole or any special toppings. Just enjoy the perfectly crisp and chewy carne asada. —Samantha Abernethy
Supermercado Almita is at 5957 N Clark St.

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