tacos garcias

I probably should've cut down those trees so you could see the whole thang.

I probably should’ve cut down those trees so you could see the whole thang.

In a sea of great taco joints, Tacos Garcias sticks out like the 73rd sardine in the 92nd row of a bait ball.

Tacos Garcias must feel like Wilt Chamberlain’s 6,942nd notch on his bed post.

In a city of Beyonce level Mexican food, Tacos Garcias is one of those other stupid girls from Destiny’s Child.

What I’m trying to tell you, is that Tacos Garcias is pretty good in its own right…..BUT, with so many other wonderful places to try a taco, this place just seems like one of many many many.

If Tacos Garcias was a girl I was trying to break up with, I’d say, “Listen. You’re a very pretty girl. It’s just, that there are a lot of way hotter girls out there than you.”

Ok. You get the point.

I tried 4 tacos. The carne asada, al pastor, and chorizo are all very basic. Good. But, basic. The asada has some nice grill flavor. The pastor is juicy and you can taste charred flavor throughout. And, the chorizo is a little smoky and isn’t too greasy. So, pretty good.

The fish taco is nice because it’s one piece of fish, grilled. I’m not a big fan of shredded fish or the deep fried mess that is more crust than meat. Here, they give you one fillet that fills the tortilla. Again, pretty good.

But you notice, there’s no sizzle. No bells. No whistles. Just pretty decent tacos.

So, there really isn’t much else to say. If you live really close and your legs hurt, then maybe try this place. If not, maybe try one of the other hotties out there.

OH!…..I wouldn’t mind seeing what the attached watering hole is all about. I mean, when there are humans in there and the lights are on. Who knows, could be a great scene.

But, alas. On to the next notch on my not-so-Wilt-like taco belt…

From top left: Jessica, Stacy, Jennifer, Erica.

From top left: Jessica, Stacy, Jennifer, Erica.

The pacifics:

  • Location:  3327 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL (Logan Square)
  • Tourists:  Josh, Hawk, Glen, Nikki
  • Tacos sampled:  carne asada, al pastor, chorizo and pescado (also have picadillo, pollo, cecina, lengua, vegetarian, and chile relleno)
  • Toppings:  onions and cilantro or lettuce and tomato
  • Salsa:  roja, verde y pico de gallo
  • Extras: chips
  • Tortillas: corn or flour
  • Atmosphere: 1/2 taqueria, 1/2 bar, 1/8 full, quiet, did anyone pay the light bill?
  • Price: $1.95-$2.95/taco
  • OVERALL RATING: 7.5
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tierra caliente #2

2.0

2.0

Ok, we can all stop. The wait is over. The time is now. I have returned from my taco hiatus! (Now I know how The Beatles must’ve felt.)

I have a small, insignificant, petty excuse for my absence. And, for that, I apologize. You see, what I’ve been doing, if you could please find it in your heart to forgive me, is…..well….you see. Julia and I had a little baby boy, and I’ve been doing my best to be a good father.

I know. I know. How selfish can one person be? To put the entire taco community on hold, just to ensure my son has a healthy beginning to his life. I can only promise in the future to be more honest with myself where my priorities should be.

Alas, we shall move forward.

So, I’ve blogged about a few grocery store taco joints in the past, and they’ve all been pretty good. Today, my son Hawk (yes, that’s his name….deal with it) and I went to a small one located close to our apartment called Tierra Caliente #2. I went to the flagship store a while back and thought it was pretty good. You can read about it here. But, how does the little stepchild hold up?

Well, there are many similar things about the two, which shouldn’t be a surprise, but there were also some differences. Overall, though, it holds up nicely.

I tried four tacos, including three which had steak. The good ole carne asada, the campechano and the tierra caliente. Like the mother store, I couldn’t tell a huge difference between the tacos containing steak.

The meat is all cooked well, though, with nice grill flavor and the right amount of seasoning. But, it all tastes the same. In the campechano, which has skirt steak and marinated pork, all you can taste is the cow meat. Not the little piggy. The tierra caliente, which has grilled onions and special sauce, also just tastes like steak. Good steak, but all just like steak. Also, at the main store, the tierra caliente is very spicy. Here, it’s not at all. They should just call it the tierra.

