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.
Birria from Cafe Tola.