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.
It's safe to say that no one in Chicago has been clamoring for a fussy taco joint that also doubles as something of an antique shop. But that's probably the best way to describe Wicker Parks' Antique Taco, a new project from the husband and wife team of Rick and Ashley Ortiz. To be sure, it doesn't look a bit like any other taqueria in town—not at all. As I mentioned in a First Look preview of the place, the space is impeccably done, and you get the sense that every aspect of the design, from the distinct plates to the tables made from reclaimed wood, was obsessed over.
Luckily, that dedication to detail manifests itself most clearly in the food. Though Antique Taco has only been open for a few months, it is already serving some seriously tasty tacos. I dropped by recently to try them all out.
These are not just tacos, they are taco concepts. Each one arrives at the table uniquely dressed and ready to go. Take my favorite taco of the bunch, the pork carnitas ($7, for two), which comes with something of a bacon and spinach salad on top, a seemingly odd choice. So, why does it work so well? I'm thanking the tamarind glaze, which adds an unmistakable citrus zing to each bite, making what sounds like an over-loaded and fatty taco taste somehow balanced and restrained.
Not all of the toppings work quite that perfectly. The grilled ribeye ($8, for two) comes with an heirloom salsa and a bunch of queso enchilado, which, while both are good, sort of cover up the meat. And it's meat that you should care about. The sheets of thinly sliced ribeye look like Korean kalbi, and arrive with some impressive char from the grill. They beg out loud for an assertive and spicy salsa to stand up to them. Luckily, Antique Taco sets out some very good tomatillo salsa on each table. When that salsa is added, this battled the carnitas taco for my affection.
Of course, picking favorites is a very personal decision, and I imagine each of these tacos has a loyal fan base. The market mushroom ($7, for two) is the lone vegetarian choice on the taco menu, and it's a stunner. Sauteed mushrooms join garlicky kale, pickled red onions and cauliflower, and a cilantro cream, for a filling but still light experience.
The crispy fish ($8, for two) looks like a traditional Baja-style fish taco, but that creamy sauce turns out to be a sriracha tartar sauce, and the cabbage is lightly smoked.
The least successful offering is probably the sweet & spicy chicken ($7, for two), but even that statement has to be qualified. The grilled chicken hunks were juicy, and the cucumber and jalapeño pickles added some crunch and spice to each bite. Everything works, and stacked up against most chicken tacos in town, this would win easily.
From the moment I looked at these tacos during a preview event, I knew they were something special. I mean, just look at them. But they've somehow even improved from there. The tortillas are softer and more supple, and I'm glad there is now salsa on the table so you can adjust the spice. It's not a traditional taqueria, but that doesn't matter much to me. If tacos are all you care about, Antique Taco is serving some of the best in Chicago right now.