Matt Michel Reviews Chicago’s Best Transit-Oriented Taquerias

Carnitas Uruapan by the 18th Street Pink Line station in Pilsen. Image: Google Maps
Carnitas Uruapan by the 18th Street Pink Line station in Pilsen. Image: Google Maps

In the wake of the CityLab survey that found Chicago residents reported the highest level of combined public transportation and taco satisfaction of any U. S. city, we’ve got transit and tacos on the brain here at Streetsblog Chicago. I recently put together the Reader’s Chicago Transit and Tacos Map, which shows over 100 taquerias and other Mexican restaurants within walking distance of CTA ‘L’ stations. SBC reader Matt Michel helped out with the map, recommending some of the best taco joints he’s encountered in his rapid transit travels. Here are Matt’s full write-ups of what makes these taquerias great. – John Greenfield

The Windy City. The Second City. City of Big Shoulders. America’s best city for tacos and transit. The last title, of course, was bestowed upon Chicago earlier this month by CityLab, who asked readers across the country to rate the quality of their local transit services and taquerias. Chicago was, unsurprisingly, well represented in both categories, clearly standing out among our peers as the only city in the country to score an 8 (out of 10) or higher in each. And while I could certainly spend days or weeks breaking down the celebrations from locals and skepticism from others that has appeared in countless Twitter threads and Facebook replies since the original CityLab article appeared, it would just be easier, and more rewarding, to compile a short guide to the best tacos within a reasonable walking distance to an “L” station…

Carnitas Uruapan

1725 W. 18th Street (Pink Line 18th Street)

No “Best Taquerias of Chicago” list would be complete without Carnitas Uruapan, especially this one considering it is located in a small storefront just a few doors down from the 18th Street Pink Line station in Pilsen. They only make carnitas; pork slowly cooked in rendered lard, and served by the pound with fresh tortilla and necessary fixings, but the experience and food are incredible and life-changing.

Birrieria Zaragoza

4852 S. Pulaski (Orange Line Pulaski)

Another Chicago taqueria must visit and another small storefront that specializes in 1 dish, birria; a Jaliscan stew of slow cooked goat meat served in a thin, spicy red broth, though they will also serve the meat in a taco or quesadilla form.

Taqueria el Asadero/Taqueria 5 de Mayo

2213 W. Montrose/2415 W. Montrose (Brown Line Western)

Located just a few blocks apart, these sister restaurants have identical menus and usually the same staff members working at both storefronts, depending on which day you are there. Food here is much more in line with traditional taquerias; various meats filling the usual assortment of Mexican dishes, but the quality and portions are both always incredible.

Big Star, near the Damen stop on the Blue Line's O'Hare branch in Wicker Park. Image: Google Maps
Big Star, near the Damen stop on the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch in Wicker Park. Image: Google Maps

Big Star

1531 N. Damen (Blue Line’s O’Hare branch Damen)

Probably one of the more divisive inclusions; if you are looking for an authentic Chicago taqueria experience, this is not it. Owned and operated by a large hospitality group with fairly expensive food for generally smaller portions, I certainly don’t blame anyone for rolling their eyes and moving on. But as the large patio that sits in the shadow of the Blue Line attests on every warm summer evening, the place is ridiculously popular and, to be fair, the food is quite good. There’s also a take out window for those who can’t bear the wait and a great whiskey bar inside for those in no rush.

Cruz Blanca

904 W. Randolph (Green/Pink Line Morgan)

Part of the Bayless family empire, Cruz Blanca is first and foremost a Mexican-inspired craft brewery featuring beers such as the “El” Train or the barrel-aged Lucha Libre series, but the food menu includes some great finger foods for snacking at the bar, including tacos and especially on Taco Tuesday, featuring potato and chorizo, or Baja-style fish tacos during Friday happy hour.

Jerk Taco Man

7723 S. State (Red Line 79th)

If you find yourself in a rut from traditional taquerias and want to mix things up a bit, this Chatham restaurant overlooking the Dan Ryan is probably what you need. Featuring Caribbean BBQ inspired recipes served in taco form, it’s what you need to shake things up.

