My daughter has an idea: Let’s go to Pilsen Yards. She wants to check out the place her friends are talking about. It’s fun, the 140-seat patio twinkly with string lights, and the standout dish is the taco árabe ($4) with chicken, fattoush, queso fresco, and hummus. Tacos árabes sounded familiar, and I recalled they’re on the menu at Evette’s in Lincoln Park, where the cooking of one co-owner’s Lebanese grandmother is seen through the prism of another co-owner’s Mexican heritage. Their chicken árabes (two for $9, three for $12) combine cinnamon-scented, fresh-off-the-spit shawarma with cucumber yogurt, jalapeño tabbouleh, and radishes in a way that triggers both the taco and gyro pleasure responses.
But I don’t think I’ve cracked the taco árabe code yet. They’re a specialty of Puebla, where Christian Arabs fleeing the Middle East settled and brought with them not only the shawarma spit, the progenitor of al pastor, but the tradition of wrapping spiced lamb in a pita. Over time, the lamb gave way to pork and the pita to a thick flour tortilla. So I went to Maywood’s Antojos Poblanos el Carmen, a one-table spot where the taco árabe ($4.50) comes in an extra-thick tortilla. Inside is seared pork lavished with oregano, thyme, and onions melted into submission. Accompanied by the traditional chipotle sauce and radishes, it tastes not so much of fusion as of a longing for home, a Levantine soul with a Mexican heart. I’ll be back with my family — with any luck, we’ll score the table.