South Side Eats: Alambres at Tacos Mario's

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[Photographs: Titus Ruscitti]

Continuing my look into some of the other items offered at the spots first covered on the South Side Tacos Guide, today we drop into Tacos Mario's, which has two locations. The first spot is a sit-down restaurant on 63rd Street and the second is a taqueria on Pulaski just south of 63rd. Mario's made the guide for their top notch tacos al pastor.

According to some info dug up by Rob Lopata for the Chicago Tribune, most al pastor places in Chicago use reconstructed gyro cones. People like owner Mario Martinez say the city's natural gas and electricity lines don't provide enough heat, which doesn't allow for proper charring. Mario, who's family also owns two popular al pastor spots in Mexico City, took it into his own hands. They use a strong gas flame, and if you catch them at the right time when the thinly shaved meat is going from cone to tortilla, you're going to get some of the best al pastor in the city. You can try it the traditional way in a taco or enjoy a plate of it in a popular dish served throughout Mexico.

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Alambres show up here and there in the Chicagoland. They seem to be particularly popular out in Aurora, but places in the city like Mario's serve plates. The word alambre means "wire" in Spanish and in certain regions of Mexico the meats are grilled on a skewer and then removed and thrown together on a platter. Some people say that's how the dish came to be named, while others say it's the fact that the melted cheese stretches out like wires as you remove a portion from the platter to your plate. Exact preparation can vary by region and restaurant, but here the dish includes chopped meats, vegetables, and lots of cheese mixed together with bacon. Warm tortillas are served on the side.

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Mario's has quite a few ingredient options. Their specialty al pastor can be mixed with a chopped chuleta (pork chop), chorizo, bacon, and more. But I wanted the al pastor to shine, so I tried a platter of it with bacon and pineapple. Usually some sort of diced peppers are included in other places where I've ate this, but the only vegetable used at Mario's is onion. Which is just fine, because then you build your own little tacos with it they make for some really tasty treats.

If you're ever in need of a catered event, Mario and his crew will come to your event, trompo and all, to serve his super tacos al pastor recipe. Your guests will be impressed.

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