Mention steak tacos in Chicago and La Pasadita's name is destined to come up first. Sure, part of the notoriety was due to the fact that it had three locations within a block in a very popular neighborhood, but by eschewing pork and focusing on the beef, the restaurants managed to serve some genuinely killer tacos. Why the past tense? On a quest last year to see which of those La Pasadita outlets was the best, I came to the realization that something had gone wrong. Shortcuts were taken, and the quality was off. Most importantly, those steak tacos were not as delicious as they once were. Subsequent visits were just as infuriating. While I'd occasionally encounter a decent version, more often than not I left disappointed.
But luckily there is no need to mourn, because another contender is on the scene. Las Asadas has a similarly stripped down, beef-centric menu, complete with an oddball tossed on the menu for no apparent reason (have you ever had a good chile relleno taco?). But whereas La Pasadita is a erratic, Las Asadas is consistently on top of its game. In fact, the only real question is which Las Asadas location is the best. I was most familiar with the one on Western Ave., but had heard that the Pulaski location might be better. In the end, the two battled honorably for the title.
Regardless of which one you choose, if it comes from a cow, you probably want to order it. Every visit should start with at least one carne asada taco ($2.05). Everything that makes Las Asadas great is summed up here: the beef is well seasoned and juicy, the tortillas are soft and sturdy, and the salsas are fresh and fierce. Both locations served basically identical versions, making this round a tie.
As for the barbacoa taco ($2.05), the Pulaski version was the clear winner. While absolutely dripping with juices, it wasn't greasy, so you could really taste the subtly spiced beef. The Western Avenue version was good, but didn't have the same kind of overwhelming beefy profile.
The Pulaski location also served the best lengua taco ($2.10). Like the previous two items, the tender tongue mysteriously tasted extra beefy, while also remaining juicy. I don't know how the restaurant does it, but this separates Las Asadas from the pack.
When you drift away from the cow, the options get dicier and far less rewarding. While decent, the chicken taco ($2.05) is still underwhelming. The rice and beans in the vegetarian taco ($2.05) are both good, though they'd probably work better good as a side dish. The only outright dud was the chile relleno taco ($2.75), a taco which I've never, ever had a good experience with. Of course, some day I will learn from these mistakes and stop ordering them.
Each taco is helped immeasurably by the taqueria's blackened chile salsa, which has a kick to it, but also has a wonderful smoky presence. The tomatillo salsa isn't bad either.
So, in general terms, the Las Asadas on Pulaski is more consistent, but the Western Ave. one is certainly no slouch (plus it far more convenient to public transportation). But both absolutely left poor La Pasadita in the dust. There are plenty of other contenders for the steak taco crown in Chicago, but Las Asadas is up there with the best.