I also tried the al pastor, which was my favorite taco at the other location. Here, the pastor doesn’t have much sauce and is more bare bones than most al pastor tacos. There aren’t any grilled onions or pineapple. Again, they did a nice job with the meat, but a little flavor from the accompanying toppings would be nice.

A couple side notes:

1. These tacos are a great deal for $2. They come stuffed full of enough meat to make three or four tacos. For any baller on a budget, I’d suggest this place.

2. In my review of their corporate location, I mentioned how fast their service is. Not the case here. They’re not exactly slow, but their operation is a little confusing and they don’t always know whose tacos are whose. It’s basically a bunch of dudes up at the counter, telling the server that every order is theirs. Kind of chaotic at times, but I guess they make it work.

Overall, though, I’m a fan of this place. With a couple upgrades, I could see this being a top 10 spot.

Anyway. Welcome back to the big leagues, me.

I haven’t talked to Julia today, but I don’t think she’s pregnant, so hopefully I can keep my priorities straight now…

The stats for 2.0:

Steak. Steak. Steak.

Steak. Steak. Steak.

  • Location:  2556 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL (Logan Square)
  • Tourists:  Josh, Hawk
  • Tacos sampled:  asada, al pastor, campechano, tierra caliente (also have chiles rellenos, pollo, lengua, chicharron and chorizo)
  • Toppings: onions and cilantro
  • Salsa: rojo (pretty caliente)
  • Extras: grilled jalpenos
  • Tortillas: corn
  • Atmosphere: grocer, bar stools, counter, non-gringos, orchestrated chaos
  • Price: $2.00/taco (lengua is $2.75)
  • OVERALL RATING: 7.75
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el habanero

Mr. Music, please.

Mr. Music, please.

Because I’m kind of a big deal in the taco community, I get in to a lot of taco-based conversations. People are always asking me what I think about a place or if I’ve heard of this or that. My taco ears are always to the ground.

With that said, I haven’t heard a lot of buzz about El Habanero from anyone, with the exception of my friend Justin. Justin’s a highly recognized music mogul, who chimes in with his taco recommendations from time to time. So, I decided to meet up with him and head over to El Habanero to see what none of the fuss is about.

The first thing I noticed about El Habanero is that it’s small and empty. Granted, we were there on a Tuesday, but generally speaking, an empty restaurant isn’t a great sign. We seated ourselves and I decided on three tacos: the asada, the al pastor and the tilapia.

I generally like to start with the asada, since it’s something almost every taco joint carries and is a good measuring stick for how good (or bad) the place is. The asada at El Habanero is good, but nothing special. The meat is cooked fine and has a nice texture, but it’s lacking in spice and grill flavor. I’d like to see them step up their asada game.

Next, I had the al pastor. While the meat, again, is cooked nicely, it’s the adobo sauce here that’s the star of the show. It has a nice mix of sweet, spicy and smoky paprika. Topped with onions, grilled pineapple, and cilantro, I enjoyed the balance and explosion of all the flavors. I am completely fine with their al pastor game.

Finally came the tilapia. I was intrigued by this taco right away. Normally, fish tacos are served with deep fried fish that has been cut into chunks. Here, they serve a grilled filet of tilapia, about the same size as the tortilla. There’s no breading or crust and it is left whole. I absolutely love this taco! While tilapia has never been known for it’s overwhelming taste, you get the flavor of the fish without breading or anything masking the experience. Served with onions and cilantro and a squeeze of lime, it’s simple, yet very tasty. I’m in love with their tilapia game.

Oh, yeah. The salsa verde is pretty darned good. And, muy caliente!

So, I guess you could say I’m a pretty big fan of this place. I’ll definitely be back.

The lesson I learned here? Well, in the words of Chuck D and Flava Flav, “Don’t believe the hype.” Or, I guess, “Don’t believe the absence of hype.”

Muy bien.

Muy bien.

See you at the next stop.

