Serious Eats: Chicago
Standing Room Only: L' Patron Conquers Chicago's Carne Asada Scene
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.
A few months ago, In & Out Fast Food closed on Diversey in Logan Square—a passing which no one cared about because, well, the restaurant was no good. Honestly, a worker there admitted as much to me, apologizing for the hot dog as he handed it over to me. This partly explains why I had abysmally low expectations of L' Patron. I mean, reconcept a place all you'd like, but no coat of paint can cover up a lazy kitchen.
How wrong was I? As it turns out, entirely. First off, the stand has new owners, brothers Ernesto and Cesar Gonzalez, and the two have managed to exorcise any and all ghosts leftover from the mediocre stand. Ernesto, a Kendall grad and former Topolobampo cook, runs the kitchen with an eye for detail that makes other full service restaurants look lazy.
For proof, I offer up the carne asada taco ($2.00), stuffed with hunks of freshly grilled meat, still slightly pink in the middle, but tender throughout. Extra beefy but surprisingly greaseless, it stands out as something of an instant classic, and a serious contender for best in the city. Though it stuns me to say so, it tops the very good offerings of nearby Las Asadas by an inconceivably wide margin.
That steak also pops up on the Gringo ($5.49), which is a variant on the gringa, a Mexico City original that is a cross between a quesadilla and an al pastor taco. (Though the gringa is also available, the gringo, with its superior steak, is the way to go.) Sandwiched between two sheets of fresh masa, and bulked out with Chihuahua cheese, the gringo is one of those dishes I didn't even know I was missing. Plus, the price includes beans and rice.
But L' Patron is not done. The beer-battered fish taco ($2.49) features crispy tilapia topped with crunchy seasoned cabbage. It, too, impresses on the first bite, and would have easily made this fried fish taco list had L' Patron been open at the time.
I can keep going. Though not quite up to the same level, the grilled chicken ($2.00) is juicy and well seasoned. The rajas ($2.00) offer a truly flavorful vegetarian option.
Even the thin and crispy tortilla chips are freshly fried.
Only the al pastor ($2.00) disappoints. Instead of cooking on a spit, this version is griddled—a major strike in my book. Still, other places manage to get around this by offering up a flavorful marinade, but this one is sadly bland.
Still, that's just one anomaly on a menu that basically does everything else right. The red and green salsas are smoky and spicy, but never cover up the fillings. Pickled cauliflower and carrots (available for free) are crunchy and acidic, not mushy and assertive. Heck, even the cucumber water is refreshingly and light. All said, L' Patron is already up in the running for one of the best barebones taco joints in the city.