Try the Over the Top Chicharron Tacos at Carniceria Aguascalientes


[Photograph: Mike Gebert]

One thing I always look for when driving around a neighborhood with a significant Latino population is grocery stores, carnicerias (which of course actually means "meat store"—they have their priorities straight), to see if there are any that have lunch stands or weekend (Fines de Semana) specials. For me these are arguably the best hidden-in-plain-sight food finds in Chicago—extremely authentic (because obviously they aren't getting a lot of non-Mexican walk-in traffic) and as down to earth as a Woolworth lunch counter, the automobile-city equivalent of stands in the central market of a Mexican village. Most of the time they're simple steak taco stands, but some have elaborate cafeteria lines with rows of guisados (stews).


My favorite by far for this kind is in Little Village on 26th street—Carniceria Aguascalientes. And the reason for that is the handmade tortillas patted out by the taco ladies and fried on the flat top grill. Handmade tortillas are, if not common, not rare either, but I especially like how these are thicker and puffier; they're satisfying to chew, like deep dish pizza. This is one for the City of Big Tortillas.


What to get on them? This is an important choice, not least because some of the standard items, like carne asada (steak) tacos, don't come on the handmade tortillas unless you make a point of asking for them. At this point I'm inclined to throw heartburn to the wind and order something like the chicharron tacos in salsa verde and salsa roja.


Salsa Verde and Salsa Roja

Chicharron is pork skin. I find it hard to eat and harder to like most of the time; I mean no insult to say it can be like chewing a dog treat, since dried, chewy pig skin is in fact a common dog treat. What happens at Carniceria Aguascalientes is that it cooks in the salsa, reabsorbing moisture and becoming a spongy, fatty, gooey mess. Now it's ready for me to eat, even if it's sort of like eating salsa-flavored soap.

Whatever. It's about the most over the top thing you can have for $2.00 anywhere in town—hot with chili fury; gooey with molten, gelatinous fat; and the tortilla as warm and soft and comfy as the blanket Mom put over when you had a fever as a kid. Eat it, let your eyes roll back in your head, stare blankly at the Mexican music videos playing overhead, and feel yourself a million miles away from the Chicago you know where eating spicy skin and fat on a tortilla born seconds earlier isn't even thought of. You are lucky to live here, and for a moment, you know why.