  • Location:  3300 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago, IL (Logan Square)
  • Tourists:  Josh, Justin
  • Tacos sampled:  asada, pastor, talapia (also have pollo, picadillo, chile relleno, vegetariano and lengua)
  • Toppings:   onions and cilantro; lime
  • Salsa:  salsa roja y salsa verde (caliente)
  • Extras:  chips
  • Tortillas:  corn
  • Atmosphere:  small, empty-ish, laid back, hidden gem-ish, authentico, why don’t more people come here?!?
  • Price:  $2.09-$2.59/taco
  • OVERALL RATING:  8.5
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don chema restaurant

All of my friends who celebrated National Taco Day with me...

All of my friends who celebrated National Taco Day with me…

It’s Saturday, October 4th, 2014. Do you know what today is?…other than the last day of my father’s 64th year on Earth? (Happy Birthday tomorrow, padre!)

That’s right, today is National Taco Day. I couldn’t skip going to a taco joint today. Wouldn’t be right. But where to go?

Well, I’m going to a party at my friend Justin’s later on today. Yes, as in the Justin that accompanied me on my very first Taco Tour stop. He’s gained legendary status in the Midwest and Mexico since then.

What does that have to do with anything?

Well, at one of the first parties I ever went to at his current crib, a co-worker of his told me about a place called Don Chema, which is all of about 2 blocks away from my apartment. I’ve passed it a million times. So, why haven’t I reviewed this place? And why have I never been there?

Because I was told it is the worst, dog-food wannabe Mexican garbage in all of Chicagoland. So, I haven’t really made it a point to stop by…..until, today. I dressed like it was January, braved the cold, rainy, windy autumn day, and made the quarter mile jaunt to check it out.

So, was this friend-of-a-friend, who I’ve met one time for a grand total of about three hours, correct?

Nope. Not even close.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the greatest place on Earth, but it’s really tasty. It’s a little more expensive than Moran’s, and not quite as good, but it still stacks up against most of the places in Logan Square.

The first taco I tried was the camaron. It’s the taco I enjoyed least on my visit. The shrimp is cooked very well, and there is a large amount of it in the tortilla. It is also topped with two nice strips was fresh avocado. But, it didn’t have a ton of flavor. I liked it, but compared the others I tried, this one wasn’t on par.

Next I had the carne asada. I really like the char flavor the beef gets. Seasoned nicely, and again, a large amount of carne on the tortilla, make for a very nice steak taco. If I had one nitpickity tidbit to add (which I do) I would like to see the meat cut into a little larger chunks so you can get more beef flavor and texture. But, still, a solid taco.

Then came my favorite: the chorizo. Theirs is house made and has all of the qualities of a great chorizo. It’s smoky, paprika-y, spicy and not too greasy or sloppy. It also has a warm spice added that tastes like cinnamon or clove. It isn’t overpowering, but adds just a little extra depth and comfort to an already delicious pork product.

Last, I tried the roasted pork, which is their al pastor. Another success. Roasted juicy pork cooked to perfection with a chipotle marinade and topped with grilled onions and pineapple. Yumm-oh! (Did i just infringe on a Rachel Ray copyright?) I could use a little more spice, but I’d still eat it as is any day of the week.

Overall, this place is a great taco spot, and I’ll definitely be back.

I guess that’s the last time I’ll trust a guy I don’t even know…at least until tonight’s party.

Dog food? I think not!

Dog food? I think not!

Happy Holiday, kids!!

See ya at the next stop.

  • Location:  2331 N. California Ave., Chicago, IL (Logan Square)
  • Tourists:  Josh
  • Tacos sampled:  camaron, carne asada, chorizo, roasted pork (also have ground beef, stuffed pepper, tongue, chicken, barbacoa, fish and tripitas)
  • Toppings:  onions and cilantro or lettuce and tomato
  • Salsa:  salsa roja, salsa roja smoky, salsa verde
  • Extras:  chips
  • Tortillas:  corn
  • Atmosphere:  tiki/not tiki bar, seat yourself, quiet, futbol, friendly
  • Price:  $2.25-$2.99/taco
  • OVERALL RATING:  8.25
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taco fest