Brasas

6011 Roosevelt Road, Cicero (Blue Line Austin)

And when you’re in the mood for a no frills, no pretension mom-and-pop taqueria, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better one than this small storefront a few blocks south of the Blue Line at Austin and Roosevelt, across the street from the city proper. Grilled meats, fresh toppings, warm tortilla in a small space with just a few tables, it is the Chicago taqueria in its most pure form.

Chicago Taco Authority near the Irving Park Blue stop. The logo is the old CTA token design. Image: Google Maps
Chicago Taco Authority near the Irving Park Blue stop. The logo is the old CTA token design. Image: Google Maps

Chicago Taco Authority

4219 W. Irving Park (Blue Line Iriving Park)

Any CTA-themed taco list would be bereft to leave off the newest CTA; the Taco Authority, that is. Opened for about a year just down the block from the Blue Line, they feature a set menu of several good tacos and rotate in some limited specials that have been getting more creative and ambitious as they have gotten their feet under them. And hey, even if you’re not in the mood to eat, the place is still worth a visit for its transit-themed decor.

Flaco’s Tacos

1116 W. Granville (Red Line Granville)

It’s not that I am deliberately ignoring the North Side, it’s just that for whatever reason, the best taquerias rarely appear within walking distance of the “L.” In the case of Flaco’s, however, it’s hard to be more transit-oriented than a storefront built into the embankment that supports the Red Line that is literally across the street from station at Granville. And if you don’t want to go this far north, they have two other very transit accessible locations downtown and in the South Loop.

Antique Taco Chiquita

125 S. Clark in Revival Food Hall (in the middle of the Loop)

As I hope I have demonstrated, great tacos are littered pretty much in every corner of the city, but it would feel incomplete to write up the great intersection of Chicago’s best tacos and our great transit without featuring at least 1 spot in the heart of the city, dead center of our hub and spoke transit network. Luckily Antique Taco, a locally owned mini-chain also with spots in Wicker Park and Bridgeport, has a small counter in Revival Food Hall, literally in the middle of everything, walking distance from all 4 sections of the Loop and both subway lines. The menu is small but if you are downtown, you won’t find a better spot for tacos. And hey, if for some reason you’re with someone who doesn’t want to eat tacos, there are about a dozen other food stands there so there’s something for everybody.

Carmela's Taqueria, near the Lawrence Red Line station. Image: Google Maps
Carmela’s Taqueria, near the Lawrence Red Line station. Image: Google Maps

Other places worth your time:

Purple Line:

  • La Principal (700 Main Street, Evanston); Main

Red Line:

  • Edgewater Tacos (5624 N. Broadway); Bryn Mawr
  • Carmela’s Taqueria (1206 W. Lawrence); Lawrence
  • Taco & Burrito Place (3507 N. Halsted); Addison

Blue Line:

  • El Habanero (3300 W. Fullerton); Logan Square
  • Taqueria Moran (2226 N. California); California
  • Don Chema Restaurant (2331 N. California); California
  • La Pasadita (1140 N. Ashland); Division
  • Su Taqueria el Rey Del Taco #2 (1676 N. Ogden); Illinois Medical DIstrict
  • Margaritas Oak Park (804 S. Oak Park, Oak Park); Oak Park

Green Line:

  • Hecho en Oak Park (1053 W. Lake, Oak Park); Oak Park
  • Love Taco (109 E. 51st); 51st

Pink Line:

  • Taqueria La Guadalupana (5517 Cermak, Cicero); 54th/Cermak
  • Taqueria Los Altos de Jalisco (1922 S. Cicero, Cicero); Cicero
  • La Casa de Samuel (2834 W. Cermak); California
  • Fiesta Tapatia (2752 W. Cermak); California
  • Casa Cafe (2025 S. Western); Western
  • 5 Rabanitos (1758 W. 18th); 18th

Brown Line:

  • Lindo Michoacan (3142 W. Lawrence); Kedzie
  • El Maya (1522 W. Montrose); Montrose
  • Burrito House (3547 N. Lincoln); Addison
  • Cafe El Tapatio (3400 N. Ashland); Paulina
  • Taco Joint (1969 N. Halsted); Armitage

Orange Line:

  • Mezquite Express (5160 S. Pulaski); Pulaski

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  • planetshwoop

    Thanks for sharing this – I really enjoyed reading it.

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