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.”
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