Start at 12 o’clock and go clockwise. Café Tola – birria (goat) Flaco’s Tacas – grilled rib eye steak Mystic Celt – fried catfish Garifuna Flava – jerk chicken The Pony – pulled duck breast New England Seafood Company Fish Market & Restaurant – fried fish Café El Tapatio – deshebrada (short rib) Taco Joint – pork cochinita Tacos Nietos – al pastor Si Fu Chinese Latin Kitchen – mongolian beef New England Seafood Company Fish Market & Restaurant – lobster Newport Bar & Grill – soyracha chicken

Start at 12 o’clock and go clockwise. Café Tola – birria (goat) Flaco’s Tacas – grilled rib eye steak Mystic Celt – fried catfish Garifuna Flava – jerk chicken The Pony – pulled duck breast New England Seafood Company Fish Market & Restaurant – fried fish Café El Tapatio – deshebrada (short rib) Taco Joint – pork cochinita Tacos Nietos – al pastor Si Fu Chinese Latin Kitchen – mongolian beef New England Seafood Company Fish Market & Restaurant – lobster Newport Bar & Grill – soyracha chicken

The second annual Taco Fest just happened in Chicago.

“What?,” you may say to yourself. “I never knew there was even a first annual Taco Fest. Why didn’t I ever hear about it? Wasn’t it a success? What did they do wrong last year?”

Well, they had it on a weekend when I couldn’t attend, so there was no Taco Tourist presence. “How can a taco festival be a taco festival without the Taco Tourist?,” you ask. Well, it can’t. So, for all intents and purposes, this was the first annual Taco Fest.

“Wait, but what was so important last year that you couldn’t attend?” you ask me to yourself (man, you sure do talk to yourself a lot).

I actually don’t remember, but I’m guessing it was either my weekend in the slammer or that three day rendezvous with the Swedish Bikini Team. I can’t recall.

Alright, enough banter between me and the voices in your head. How was the festival? And, how were the tacos?

My first reaction when I saw the lineup, was that the real heavy hitters weren’t there. No Big Star. No Nuevo Leon. No La Pasadita…But, there were a decent amount of vendors, so I swallowed up my taco pride, and headed to Lake View. Then, I started sampling, kept sampling, watched a little Mexican Professional Wrestling, and sampled some more. I’m just one person, there only one day, so I did all the damage I could and here are the results:

Best Tacos (I tried):

Garifuna Flava – jerk chicken. Even though this place didn’t have any tacos early in the day, the person who decided to make a run for tortillas deserves a medal. Smoked, spicy jerk chicken with onions and cilantro makes a tasty treat and a happy Taco Tourist.

Mystic Celt – fried catfish. Yes, another non-Latin taco makes the best list, but I can’t help it, it’s really delicious. The catfish is one, large breaded hunk of meat topped with guacamole, tomatoes, lettuce and lime. It’s got a little bite and it cooked quite nicely. I guess I’m a sucker for those good ole fashioned Irish tacos.

Café Tola – birria. To date, this is the best goat taco I’ve had. It’s stewed very nicely to a tender, moist consistency along with salsa and red onion. The meat has enough spice and flavor that not much else is needed. Me gusta.

Flaco’s Tacos – grilled ribeye. Although it is served with onions, cilantro, salsa, lime and cheese to add flavor, there’s not doubt why this was one of my favorites: the healthy portion of juicy, charred ribeye steak. I fell in love with the carne on my first bite and never looked back. ‘Nough said.

Worst Tacos (I tried):

Si Fu Chinese Latin Kitchen – Mongolian beef. Let me just say that I love Mongolian beef. It was the first Asian dish I fell in love with. Let me also say that the idea for this taco has great potential and is very intriguing. Just know this: this taco tasted nothing like Mongolian beef and is very bland. Next.

New England Seafood Company Fish Market & Restaurant – lobster. This taco is stuffed full of lobster. Even though they are $8 apiece, I still think it’s a fair price for the amount of lobster meat stuffed into the tortilla. So, why was it one of the worst? It’s served COLD. I generally don’t have rules when it comes to tacos, but I think this has produced rule number one: tacos must be served warm or hot. No other way.

The Rest (I tried):

The Pony – pulled duck breast. Pretty good. Almost made the best list.

New England Seafood Company Fish Market & Restaurant – fried fish. Better than their lobster taco, but still not that great.

