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.
4019 West North Avenue, Chicago, IL 60639 (map); 773-276-0768
Must Try: Tacos Al Pastor
Other Options: Carne Asada ($1.90)
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. I am transfixed. But there is something else that also grabs my attention. That al pastor spit isn't some modified gyros machine, which is the kind that 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.
So, in recap: a working spit and high expectations. Wait, haven't I been here before? Last week I visited the swanky De Cero in the West Loop, only to find the actual meat to be bland and burnt. But not this time. Birria Huentitan, though not exactly firing on all levels, serves up some great tacos.
I should rephrase that. Birria Huentitan serves one great taco. And, as you can imagine, it's all about the al pastor. The pork is sliced off in large hunks and mostly left that way, so that the pieces are both crisp and juicy. As some have noted, the marinade is on the mild side, which does hold this taco back from being the transcendent experience I dearly want it to be. Still, I'd much rather have my al pastor on the mild side and also have it this well prepared. I will be back.
Just not for the other fillings, which are average and forgettable. Interestingly, al pastor isn't in this taqueria's name, but birria sure is. So it's too bad the birria is kind of dry. And I'm not sure what it takes to make cabesa dry, but that's what I encountered.
At least the carne asada was juicy. Sadly, it was missing the charred and caramelized exterior that sets the truly exceptional carne asada apart.
But I am willing to cut any taqueria loads and loads of slack if they manage to come close with al pastor. Birria Huentitan shows a dedication to the spit roasted marinated pork that few others can match. All added up, this is easily one of the better examples of the filling in the city.
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