Chicago is a steak taco town. Sure, we have loads of other enticing options, including stunning examples of carnitas, al pastor, birria, etc... But if I had to pick the most common taco filling around, carne asada reigns supreme.
And when it's done right, what's not to love? It's like a getting a shot of pure, unrestrained beef without all the pomp and cost of a fancy steak dinner. It's also a model of simplicity: steak is grilled, wrapped up in soft corn tortillas, and then topped with onion, cilantro, lime juice, and salsa. Most of the time, that's all you need.
So why do so many places screw it up? Usually a griddle is to blame, though I also hate it when places chop the meat up into a thousand little pieces, so that it dries out and turns tough. The best places treat the meat like the steak it is, grilling it until caramelized and flavorful, but also leaving it juicy. Let's look at the best versions you can find right now in Chicago.
First, let's figure out exactly what were looking for. The name means grilled steak, but in general, carne asada in Chicago comes in two forms. The most common iteration features grilled skirt steak that is sliced against the grain into bite-sized chunks. But taquerias can also use thin slices of ribeye (or another steak cut), which are often left intact after the grilling process. Both have their strong points, and neither is inherently better than the other. You'll find both versions in my list.
Also, I decided to only include places where I could get tacos. Numerous Mexican restaurants serve carne asada, with tortillas on the side for you to construct your own. This is delicious, but I wanted to focus on the places that sold individual tacos.
Where's La Pasadita?
How could I leave off the city's most famous steak taco purveyor? Easy. It's not good enough. As I found out last year, La Pasadita simply isn't what it used to be. That or other places have improved to the point where the institution no longer stands out. Though well seasoned, the carne asada is often overly greasy. Plus, the restaurant's iconic location on the east side of Ashland closed, which against all good reason, I liked the best.
Initially I wanted to rank these, but after creating the list of my favorites, I realized that there was a group of eight that stood out from the rest. Figuring out what order those belonged in terrified me, as each brings something unique to the game. Instead, these are the eight that I think are worth your time.
Click through the slideshow to see my favorite carne asada tacos in Chicago, or look at the picks below.