Café El Tapatio – deshebrada (short rib). Also close to the best list. Tender. Tasty. Good.

Taco Joint – pork cochinita. Pretty deece.

Tacos Nietos – al pastor. Very deece.

Newport Bar & Grill – soyracha chicken. Good chicken taco. Not dry like so many are.

So, in all, I tried 12 tacos. There are a couple vendors I didn’t make it to, but I think for one (small, scrawny, weak, frail) guy, I did a pretty good job of making the rounds.

Normally, when I leave these festivals, it’s my liver that is mad at me. Here, though, it was my colon.

On to the next episode.

 

Fried catfish from Mystic Celt.

Fried catfish from Mystic Celt.

Birria from Cafe Tola.

Birria from Cafe Tola.

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birrieria reyes de ocotlan

Weirdos.

Weirdos.

Growing up in a small town that mainly consists of two types of people, White and White Trash, dining on any exotic or unusual meats wasn’t really an option. Our proteins were pretty much limited to chickens, cows and pigs. So, as I’ve broken out of my culinary mold, I make it a point to try as many animals as possible.

With that said, there are two things I’ve neglected here in Chicago on my Taco Tour:  Birrierias and the Pilsen neighborhood. So, why not kill two birds with one stone?

I’ve always thought that birrieiras were Mexican joints that specialize in goat. And while I was wrong, I was barking up the right arbol…

Birrierias are Mexican joints that specialize in birra, or stewed meats. Traditionally, it’s been made with goat meat…BUT, it doesn’t necessarily have to be goat. It can be made with cow or lamb as well. Boy, was my face red when I found out.

While searching for the meaning on the Interwebs, I came across several other contextual meanings of the word which I found humorous. Some of them include, but are not limited to: a useless object, trash, rotten, beer and worthless (Spanish); and an ale house (Italian). You put all those together and you get The Two Way (ooooooohhhhh). Sorry. Logan Square joke.

My point is, I need to learn more about this stuff. So, I flew in two of my friends from California, called my amiga Lisa, and headed down to Pilsen. I’ve read a lot about Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan while researching the area. So, I insisted we try it….half against the will of Lisa, who is half Mexican, and lives half a mile from the restaurant.

Sooooo, how is it?

It’s pretty decent, but my taco diva intuitions tell me they can be so much more with just a few tweaks.

I tried two types of birria: the res (cow) and the chivo (goat). Let me start by saying they are both very nicely stewed meats. They obviously take their time preparing the carne. It reminds me of a nice, cozy, tender comfort meal. BUT, I wish they would bring some flavor and spice to the party. Both meats, which are eerily similar in every way, could use a little seasoning and some kick. The onions and cilantro add a bit of crunch and freshness, but the texture and flavorlessness of the meat pretty much destroy that immediately.

I also tried the lengua. Lengua is another meat that is usually slow cooked and known for it’s tender, pot roast-like texture. To find out what I think about it, reread the previous paragraph and insert the word lengua where I talk about the birrias.

All of the tacos are served rolled up in a thin wax paper. As you open the taco, you can’t help making a mess. The juices and broth from the stewed meats runs all over. So, don’t stop by here on the way to your next Quinceanera.

There are two tacos I didn’t try. One is the cabeza, or head meat. They advertise it as a “tender meat”. I’m pretty sure I’d have the same feelings about this one as the three I tried. The last is higado, which is goat liver. Eh. Maybe next time.

When you open these up, think of a diaper diarrhea blowout...

When you open these up, think of a diaper diarrhea blowout…

Don’t worry, though. I haven’t given up on birrierias….or Pilsen.

I’ll be boch…

  • Location:  1322 W 18th St., Chicago, IL (Pilsen)
  • Tourists:  Josh, Josh, Chanel, Lisa, Lilah, Juliet
  • Tacos sampled:  birria de res, birria de chivo, lengua (also have cabeza, and higado)
  • Toppings:   onions and cilantro; lime
  • Salsa:  roja y verde
  • Extras:  chips
  • Tortillas: corn
  • Atmosphere:  small, stewed, dirty, authentico, messy
  • Price:  $2.00-$2.50/taco
  • OVERALL RATING: 6.5
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the tamale spaceship

Kinda looks like  comic book store...

