One of the hard things about finding good Mexican food is that signs typically promise things that are not literally true. The outside promises a pastor cone, but then all they do is grill marinated pork on a flat top. But some places still use a trompo.
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As far as I'm concerned, Atotonilco serves only al pastor. When it's on, it's one of the best versions around—crispy, caramelized, and charged with chiles.
When I visit a taqueria for the first time, I usually play the field, sampling as much of the menu as one man reasonably can. But if the taqueria in question is named Taqueria El Pastor, which also happens to be my favorite taco filling, then I don't need to waste time lollygagging around.
I can see the al pastor spit from the sidewalk outside Birria Huentitan in Hermosa, and it looks glorious. Red-tinged marinated pork slowly turns, as a cook slices off hunks off with a large knife. But there is something else that also grabs my attention. That al pastor spit isn't some modified gyros machine, which most taquerias use to cook their al pastor. No, this is an actual al pastor spit, and instead of the standard gas flame it uses charcoal—a sight I haven't seen since Mexico City.
I see the al pastor spit and it is running. Potentially, this is good news. Ever since I challenged myself to find the best al pastor in Chicago, I've been looking for places that actually cook the marinated pork on a spit and carve it to order. And here I see proof of the spit the moment I walk into De Cero Taqueria in the West Loop.
The adobado tacos ($1.75) at this Logan Square taqueria feature juicy hunks of caramelized pork that have an intense and deep chile flavor. Just don't call them al pastor.
"It may not be the prettiest-looking food but it's certainly one of the best examples of Chicago's great taqueria culture." [Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger] Tierra Caliente 1402 N. Ashland Avenue, Chicago IL 60622 (map); 773-772-9804 The Short Order: Proper al pastor...