Chicago Tacos: Bullhead Cantina
Editor's Note: This one is fairly self-explanatory, but here we go: Chicago Tacos explores the good, the bad, and the truly exceptional taco options in the Windy City--one taqueria at a time.
Let's start out with the obvious: if you're sitting in Bullhead Cantina and don't think the new joint picked up a thing or two from Big Star, then you probably have been sipping a few too many shots of Evan Williams. (Not that I would blame you, that's the cheap house bourbon.) Echoes of that very popular Wicker Park project, which so successfully mixed honky-tonk and taco joint, can be felt all over his place. Say what you will about the decorations, but as it pertains to the food, this is not necessarily a bad thing, since Bullhead shows a real interest in kicking out quality tacos—something I can always support.
Take the grilled sweet potato taco ($3), which features slices of the charred vegetable loaded onto a house-made corn tortilla and topped with cabbage, grilled red onion, corn, and an avocado salsa. Sweet, spicy, and crunchy, there's enough different flavors going on to keep things exciting, but not too many to distract from the sweet potatoes. If you've ever suffered through an uninspired vegetable taco at a joint around town, then this is the antidote.
Which isn't to say that every taco here works. Unlike Big Star, which only offers four or so solidly built tacos, Bullhead Cantina instead goes for 14. That's probably too many to execute at a consistent level, and there are some duds here. Also, though the tortillas are handmade and flavorful, they are not quite as soft as they could be. Still, I feel like I'm nit-picking a very good new taqueria, and this could just take some time to get right. Luckily, none of the tacos were complete failures, and more than half of the ones I tried were quite good.
The sweet potato taco's closest competitor for best-in-show is the carnitas taco ($3), which features hunks of crispy pork, topped with the restaurant's "drunken" salsa. Unlike many overly fatty versions, this one was rich, but not greasy—a rare combo. Sadly, the taco is a little inconsistent, and one time the pork arrived soft. Of course, I still managed to eat it all.
In the solid category is definitely the grilled steak ($3), which had all the char you'd want with none of the greasy fat. Also very good is the beer grilled chicken ($3). The PBR and lime marinated slices were juicy and tender, even if the toppings kind of overwhelmed the meat.
I should point out that all the tacos come to the table composed, with all the salsas and toppings added. There are no table salsas. For the most part, this is a good idea, as the toppings and salsa are specially designed for each filling. But I wouldn't mind some hot sauce to help perk things up. These are all minor quibbles, and it's kind of amazing that Bullhead is already dishing out some good offerings so soon after opening.