Kinda looks like comic book store…

The Tamale Spaceship is a pretty dumb name. We can all agree on that. It’s also pretty stupid that they try to pull a gimmick like a Lucha Libre motif. We can all agree on that.

It also may be stupid for me to review tacos at a tamale place, but we’ll have to discuss that a little further…and see if we agree on that.

The Tamale Spaceship started as a food truck, which still exists, but they have also opened up a restaurant. So, upon the recommendation of my Adonis-like friend Glen and his sassy little sweetheart Nikki, we mounted our bicycles and rode down to Wicker Park to check it out.

The restaurant is an order-at-the-counter, gastro Mexican joint with a nice little unassuming patio on the side.

One thing I don’t particularly like about this spot, is that you have to order tacos in pairs. You can’t just order one of each. I really hate it when places don’t do tacos a la carte. I know. I’m such a diva. But, luckily, Glen and Nikki were nice enough to let me try one of their tacos, so I was able to sample three of their four varieties.

The tacos are modeled after the Big Star tacos that everyone in the world loves, yet are a bit pricier. But, how do they stack up in taste?

My first taco was the barbacoa, which is made of short rib meat. It’s topped with salsa verde, onions and cilantro. They are served on handmade corn tortillas, which is a nice start. The meat is decent, resembling a pot roast, although I’d prefer a little more spice. Overall, probably my favorite of the three I tried.

My second taco was the cochinita pibil, which is Yucatecan-style roasted pork. It’s served with a habanero sauce and purple pickled onions. Again, it’s pretty good. The meat is cooked well, but it lacks anything to write home about (or blog home about?). The two meats I tried are very similar, and with only four tacos on the menu, I’d like to see a little more variety (sooo Diva).

Finally, I tried the hongos, or mushroom, taco. Nikki is one of those hippy vegetarian weirdos, which means she’s never really had a good meal. So, I figured I’d give one a try. I’m not the biggest fan of the mushroom taco, and yes, I gave it a fair chance. It’s portabella mushrooms marinated with a garlic sauce and a black bean corn relish on top. It needs some onions or something crunchy to make the textures more contrasting. The mushrooms are naturally a little rubbery and the black bean relish is too pasty. I need a little crunch, know what I mean?

I’m probably a little hard on this place, but I think they could do better with what they’ve got. Lower the prices, get rid of the gimmick, serve tacos a la cart, add some variety in choice, and incorporate some spice…then they’d be speaking my language.

Maybe I shoulda ordered the chicken taco…or maybe just stuck to their namesake tamales. Either way, it’s not my favorite place. That we can agree on.

Looks good, doughnut?

Looks good, doughnut?

I enjoyed my time with my pals, though.

Now, on to the next spot!

  • Location:  1341 N. Damen Ave., Chicago, IL (Wicker Park)
  • Tourists:  Josh, Glen, Nikki
  • Tacos sampled:  barbacoa, cochinita pibil, hongos (also have pollo a las brasas)
  • Toppings:  varies per taco
  • Salsa:  salsa verde y salsa roja
  • Extras:  nada
  • Tortillas:  handmade corn
  • Atmosphere:  lucha libres, sterile, decent hidden patio, tamales, trendy gastro wannabe-ish
  • Price: $6.75/two tacos
  • OVERALL RATING: 7.0
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pink taco

I think they could've come up with a more risque sign...

I think they could’ve come up with a more risque sign…

First, I’d like to apologize to my millions of readers for my hiatus. I know many people have been holding their breath, waiting for my next post. Those people who held their breath are, well, dead. To the rest of you….here’s what you’ve been waiting for!

I recently went on a weekend binge to Las Vegas. What better way to break up a binge than to eat some tacos? So, a group of my friends and I visited the Pink Taco, located at the Hard Rock Hotel. I’ll save the lame wise cracks on the name and let you come up with the euphemisms.

I was pretty excited about this stop on the tour because I really like this restaurant. Liking a restaurant, though, does not automatically equate to a good taco joint, which is what I quickly found out here. I won’t dwell on it, I’ll just get straight to the point.

