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Chicago Tacos: Huaraches Doña Chio

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.

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[Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger]

Huaraches Doña Chi

1547 West Elmdale Avenue, Chicago, IL 60660 (map); 773-878-8470
Must Try: The freshly made corn tortillas are the star, but the asada and tinga are both remarkable.
Cost: $2.50
Other Options: chorizo con papa, al pastor

I'll go ahead and get this out of the way: yes, I did visit Huaraches Doña Chio without ordering a huarache. It's nothing against the sandal-shaped piece of masa (which I love), but, lest we forget, this is a column about tacos. Plus, I had a grand theory I wanted to test out: if this place prepared the huaraches to order using fresh masa, wouldn't there be a high probability that it would do the same with tortillas? If so, this place could serve some genuinely tasty tacos.

It did feel wrong, and every time someone dug into a plate-sized huarache, my heart sunk just a bit. But I persevered, and I'm glad I did. All my conjecturing actually paid off the moment I saw the plate of gargantuan tacos hit the table. Indeed, Huaraches Doña Chio makes its tortillas to order using fresh masa, and they are wonder—thick but soft, fluffy yet substantial. They have a pronounced corn flavor, and are so big and warm, I kind of want to curl up in them. Honestly, I haven't seen tortillas like these outside of the Maxwell Street Market. But unlike that weekly market, these are handmade every single day of the week. The fillings aren't as universally astonishing as those found at La Chaparrita, but the tortillas make up for any and all shortcomings.

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Of the seven fillings I tried, three stood out. I was particularly pleased with the tinga ($2.50), where braised chicken comes bathed in a well spiced red sauce. It's so flavorful, you don't even need to add salsa, though the restaurant's green and red salsas are both very good.

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The asada ($2.50) tastes slightly unhinged, in the best possible way. The crispy caramelized hunks of beef are fantastic just heaped inside the massive tortilla, but really come alive with some of the tomatillo salsa.

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And, wouldn't you know, instead of serving only a basic chorizo taco, you can also get a chorizo con papas ($2.50). The sauce is subtly spiced, while the potatoes are nice and creamy.

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From there, you just get varying levels of good. The pastor ($2.50) looked nothing like the best versions around, but as a marinated pork filling it worked. The chicharron en salsa verde ($2.50)—fried pork skin tossed in a spicy green salsa—is definitely interesting, but as an enormous taco, it can get tiring after awhile. I also tried a couple vegetable tacos, neither of which quite worked as well as I hoped. I realized after the fact that you can order tacos with multiple fillings. I imagine some rajas with the asada would be particularly good.

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During my taco quest, I've come to realize that the tortillas are the soul of the taco. Huaraches Doña Chio definitely knows this. While it may be more famous for its namesake dish, don't completely overlook the tacos, which are given more care here than at just about any other place in town.

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