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.
Taco El Jalisciense
2859 West Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622 (map); 773-235-2859
Must Try: Chicken Tacos
Other Options: carne asada and al pastor
During my ongoing search for the best al pastor taco in Chicago, Taco El Jalisciense's name has come up a number of times. Most notably, it was featured on Chicago's Best on CBS (though the segment has since been taken down). Along with the praise came reassurances that the al pastor was lovingly carved off a working spit, which is always a good sign. In fact, Taco El Jalisciense had everything I wanted in a taco joint, except for one minor detail: it wasn't open. All the windows were boarded up, which I took as an ominous sign. I mourned its passing, and then scratched the name off my taco list. Turns out the shop just closed for a little remodeling, and it's now back and ready for customers.
Sure enough, that al pastor spit was rotating as I walked through the door. At first glance, Taco El Jalisciense doesn't look all that different from before. But a few details—new stools and a fresh coat of paint—prove that some renovations took place. Plus, it looks like the owners are sincerely trying to maintain the new feel. While I was there a worker swept the floor twice. Seems like they are dedicated to being better than ever.
Except, I really can't recommend the al pastor taco ($2.13). There's nothing offensive about it, and the meat certainly does come off a spit. But it's just kind of an average version of the filling. For one thing, the meat is chopped up into a tiny little bits, making it hard to discern any of the flavor from the spit or even the marinade. It doesn't help that the meat is cut off the spit and then tossed on a griddle. You could blame my timing, but I visited during a busy lunch period. Though not a disaster, the al pastor isn't the destination worthy taco I had hoped for.
With expectations properly slashed, I soon realized that Taco El Jalisciense was instead a remarkably solid neighborhood joint, with some very good tacos to show for it. That's especially true of the chicken taco ($2.13), which features wonderfully caramelized and tender little hunks of griddled chicken. The same can be said of the carne asada ($2.13), even if it would have benefitted from being left in bigger pieces. As for the cecina ($2.13), it was flavorful, if a little tough.
So, manage your expectations, and Taco El Jalisciense won't disappoint. Hopefully, it just takes some time to get the al pastor spit up and running properly.