First of all, the tacos are pretty darned expensive. Orders are between $14 and $18 each, which includes three tacos, rice and beans (they also have a $24 burrito). Also, you cannot mix and match. Luckily, I have good friends who were willing to trade tacos with me.

Now, don’t get me wrong, they do use quality ingredients, but for what you’re paying, you could find a date in one of those lady catalogs they hand out on the street. I sampled three types: shrimp, tuna and fish.

The shrimp is my favorite. They’re seared in a chipotle sauce and topped with serrano, red cabbage, cucumber and tomatillo salsa. The shrimp taco has the most meat in it and goes further than the others. The shrimp must be too crowded in the pan, though, as they fail to get the crisp sear they deserve.

The fish taco is ok. It’s a decent sized hunk of flesh and is topped with a serrano and cilantro salsa, shredded cabbage, sour cream and pico de gallo. The ingredients sound very good, but it’s nothing more than an average fish taco. I’d say that’s what you’d expect in the desert. But this is Vegas. I expect more.

The tuna taco is by far the most disappointing. The meat is raw, which would be fine at Nobu, but in a taco, I’d prefer a little sear. It’s also extremely small and comes in a teeny crispy tortilla. I’ve had taquitos from 7-11 that had more meat…and flavor, for that matter. You’d think the lime and serrano cabbage, chipotle vinaigrette, and avocado would help…but they don’t. Overall, a very big let down.

Luckily, the rest of the weekend was a success. I didn’t win a million dollars, but more importantly, I didn’t lose a million.

Look at the little wiener taco on the right...what a wimp!

Look at the little wiener taco on the right…what a wimp!

Remember, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas….except the diseases.

On to the next episode!

  • Location:  4455 Paradise Rd., Las Vegas, NV (Hard Rock Hotel)
  • Tourists:  Josh, Ryan, Alex, Ben, Kaci, Shirin, Casey, Brian
  • Tacos sampled:  shrimp, tuna (mini-hard shell), fish (also have lobster, grilled chicken in pink tacos and three al carbon tacos: chicken, steak and carnitas)
  • Toppings:  varies per taco
  • Salsa:  roja
  • Extras:  Spanish rice and refried beans
  • Tortillas:  flour or corn
  • Atmosphere:  casino, white boys, pricey, neon, video poker
  • Price: $13-$16/three tacos
  • OVERALL RATING: 5.5
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pueblo nuevo

Nothing flashy, just good food.

Nothing flashy, just good food.

I’ve spoken about my friend Google several times. But Google isn’t my only friend. Nope. I also have a good friend named Yelp. And, yesterday, after dropping my car off in Portage Park to get some vehicular convalescence, I decided to ask Yelp where I should get tacos in the neighborhood. Yelp suggested I try Pueblo Nuevo, which has a 4.5 rating. So, like any good friend, I put my trust in Yelp and headed over there.

It turns out, Yelp was accurate, at least on this one.

I tried three tacos. The first was the carne asada. It isn’t mind-blowing, but everything is done well. The steak has a great char taste, and there is plenty of carne on the taco. It’s seasoned nicely and topped with onions and cilantro. It’s simple, but when things are executed properly, simple works out just fine.

Next came the al pastor. I don’t think they have a spit here, but the adobo sauce they use makes this a very tasty taco. It added some smoky flavor and a little something sweet. Encased in two corn tortillas, the sauce stands up its surroundings perfectly. Again, they don’t skimp on the meat. No pineapple, for those of you who expect that as an al pastor topping.

Last, I had the infierno taco, which is carne asada and chorizo topped with a fiery hot sauce. Now, there aren’t any warnings on the menu, but the word infierno does mean ‘hell’ in espanol, so I think that serves as warning enough. I consider myself pretty good at handling heat, and this had about all I could handle. It’s easily the spiciest taco I’ve ever eaten. It’s extremely good, though. I did sweat for about five minutes after eating it, and had a couple fuego burps later that day, but it was all worth it. If you like spicy food, then I highly suggest you try this taco. Muy bueno……y caliente.

Sometimes when you trust Yelp, you get burned, but this time I didn’t (unless you count the infierno….). I was very satisfied. With low prices and great tacos, I’m sure I’ll be back.

