Chicago Tacos: Zacatacos
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.
3949 West 71st Street, Chicago, IL 60629 (map); 773-582-9701; zacatacos.net
Must Try: Al Pastor and Carne Asada
Other Options: Potato taco and chicken taco (both $2.00) are also very good.
Though I've found great tacos in all parts of the city, I'm just now realizing that there are a staggering number of amazing options are nestled around Midway Airport. There is, of course, the unquestionable brilliance of Birrieria Zaragoza, which is one of the tastiest places to eat in the whole city. But after a stop at a few other taquerias nearby, and more specifically Zacatacos, I'm wondering if this area has the highest concentration of great taquerias in the city.
From the moment I walked in Zacatacos (which is technically located in the South Side neighborhood of West Lawn) I knew I had come to the right place. Al pastor was spinning on the spit, fresh beef was sizzling on the gas grill, and every single table was filled. Honestly, it's hard to even say where to begin. There are too many great tacos here to eat in one go, but I gave it my best try.
That's definitely true of the al pastor taco ($2.00). The meat features one of the best marinades I've encountered yet, with a strong presence of achiote paste, along with a nice vinegar tang. I also liked that the pieces were left in larger hunks, instead of being chopped up to bits. This taco alone is worth the trip.
Actually, scratch that. Zacatacos also happens to kick out one of the best carne asada tacos ($2.00) around. Thinly sliced sheets of beef are tossed on the grill, sprinkled with seasoning, and then cooked until browned. They are moved to the chopping table, where they are allowed to rest for a few minutes, and then sliced up. This is just about everything you could want in a great carne asada taco: extra beefy, well seasoned, and juicy.
Even the chicken tinga taco ($2.00) is excellent. The braised meat has a faint sweetness to it and a rounded chili flavor. If you've been scared off by dry chicken tacos, this is how it's supposed to taste.
But even the odder choices are worth ordering. I'm on record as a passionate defender of the oft-overlooked potato taco, and Zacatacos has a particularly worthy version. The fried exterior of the papa taco ($1.75) is exceptionally thin, providing just a momentary resistance before your teeth dig into the fluffy mashed potatoes.
The cecina taco ($2.00), though solid, is the only option I tried here that wasn't a showstopper. It was missing the robust and funky flavor of some versions around.
Are there any faults? I know that the fine folks at Zacatacos had no way of knowing, but I don't know why they have to be so far away from me. Sure, there is another location on Pulaski and 59th Place, but not only are both still over 12 miles from my northwest side neighborhood, they are also an epic trek from both I-55 and I-90 & 94. Oh, and did I mention the fact that Pulaski, the closest north-south street, is going through a massive construction project currently, making a trip down there extra inconvenient? Oh well, it is close to Midway, so consider this one of a number of good options to try before you take off.