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The best tacos in Chicago

With an abundance of tiny taquerias and fancy chef tacos, Chicago has a multitude of great taco joints

Photograph: Martha Williams
The taco de papas con rajas at Big Star is one of the best tacos in Chicago.

Vegetarians and carnivores alike are finding great tacos all over Chicago. Whether you're looking for a great michelada with your taco, trying a new joint or want to grab some of the best Mexican food alongside your tacos, there are plenty of spots serving up creative, tortilla-wrapped dishes.

RECOMMENDED: The best cheap eats in Chicago

The 23 best tacos in Chicago

Tacos de carnitas at Carnitas Uruapan

Though you can find carnitas on many taqueria menus, I prefer restaurants that stake their reputation on the quality of their deep-fried pork. Plus, this mostly ensures that no matter when you go, you’ll get meat straight out of the lard bath. That’s always the case at Carnitas Uruapan, which serves richly fatty and crispy pork with all the salsas and sides you could want. Nick Kindelsperger

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Lower West Side

Al pastor taco at Rubi's at the New Maxwell Street Market

The lines form early every Sunday morning at this Maxwell Street Market staple, and it’s all due to the al pastor. The meat is thickly sliced, resulting in juicy and caramelized hunks, which are loaded onto enormous, freshly made tortillas and topped with a smattering of pineapple. It’s a genuine feast for $3. —NK

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Loop

Fish tacos at Antique Taco

This adorable—and always packed—Wicker Park spot has a delicious, ever-changing menu of tacos and seasonal margaritas. The crispy fish tacos are served up two at a time and feature a good portion of tempura battered fish. Topped with bright purple smoked cabbage, green scallions and a creamy Sriracha tartar sauce, the dish is big enough to share (not that you'd want to). —Sara Freund

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Wicker Park
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Barbacoa taco at Tamale Station

Already known for its creatively topped tamales, this brick-and-mortar location of the Tamale Spaceship food truck allows the lively lucha libres to expand into the taco world. The thin housemade tortillas are barely up to the barrage of the saucy and intensely beefy barbacoa, but while messy as hell, each shred of the rich short ribs is worth staining your fingers to savor. —NK

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Wicker Park

Birria taco at Birrieria Zaragoza

No other place in Chicago lavishes attention on goat like Birrieria Zaragoza, which serves a plated version of the dish sans tortillas. Instead of bathing in a deep bowl of broth, the roasted and hand-pulled meat is served with a ladleful of flavorful consomme, along with some of the finest handmade tortillas in town. If you’re hungry, get the platter, but we cut to the chase with an order of tacos. —NK

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Archer Heights

Pibil taco at 5 Rabanitos

You can't go wrong with any of the tacos at 5 Rabanitos, but the pibil taco stands out amid the array of options. Juicy and tender slow-roasted pork turns the soft house-made tortillas into a messy ordeal, but we don't mind, because we'll eat these tacos topped with crunchy radishes in just a few bites. —Elizabeth Atkinson

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Lower West Side
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Carne asada at L'Patron

This is the grilled steak taco by which all others are measured. L’Patron only opened in Logan Square a few years ago, but it has already had to double in size to keep up with the hordes. While a number of the fillings are worth your attention, the ravenous crowds are mostly beating down the door for the carne asada. Instead of mangy bits of chopped beef, L’Patron serves up sizable hunks of extra-tender steak. Oh, and don’t forget to ask for the flavorful, thick housemade tortillas. —NK

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Logan Square

Al pastor taco at Taqueria Los Barrilitos

Just down the street from La Chaparrita is perhaps the city’s best al pastor taqueria (making this stretch of 25th Street the beating heart of Chicago’s taco scene). An enormous spit of rotating marinated pork beckons as you walk in and, fortunately, Los Barrilitos knows how to treat it right, slicing the chile-stained pork directly onto awaiting tortillas. Tender, with nicely caramelized edges, this is al pastor done right. —NK

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South Lawndale

Carne asada at Tio Luis Tacos

If you’re in the mood for a no-nonsense carne asada experience, one that values the straightforward appreciation of grilled beef above all else, head straight for Tio Luis in Archer Heights. You only need to worry about which of the three fine salsas to drizzle on top, though my money is on the spicy tomatillo. —NK

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Brighton Park
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Cabeza tacos at Taqueria El Mezquite

There are so many good things about El Mezquite, a Pilsen taqueria that serves up affordable and authentic Mexican fare. But one of the best parts of the place is its cabeza tacos (in case you were wondering, that's cow head). A lot of spots can't quite pull off the dish, and it ends up running amok on your digestive system. Not Mezquite, though. Well-seasoned and just tender enough, the cabeza tacos will leave you wondering why you don't eat the innards of bovine noggins on a regular basis. —Clayton Guse

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Lower West Side

Cecina taco at La Casa de Samuel

No place in Chicago cares about corn tortillas like La Casa de Samuel. You can see this for yourself, since they are all prepared right as you walk inside. Thick, yet soft, with a sweet fresh corn fragrance—they are good enough to eat alone. But they really thrive when matched with slices of funky cecina. Thin sheets of beef are salted and dried, resulting in a concentrated wallop of beefiness. —NK

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South Lawndale

Taquitos de papa at DeColores

Fried potato tacos are usually humble things—delicious, yes, but not scene-stealers. The exception comes at DeColores, a Pilsen storefront that’s part art gallery, part restaurant, where the aptly named colorful taquitos de papa don’t look out of place next to all the artwork on the walls. It’s all about the texture here, with the crunchy fried tortillas cracking to reveal soft and creamy potatoes. —NK

