Editor's Note:While we're all familiar with the usual dishes around Chicago like pizza and Italian beef, there's a whole world of adventurous food in Chicago from bugs to offal. Dennis is ready to explore the wild side of the dining scene.

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[Photographs: Dennis Lee]

The Maxwell Street Market takes place every Sunday on Des Plaines Street in the South Loop, and for Mexican street food fans, it's a fun place to check out. The weekly event is mainly a flea market where you can buy really cheap items like socks, gloves, used tools, toys, and even condoms. But aside from affordable prophylactics, there's a wide selection of stands selling different types of Mexican food, like tacos, tamales, churros, and lots more.

I'd heard a rumor about a very special taco at the market, one that you can't get anywhere else in the city (as far as I know). And it would have been perfect for the Wild Side. But to my disappointment, the goat eyeball taco was nowhere to be found. Next time I'm back, I'll be sure to see if it reappears. I cried bitter man-tears of sadness, but thankfully, my eyeballs are not in a taco.

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During my oh-so-lonely morning of wandering alone (all my friends bailed on me, as usual, because they're scared of watching me eat things like brains and testicles), I found myself nosing through the stands like a curious little kid. Over at Calvillo's, I discovered a few interesting items, including the squash blossom quesadilla ($4.50). Granted, a squash blossom quesadilla isn't the wildest of the wild, but it's not something you see terribly often, either.

The quesadilla comes packaged in an absolutely delicious handmade corn tortilla, thick, hearty, and full of corn flavor. Inside are wilted squash blossoms, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro, and onions. It's a little difficult to taste the flowers at times, but they do have a mild vegetal flavor that's not unlike the squash fruit itself. Its texture is more like a soft cooked cabbage.

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Getting a little wilder is the birria taco ($2.00), also known as goat. The gently stewed meat is tender, fall-apart soft, and slightly gamy. The gaminess doesn't detract from the taco in any way whatsoever; instead it adds character to each bite, and is hard to put down. If you've never tried goat, it's perfect in a taco, so give it a crack.

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In terms of offal, you can't do any better than the lengua taco in salsa verde ($3.00) at Rubi's. The meat itself is soft and tender, but tongue does have a particular texture that other cuts don't have. Improperly cooked, it can be like chunks of rubber, but at Rubi's, they take great care in its preparation, rendering it soft and supple. The green salsa is bright, tart, and a bit spicy, adding highlights to the round beef flavor of tongue. Don't let the thought of making out with a cow scare you off.

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But one of the more interesting items isn't a meat at all—it's smut. Corn smut (the origin of the word huitlacoche is kind of hilarious if you're into a certain type of humor). The huitlacoche quesadilla ($3.50) is composed of a fungus that infects a husk of corn while its on the stalk. Frankly, it can look a little scary, because it's jet black and mushy, and an infected corn kernel doesn't always scream "eat me!" But in Mexico it's a delicacy, and what's good for Mexico is good for me.

To make it a little more palatable, some people call it Mexican truffle, but it doesn't taste much like a black truffle. It tastes like a soft mushroom, earthy, slightly sweet, and almost mildewy. Rubi's mixes in fresh corn kernels too, so you get a little more balance in texture rather than just softness. Is it for everyone? Probably not. But you only live once, right?

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Another interesting taco comes from the head. Cow head, to be precise. The cabeza taco at Tacos D.F. ($1.50) comes from the meat on a cow's head, including the cheek. There's a ton of collagen in this meat, which breaks down into gelatin after being cooked slowly for a long time. Each bite is almost velvety in texture, and it'll leave that telltale stickiness on your lips when you're done. Properly cooked oxtail has the same quality, so if you've ever mowed down on cow tail, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. If you've never tried it and you like beef, it's not scary, so dig in.

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While I couldn't get a bite of eye at the Maxwell Street Market, it's a great place in general to dig into homemade tamales, tacos, and lots more great Mexican street food. Plus, if you're afraid of smelling like food afterwards, you can always get a spray bottle of knockoff cologne or perfume. But you better go soon. November is right around the corner.

About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.

Maxwell Street Market

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Maxwell Street Market

  • South Loop

800 S Desplaines St btwn Polk St & Cabrini St Chicago IL 60607 3127454676

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