Chicago Tacos: De Cero Taqueria
I see the al pastor spit and it is running. Potentially, this is good news. Ever since I challenged myself to find the best al pastor in Chicago, I've been looking for places that actually cook the marinated pork on a spit and carve it to order. And here I see proof of the spit the moment I walk into De Cero Taqueria.
Who cares that it is located in the West Loop—the trendiest strip of restaurant real estate in the city. I don't believe anymore that a humble taqueria is intrinsically better than a mid-range Mexican restaurant. The truth is that some are and some aren't. Sure, there are places that serve goblets of overpriced margaritas to hide average food, but others take the time to prep fluffy and light handmade tortillas and make shockingly vibrant salsas.
This is all a way of saying that I had hopes and desires for De Cero before I ever sat down. So how did it stack up?
The news, as it turns out, is not good. I should say that I only visited one time, and as I've explained before, al pastor is a fickle beast. But I also tried seven of the tacos, and there wasn't a highlight amongst them.
That includes, sadly, the al pastor ($3.95). I wanted this to work. Remember the spit? It was running! But the pork in my taco came out dry and crumbly. The marinade was fine, but it didn't have anything to really set it apart. In fact, nothing stood out. The tortillas were passable. The salsas were just average.
Perhaps here is where I should mention the cost, because these tacos aren't cheap. Now, I'm willing to pay good money for a great taco, but the more I pay the higher my expectations will be. Every taco at De Cero is $3.95, and that doesn't include any salsas, which have to purchased separately.
If I had to recommend any of the other tacos, it'd have to be chorizo and potato taco (left). Hunks of potato helped bulk out the flavorful sausage, making for a solid taco. Unfortunately, the skirt steak (middle) was dry, and the coating of the battered shrimp (right) fell off before I even picked it up. (If you're looking for a shrimp taco done right, La Lagartija, located a mile and a half away, serves one of the best versions in town.)
The battered catfish (left) faired a little better in the fryer, but the flavors were drenched by an excess of mayonnaise-coated cabbage. The mole in the chicken mole (middle) was actually decent, making this the second best taco of the night. On the other hand, the less said about the messy rajas (right) the better.
Perhaps I should have known what I was getting into. When my margarita arrived, it came in a huge glass and was crammed full of ice. It was fine, avoiding the sugary sweetness trap some margaritas have a problem with. But in the end, it was just average, which kind of sums up of De Cero.