Survey Confirms What We Already Knew: Chicago’s Transit & Taco Game Is Strong

Taqueria Moran in Logan Square. Image: Google Maps
Taqueria Moran in Logan Square. Image: Google Maps

I can’t say I was surprised when I saw the CityLab graph showing that Chicago represents the perfect sweet spot as a U.S. city with a good public transportation system and excellent taquerias. After all, I’ve checked out the transit and local eats in most major North American cities, and the only one that I’ve been to that had us beat for both convenient and extensive transit and sublime tacos is Mexico City.

Citylab’s transit/taco axis graph was inspired by a tweet from by National Resources Defense Council staffer Carter Rubin, who asked people to plot the quality of their cities’ public transportation access and taquerias on a roughly drawn graph. In response, CityLab launched a survey asking readers to rate the transit and tacos in their towns from 1 to 10, which received over 1,000 responses.

Chicago received the highest overall public transit rating, at 8.1 out of 10 points. That’s certainly debatable — for example New York’s MTA is far more extensive than the CTA, and D.C.’s Metro arguably has nicer stations and rail cars, although both of those systems have had maintenance crises in recent years, while Chicago’s system is relatively well maintained. (Disregard what this whiny dude from San Francisco had to say about the quality of the CTA.)

Boston has good transit but mediocre tacos. San Diego has great tacos (try the fish!) but bad transit. St. Louis represents the worst of both worlds.
Boston has good transit but mediocre tacos. San Diego has great tacos (try the fish!) but bad transit. St. Louis represents the worst of both worlds.

And while the survey found that the very best U.S. taco cities are, unsurprisingly, ones closer to the Mexico, including San Diego, Houston, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, it confirmed that Chicago is in the top-ten in that department, and just about the best northern city for tacos, with an 8.2 rating. “My biggest takeaway is that the taco environment in Chicago is much stronger than I realized, and Chicagoans are very passionate about that fact,” Rubin told Citylab.

Of course Streetsblog Chicago’s real expert on the subject is reporter Lynda Lopez, a lifelong Chicagoan and first-generation Mexican American who grew up in the heavily Latino Hermosa and Humboldt Park communities, and currently lives in the predominantly Mexican Little Village neighborhood.

“It’s not surprising Chicago would be ranked high for best tacos and transit,” Lynda says. “Given the sizable Mexican population [more than one out of five Chicagoans], there are a plethora of communities with plenty of good taco options, notably Pilsen and Little Village. Beyond those neighborhoods, there are pockets of Mexican restaurants in Rogers Park, Hermosa, and Belmont Cragin, among others. Our communities are brimming with good food options.”

“In terms of transit, despite the flaws in our system, Chicago is still an easier city to navigate without a car than other major cities on the list,” Lynda added. “This also adds to the accessibility of restaurants in various parts of the city.”

The Maxwell Street Market. Image: City of Chicago
The Maxwell Street Market. Image: City of Chicago

FWIW, I’d argue that one of the very best places to sample tacos in our city is the year-round Sunday Maxwell Street flea market, 800 South Desplaines. There, a dozen or so stands sell tacos and quesadillas featuring tortillas handmade on site, and hard-to-find fillings like flor de calabaza squash blossom and huitlacoche corn mushroom. Best of all, it’s only an eight-minute walk from the Clinton Blue Line station.

But we can’t take Chicago’s awesome and affordable transit and taco culture for granted, since there’s a danger of housing costs and retail rents in many gentrifying areas becoming too expensive for recent immigrants and mom-and-pop restaurants. That’s just one more compelling argument for policies that encourage affordable transit-oriented development, so that as locations near ‘L’ stations becomes more and more desirable, the surrounding communities can stay economically and ethnically diverse.

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  • Is a burrito + transit index next?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    San Francisco would probably do better in that index, since it’s where the Mission-style burrito (which is essentially the U.S.-style burrito, jumbo-sized with rice and lots of other fillings) was invented:

    For those who don’t know, a few years ago Steven developed the Burrito Tracker app, which rated burritos at taquerias across Chicago. Unfortunately, the app is currently offline.

  • Erik Swedlund

    As a Chicagoan transplanted to NYC, I agree with the ratings both cities received on both axes. However, there’s no way I would rate Boston above 5 for tacos (tellingly, no city is below 5 for tacos and Boston looks to be the lowest).

  • planetshwoop

    I think we can beat the Southwest if we up our breakfast taco game.

    The world needs more breakfast tacos.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Maintenance / over-crowding issues notwithstanding, there is no way that I would rate Chicago’s transit (or rather, “mass rapid transit”) system above (i.e. better than) NYC’s. Chicago’s mass rapid transit system is, regrettably, spoke-only. As such, it is not a complete, connected “network.” As currently operated, buses (in the U.S.) just don’t count as efficient ways to move lots of people in very large cities. If we had truly, 100% ‘gold standard’ BRT (separated bus lane, pre-payment, level boarding) — with a proper (higher density, mixed-use) land use / zoning around it — BRT buses could count as “mass rapid transit.” But the fact is, we don’t have gold-standard BRT, nor from what I’ve heard, is it on the horizon or likely. Chicago is still a city where having a car is easy/not a burden. One definition of a “city” is a place where owning a car is much more difficult than not owning one. That requires a functioning, efficient mass rapid transit network covering the city — think Paris, London, Seoul, Tokyo, Mexico City, Moscow, Berlin, etc.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    UPDATE: Steven’s Burrito Tracker website is back online!