Our 30 Favorite Mexican Dishes in Chicago

¡MEXTRAVAGANZA!: The best tacos, tortillas, seviches, queso fundido, ane more

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Skate wing at Mexique
Mexique’s skate wing. For more photos, launch the gallery »

 

Shark Tacos at BIEN TRUCHA, $9
We love 2010. These days, you can drive out Route 38 to the far western suburbs, pull up to a place that looks like it may have been a Laundromat in a past life, and find shark tacos so shreddy and wonderful, topped with an avocado-habanero pico de gallo so fresh, you may as well have your feet in the sands of Baja California. 410 W. State St., Geneva; 630-232-2665

Tacos de Rajas de Poblano at BIG STAR, $3
No one has ever taken a bite of Big Star’s lone vegetarian taco and thought, You know, this would be better with meat. It’s got the soft homemade corn tortilla, a roasty burn, salty queso de freir, and fresh crema to soothe it all. What else do you need? Other than one more, that is. 1531 N. Damen Ave.; 773-235-4039

Birria at BIRRIERIA ZARAGOZA, $9
If you’re seeking an obscure spot to drag your adventurous friend on a food odyssey, this friendly little place near Midway is it. Order the rich goat stew of slow-cooked, crispy-edged meat in an intense habanero-infused consommé, and layer it in a wood-pressed tortilla with cilantro, onions, lime, arbol peppers, and homemade salsa picante and habanero sauce. No one will go home disappointed. 4852 S. Pulaski Rd.; 773-523-3700

Tacos Arabes at CEMITAS PUEBLA, $2.60
The Lebanese brought the concept of spit-roasted meat to Mexico, where shawarma became al pastor tacos—a.k.a. tacos arabes. Chicago’s best are at this Humboldt Park legend. Long-marinated pork and onions, tenderized by a pineapple atop the spit, nestle in a supple flour tortilla with a smoky salsa made of chipotles that Tony Anteliz, the owner, selected himself in a Puebla market. 3619 W. North Ave.; 773-772-8435

Puerco Indigena at CHILAPAN, $16.79
Folks have been going bonkers for this Logan Square BYO since the day it opened in May 2010. The seared pork tenderloin, seasoned with clove and cumin and set on a thick green pumpkinseed mole with a cheesy potato cake and wilted spinach, is just one reason. 2459 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-697-4374

Tampiqueña at DECOLORES, $16.50
When a guest asks our pleasant waitress what tampiqueña means, she says, “That means that it comes with an enchilada.” True, but it also refers to the strip steak that originated at the famed Tampico Club in Mexico City, restored here to its tender glory with magnificent char marks and a simple seasoning of garlic and salt. And you get an enchilada. 1626 S. Halsted St.; 312-226-9886

Chiles Rellenos de Mariscos at DORADO, $23
What a wonderful life it would be if every time you broke open a roasted poblano, it overflowed with fresh diver scallops, shrimp, and crabmeat. If you laid it on pillowy green rice and ladled a concentrated lobster-shrimp emulsion on top, it probably still wouldn’t be half as lush as Dorado’s. 2301 W. Foster Ave.; 773-561-3780

Tacos de Lengua at EL OJO DE AGUA, $1.79
Too many taquerías out there use low-grade, chewy beef or overly greasy chorizo. Lengua, more commonly known as beef tongue, is the answer. At this new Bucktown storefront, it’s cubed into gentle, pliable chunks, topped with onions, cilantro, and lime, and double-fortified with homemade corn tortillas. Regarding the Tongue Factor, we’ll quote Dylan: Don’t think twice, it’s all right. 2235 N. Western Ave.; 773-235-8807

 

Photograph: Anna Knott

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