Slideshow: 10 Essential Mexican Dishes in Chicago for Cinco de Mayo

Crispy Tripa Taco at La Chaparrita
Crispy Tripa Taco at La Chaparrita

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

"I've never had a tripe taco anywhere close to this good. Featuring a mix of crunchy caramelized pieces, along with softer sections, it has a clean beefy profile. One of the best tacos in the whole city." Read more here >>

La Chaparrita, 2500 South Whipple Street, Chicago, IL (map); 773-247-1402

Birria at Birrieria Zaragoza
Birria at Birrieria Zaragoza

[Photograph: Joe Roy]

"Each bite from the bone was beautifully structured, the edges slightly crisp, the meat thoroughly juicy, and the occasional bit of rendered fat redolent of a distinctly goat-y flavor. Framed by the sweet but subtle consomme and mild mole, the natural taste of goat meat was pronounced in a way that was hardly gamy and wholly savory." Read more here >>

Birrieria Zaragoza, 4852 S. Pulaski Rd., Chicago, IL 60632 (map); 773-523-3700; birrieriazaragoza.com

Cemita at Cemitas Puebla
Cemita at Cemitas Puebla

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

"Why do I keep going back to Cemitas Puebla? Sure, there are other truly remarkable sandwiches in town. It's just that no matter how many cemitas I've consumed—and I've had many—I always manage to be surprised by some small detail. Occasionally, I'm struck by the flavor and depth of the housemade chipotles; other times I can't get past the creamy and tangy queso Oaxaca that is imported straight from Mexico. (Monterey Jack doesn't stand a chance against this stuff.) Certainly, I've never been disappointed by the crusty sesame seed roll." Read more here >>

Cemitas Puebla, 3619 W. North Ave., Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-772-8435; cemitaspuebla.com

Cecina de Venado Estilo Guerrero at La Casa de Samuel
Cecina de Venado Estilo Guerrero at La Casa de Samuel

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

"As long as it is listed as a speciality, it's bound to be delicious. That's definitely true of the cecina de venado estilo guerrero ($15.95) a plate of thinly sliced venison that comes with guacamole and beans. I've had some great cecina before, but none have been quite this funky and flavorful. You can tell the meat was properly marinated, because even though it comes sliced with the grain, the cecina is still tender. It makes sense that this is probably the restaurant's most famous dish, but for those who just want a sample, the cecina taco ($1.85) has all the elements rolled up and ready to go." Read more here >>

La Casa De Samuel‎, 2834 West Cermak Road, Chicago, IL 60623 (map); 773-376-7474; lacasadesamuel.com

Al Pastor Taco at Manolo's or Rubi's
Al Pastor Taco at Manolo's or Rubi's

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

Even though it's my favorite taco filling, most al pastor makes me grumpy. If you want to see it actually done right, you'll need to make your way to the Maxwell Street Market on Sunday and find either Manolo's or Rubi's. Both do al pastor right, stacking the marinated meat, and cooking it slowly in front of a charcoal flame. Every time I go, I can't decide which one I prefer, so I usually just get a taco at both places. It's not a bad system.

Maxwell Street Market, 800 South Desplaines Street, Chicago, IL 60607 (map); 312-745-4676; maxwellstreetmarket.us‎

Carnitas at Carnitas Uruapan
Carnitas at Carnitas Uruapan

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

"What pork this is. If, unlike me, you remember to specify if what part of the pig you'd like, you can get a taco full of deliriously fatty cuts. But even if you forget, you're still in good hands. Usually the leanest parts of the pig dry and tough, but not at Carnitas Uruapan. Here the meat is tender and juicy, but not greasy, while the edges are crisped up and brown. You can tell they care about the product." Read more here >>

Carnitas Uruapan Restaurant, 1725 West 18th Street, Chicago, IL 60608 (map); 312-226-2654

Hot Chocolate, Churros, and Tortas at Xoco
Hot Chocolate, Churros, and Tortas at Xoco

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

I realize I'm cheating here, but how I am I supposed to pick? Honestly, all of the options at Xoco are worth trying, but three are absolute essentials. No place in Chicago makes hot chocolate like this. Xoco imports cacao bean from Oaxaca, roasts and grinds them in house, and then serves the five completely different options. Of course, if you're getting a hot chocolate, you are required to pair it with some freshly fried churros on the side. (Hint: Dunk them.) But how can you visit Xoco without trying a torta? Honestly, we love them all, from the woodland mushroom to the ahogada.

Xoco, 449 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60654 (map); 312-334-3688; rickbayless.com‎

Taco de Papas con Rajas at Big Star
Taco de Papas con Rajas at Big Star

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

Chicago is blessed with dozens upon dozens of great taquerias, ones where you can fill up on cheap and satisfying tacos. But for the most part these are meat-centric affairs. So Big Star stands out for its high-quality vegetable taco options, including the taco de papas con rajas. For this taco, smoky chipotle chiles are tempered by cubed potatoes. As I've written before, it's hard to explain why this one works so well, but don't feel bad if you need to order a few more of these to find out.

Big Star, 1531 North Damen Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622 (map); 773-235-4039; bigstarchicago.com‎