Hell taco. Hell yeah!

Hell taco. Hell yeah!

On to the next episode…

  • Location:  4342 N. Central Ave., Chicago, IL (Portage Park)
  • Tourists:  Josh
  • Tacos sampled:  carne asada, al pastor, infierno (also have pollo, picadillo, chorizo. lengua, tripas, lomo encebollado and chile relleno)
  • Toppings:  onions and cilantro; or lettuce and tomato
  • Salsa:  salsa roja, salsa roja caliente
  • Extras:  chips
  • Tortillas:  corn
  • Atmosphere:  authentico, popular in the barrio, friendly, quick, spicy
  • Price:  $1.99-$2.10/taco
  • OVERALL RATING:  8.0
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rustica fabrizzio’s restaurant

Not your average taco joint...

Not your average taco joint…

I know what a lot of my millions of readers are thinking….”Hey, Mr. Tourist, what’s the greatest length you’ve gone to try a taco?”

Well, I’ve traveled to the suburbs…Yuck! I’ve gone to Lincoln Park… Ick! I’ve had tacos made by white people…Ewe! I’ve made a few visits to California… Actually, those were pretty fun. But, there must be one that stands out. One that seems a little more overboard than the others. What could it be?

Oh, right….

Last week, I took a five hour flight to Panama City, Panama, then took another three hour flight to Lima, Peru. From there, I had a one hour flight to Cusco, before hiking through the Andes for four days to the top of Machu Picchu. There, I asked my princess to marry me (you know, to butter her up), and then asked her if she wanted to take a bus down the mountain to the city of Aguas Calientes to look for some tacos. She said yes!….to both questions (yes, there will be a Mrs. Tourist!)! Isn’t she the best?

I could write a whole lot about Peru (chickens, dogs, short dudes), Machu Picchu (high elevation, long trek, short dudes), our culinary experiences there (slow service, ceviche, short dudes), yadi, yadi, yada….but this is a taco blog, so let’s get down to brass tax.

After seeing several places that made tacos, and served Alpaca and Guinea pig in various forms, I finally found a place that would combine these offerings into one: Rustica Fabrizzio’s Restaurant (which has earned a beaming one and a half stars on Trip Advisor).

The owner is Colombian and tried to woo us with his baby mama in San Francisco, his super cool sunglasses, and his secret stash of drugs hidden behind a brick in the wall. Picture South Beach. The only wooing I needed, though, was taco wooing.

Mr. Fabrizzio’s tacos look a bit like wet burritos. They are rolled up in flour tortillas, and are covered in a sweet and spicy sauce, along with some grilled onions. The sauce is pretty darned good. But, I wasn’t there for sauce. I was there for meat.

I was very interested in the Guinea pig. It’s considered a delicacy there, and is somewhat of a national dish. I took a deep breath, took my first bite….and….it was terrible. Find the oldest, dirtiest nickel you’ve got. Then, suck on it. That’s about as close to describing the taste of this Guinea pig as I can get.

The alpaca, however, was exceptionally good. The meat has the flavor of beef, with the leanness of venison. It was cooked very well and I consider this taco one of my favorites I’ve ever had…probably more because of the surrounding events than anything, but still tremendously tasty.

Overall, this place isn’t as bad as Trip Advisor says. I just wouldn’t order the Guinea pig. Maybe the good ole steak or chicken tacos would have been a good choice.

Basically, rats and llamas...

Basically, rats and llamas…

I guess I’ll save that for next time…

  • Location: Av. Pachacutec, Aguas Calientes, Peru (Machu Picchu)
  • Tourists:  Josh, Julia, Glen, Nikki
  • Tacos sampled:  alpaca and Guinea pig (also have beef and chicken)
  • Toppings:  secret sauce, Andean cheese, grilled onions
  • Salsa:  none
  • Extras:  chips, guacamole, and lettuce
  • Tortillas:  flour
  • Atmosphere:  mountain town, tourists, Machu Picchu, Jenga, douchy owner offering you spliffs and cocaine
  • Price: $6/taco
  • OVERALL RATING:  6.5
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