Chicago Tacos: Potato Tacos from Carniceria Jimenez
Though I have a seemingly endless appetite for tacos, I do like a little variety in my tortilla diet. While I happily devoured the many meaty offerings at La Lagartija last week, this week I wanted something a little humbler...and crunchier. I may have no love for the soggy ground meat offerings of a certain fast food taco joint, but I am not completely immune to the pleasures of tacos that have spent time in the deep fryer. That's especially true if we're talking about the potato tacos from Carneceria Jimenez.
Carneceria Jimenez is my go-to grocery store for Mexican items on the Northwest Side. (It's also where I found the vast majority of the corn tortillas for my Tortillas of Chicago roundup). Like many Mexican grocery stores around town, it has a little taqueria in the front. Unlike most, it is decorated with old Mexican movie stills and loads of other paraphernalia. While it doesn't quite transcend the surroundings, it definitely has a genuine ambiance that trounces most similar establishments.
As is usual, there is a long line of stewed dishes and soups, along with a standard menu of mostly griddled tacos. The carne asada is fine, but I prefer the ribeye (pictured in the middle) since it is served in larger hunks and is less greasy. There is also al pastor, and it's worth ordering if the pit is running (usually around lunch).
But my favorite thing to order, by far, is the potato taco special ($3.49). Though not featured on the menu, it's usually written out as a special; just look for the sign that says "tacos dorados de papa" and order that. You'll get three tacos with every order, and together they make for one of the most satisfying cheap lunches in the city.
For those that have not experienced the glory of the fried potato taco, here's a little introduction. A corn tortilla is stuffed with a mashed potato filling, folded over, and then fried until crisp. (I do not quite understand how each one stays closed in the fryer. Magic?) While most tacos are about the interplay of flavor, this one is also about texture. When done right, a perfectly crispy shell gives way to a soft and creamy interior.
Each order is topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, cilantro, a moundful of cheese, and crema. You can, of course, go minimal if you'd like. But much like El Atacor #11 in Los Angeles, I think the mess is kind of the point. Just spoon on a little salsa, and then assemble your favorite bite. (I usually scrape most of the crema off by the end.)
I can't see any reason why the special hasn't made the menu by now. But it's not exactly a secret. On recent visits, I've noticed that a fair share of customers order it. I'd follow their advice.