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.
Am I too picky about al pastor? Sometimes I feel like I'm the cranky hall monitor of tacos in Chicago, cursed with the job of wandering around the city pointing out faults wherever I see them. Most infractions occur when a taqueria decides to forgo the use of the vertical spit, instead griddling marinated meat to order. Instead of uniformly browned and crispy, the meat becomes burnt and dry. But the lack of the spit is only the issue I discuss the most.
The most dispiriting action, in my opinion at least, is when a taqueria takes the time to do everything everything right—stack the marinated meat on a spit, roast it in front of an open flame, and then carve it off with knife—only to waste it all by tossing the tender shards of caramelized pork on a griddle where they burn and dry out. The horror!
So imagine my surprise when I ordered an al pastor taco ($2.50) at Atotonilco in Little Village and watched as thin slivers of caramelized meat were sliced off and then immediately thrown into the embrace of a warm corn tortilla. I knew, even before I bit in, that this was a going to be special.
Sure enough, each bite was a thrilling mix of textures, with the earthy achiote and chile marinade coming through. I did miss the slight hint of pineapple in the background, but that's truly nitpicking. This was one wonderful taco.
Nothing else I tried even came close. The chorizo taco ($2.50) was at least well spiced and tender, even if I did grow tired of it halfway through.
The barbacoa ($2.50) was also fine, even if it erred on the greasy side of spectrum. As for the carne asada ($2.25), it may have been cooked to order in front of me, but it was also griddled instead of grilled and completely devoid of seasoning.
But I don't care. As far as I'm concerned, Atotonilco serves only al pastor. When it's on, it's one of the best versions around—crispy and charged with chiles. Plus, the taqueria also happens to stay open all night if the craving strikes.