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Lincoln Park
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Crispy fish taco at Takito

On paper, this one sounds like an over-fussed, chef-gone-wild train wreck. Really—hibiscus tortillas and coconut custard? But when combined with a slender spear of expertly fried fish, all the components coalesce into a texturally adventurous bite, which tastes almost like a miniature bánh mì. —NK

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Ukrainian Village

Crispy tripa taco at La Chaparrita

Chicago’s best all-around taqueria specializes in tacos de fritangas, or fried meaty things cooked on a wide metal stovetop called a charola. You seriously can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, from the extra beefy suadero to the intricately spiced longaniza sausage. But the showstopper—and perhaps the best taco in the city—is the tripa. Order it crispy, and these little hunks from the cow’s intestine (not, as you would assume, the stomach) arrive as golden-hued and glistening crunchy nuggets. —NK

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South Lawndale

Mixed mushroom taco at Rojo Gusano

For a wide variety of tacos, head to Dudley Nieto's Rojo Gusano in Albany Park. The restaurant serve them up a la carte, so you can mix and match however you'd like. Whatever you choose, pick at least one of the mixed mushroom tacos, with hunks of tender mushroom, pasilla, tomatillo salsa and oaxacan cheese. Veggie fan rejoice—this one rivals the meat-laden tortillas. —EA

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Albany Park
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Grilled steak taco at Taqueria El Milagro

You’d be forgiven for calling Taqueria El Milagro’s taco a mini-burrito. After all, this comically overstuffed creation features a whole slab of grilled beef, refried beans, red rice and a handful of crunchy slaw. Eating one requires two hands and a very hungry disposition, but it’s worth the effort all the same. —NK

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Lower West Side

Shrimp taco at La Lagartija

La Lagartija’s standout taco starts with a soft housemade tortilla that’s topped with lightly fried beer-battered shrimp, creamy aioli and crunchy cabbage. So far, so good. But it’s the habanero ketchup—spicy, smoky and slightly sweet—that transforms it into something like a Mexican play on a steakhouse shrimp cocktail. —NK

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United Center

Soft shell crab taco at Big & Little’s

Yep, that’s a whole fried soft-shell crab sitting on the tortilla, making this one of the most ludicrous and over-the-top taco experiences around. Fortunately, this sort of playful stoner cuisine is exactly what Big & Little’s does best, so the soft-shell crab is fried until it achieves the proper balance of crackly crust and juicy interior. The juices will soak through the tortilla and drip down your chin, but it’ll be worth it. —NK

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River North
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Sweet potato taco at Bullhead Cantina

Most veggie tacos are either pale imitations of meaty tacos or merely toppings, which is a shame because there are many great vegetarian fillings worth exploring. One place that gets it right is Bullhead Cantina. The sweet potato is absolutely the center of attention—with grill marks to boot. The soft center is nicely accentuated with the usual lettuce and tomato, along with some much-needed crisp cabbage. —NK

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Humboldt Park

Taco arabe at Cemitas Puebla

Al pastor isn’t the only marinated and stacked pork option that can spin in front of an open flame. Along with some of the best sandwiches in town, Cemitas Puebla also serves arabe, which bears a strong resemblance to Lebanese-style shawarma. Instead of a corn tortilla, a fluffy pita-like tortilla is used, which happens to be the ideal carrying case for the crispy and caramelized slices of meat. —NK

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Logan Square

Tacos de canasta papa at La Chilangueada

Potato tacos have a softer side, too. Instead of crisp and assertive, the tacos de canasta papa at La Chilangueada are soft and supple—meant to be savored politely for a snack. The freshly made tortillas are thin, fragrant and very small, while the waxy potatoes are roughly mashed and sprinkled with cheese. At 99 cents, they’re also cheap, so don’t feel bad if you have to order a half-dozen to make this a full meal. —NK

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Belmont Cragin
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Taco de cecina at La Cecina

As the name suggests, La Cecina in the Back of the Yards specializes in cecina, thin sheets of cured beef that fall halfway between the well-seasoned juiciness of freshly grilled steak and the funky concentration of tender jerky. The flavorful meat is paired with creamy beans and avocado, then wrapped up in a light and flexible housemade tortilla. —NK

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New City

Taco de papas con rajas at Big Star

While Big Star is best known for its perpetually packed patio and daily whiskey specials, most of the taco options are in the solid (fish taco) to the oddly disappointing (al pastor) range. But the secret is to order one of the veggie tacos. Currently, the best is the taco de papas con rajas, which balances creamy potato hunks with rustic and spicy red chilies. —NK

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Wicker Park

Comments

10 comments
Martin M
Martin M

El meson de taco has some great steak tortas

Tom Z
Tom Z

fantastic al pastor tacos at Mexico Uno in Palatine

Jocelyn H
Jocelyn H

Taco Joint on Halsted.  yum

Edgar a
Edgar a

Al Pastor at Allende

Daniel W
Daniel W

Las Asadas in Des Plaines is great for carne asada.

Rachel Q
Rachel Q

Dude who mentioned chipotle has never eaten a real taco in his life. My apologies to you, sir. Also, this list is sleeping on Taqueria Moran. Best pollo tacos I've ever dreamed of! Carnitas are flame too.

Kurt S
Kurt S

Catina Laredo is noticeably absent from this list!  Also, where is Chipotle?  I know it is a chain, but Chipotle's tacos probably taste better than those at most of the places listed!

Christine L
Christine L

Where is Masa Azul on this list?  You missed a great one!

Freddy P
Freddy P

Why isn't there a Map of all the locations ?