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ATX Bodega birria tacos
Photograph: Neil Burger

The 25 best tacos in Chicago

From classic carne asada to funky, veggie-filled creations, these are the best tacos in Chicago

By Morgan Olsen, Elizabeth Atkinson, Nick Kindelsperger and Zach Long
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Tacos never go out of style in Chicago—we like 'em swaddled in warm, handmade tortillas and packed with proteins and toppings. And don't forget the salsa! We searched high and low for the best tacos in Chicago and found amazing options originating from tiny taquerias, fancy Mexican restaurants and even a fake food truck. The list covers all of your taco cravings, including classic carne asada, crispy fish, trendy birria and vegetarian-friendly options. Some are even served at restaurants that offer outdoor dining, allowing you to enjoy a handheld meal under the sun. Check out the 25 best tacos in Chicago—and get to work.

RECOMMENDED: The best cheap eats in Chicago

The best tacos in Chicago

Carnitas Uruapan
Courtesy Carnitas Uruapan

1. Tacos de carnitas at Carnitas Uruapan

Restaurants Mexican Lower West Side

Though you can find carnitas on many taqueria menus, we 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.

Taqueria Chingón al pastor taco
Photograph: Courtesy Taqueria Chingón

2. Tacos al pastor at Taqueria Chingón

Restaurants Mexican Logan Square

This relative newcomer situated between Logan Square and Bucktown serves everything from morcilla (blood sausage) to fried artichoke on tortillas, but the tacos al pastor are the main attraction. Served on a handmade tortillas, tender bits of pork find their match in creamy avocado salsa, sweet pineapple and flecks of cilantro. And vegetarians aren't left out: There's a portobello mushroom al pastor that's just as good as the meatier version.

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Birrieria Zaragoza
Photograph: Brendan Lekan

3. Birria taco at Birrieria Zaragoza

Restaurants Mexican Archer Heights

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.

Crispy Tripa Taco at La Chaparrita
Photograph: Nick Murway

4. Crispy tripa taco at La Chaparrita

Restaurants Mexican South Lawndale

You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu at this grocery store-based taqueria, from the extra beefy suadero to the intricately spiced longaniza sausage. But the showstopper 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.

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Carne Asada taco, L'Patron, best tacos, 11.2014, nov 2014, best tacos, chi_fd_besttacos_ss_1114
Photograph: Martha Williams

5. Carne asada at L'Patron

Restaurants Mexican Logan Square

While a number of the fillings here 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.

antique taco, taco, fish taco
Photograph: Morgan Olsen

6. Fish tacos at Antique Taco

Restaurants Mexican Wicker Park

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 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).

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Taqueria Mazamitla
Photograph: Morgan Olsen

7. Tacos al pastor at Taqueria Mazamitla

Restaurants Avondale

If you consider yourself a taco enthusiast, add this low-key Avondale joint to your list and treat yourself to an order of tacos al pastor. Juicy and slightly charred, the meat is wrapped in two tortillas and sprinkled with raw onions and cilantro (as it should be).

Tacotlan birria taco
Photograph: @suburbanfoodie

8. Quesadillas de birria Tacotlán

Restaurants Mexican Hermosa

It may be called a quesadilla, but these cheesy birria creations are technically tacos—and you'll need to act fast if you want to try them. Tacotlán cooks a set amount of the sought-after stewed beef everyday, and once it's gone, it's gone. The tortillas get soaked in consummé before they're filled with birria and cheese, then topped with cilantro and oions. Dip the tacos in the included cup of consummé and prepare yourself for a hearty, flavorful meal.

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Taco Assortment
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

9. Pibil taco at 5 Rabanitos

Restaurants Mexican Lower West Side

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.

Grilled Steak Taco at Taqueria El Milagro
Photograph: Heather Shouse

10. Grilled steak taco at Taqueria El Milagro

Restaurants Mexican Lower West Side

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.

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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

11. Fried oyster taco at Mi Tocaya Antojería

Restaurants Mexican Logan Square

Mi Tocaya chef Diana Dávila's menu is always creative, and the latest taco to join the lineup doesn't disappoint. A fried Willapa Bay oyster gets topped with salsa Veracruzana, made with olives, capers, orange and guajillo chile. It's a salty and sweet combonation that comes in a squid ink tortilla and is unlike anything we've tasted before.

Carne Asada tacos at Tio Luis Tacos.
Photograph: Nick Murway

12. Carne asada at Tio Luis Tacos

Restaurants Mexican Brighton Park

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.

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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

13. Cabeza tacos at Taqueria El Mezquite

Restaurants Mexican Lower West Side

There are so many good things about El Mezquite, a Pilsen taqueria that serves 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.

EnHakkore.venue.jpg
Photograph: Martha Williams

14. Paratha taco at En Hakkore

Restaurants Korean Bucktown

Korean tacos aren't a revolutionary new concept, but when we're looking for an excellent version of the dish, we book it to En Hakkore paratha taco. Made with Korean barbeque beef or spicy pork, it comes topped with kimchi, onions, cilantro and lettuce and cradled inside a downright dreamy paratha flatbread.

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Cecina Taco at La Casa de Samuel.
Photograph: Nick Murway

15. Cecina taco at La Casa de Samuel

Restaurants Mexican South Lawndale

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.

ATX Bodega birria tacos
Photograph: Neil Burger

16. Birria taco at ATX Bodega

Restaurants Mexican Lincoln Square

This self-described "food truck stuck inside a building" is one of many spots that's jumped on the birria craze, but ATX Bodega's stewed beef tacos live up to the hype. Served with a generous portion of consummé for dipping, these birria tacos are accompanied by pickled red onions and radishes that lend a tangy kick to the salty meat.

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17. Taquitos de papa at DeColores

Restaurants Mexican Lincoln Park

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.

Azul Mariscos
Photograph: Courtesy Azul Mariscos

18. Camarón tacos at Azul Mariscos

Restaurants Seafood River West/West Town

Can't swing the $400 seafood platter stacked with Alaskan king crab legs and lobster at this lakefront restaurant near Goose Island? A plate of camarón tacos is a bit more reasonably priced—and you'll have enough to grab a pitcher of margaritas or sangria while you're at it. Served on flour tortillas with red cabbage, avocado and chipotle aioli, these simple tacos allow you to enjoy the flavors of the grilled shrimp while you soak in the scenery.

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Shrimp Tacos
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

19. Mixed mushroom taco at Rojo Gusano

Restaurants Mexican Albany Park

For a wide variety of tacos, head to Dudley Nieto's Rojo Gusano in Albany Park. The restaurant serves them 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 'shrooms, arbol salsa, queso fresco and cilantro. Veggie fans rejoice—this one rivals the meat-laden tortillas.

DelSoul.venue.jpg
Photograph: Erica Gannett

20. Sesame chili shrimp taco at Del Seoul

Restaurants Korean Lincoln Park

Inspired by the Korean taco craze in Los Angeles, Del Seoul has been putting barbecued meats on tortillas long since this particular culinary mash-up lost its trendy shine. The plump panko-fried shrimp taco is the highlight of the menu (Del Seoul's menu admits that it's the "best taco" on offer), doused with savory sesame-chili aioli and served on a bed of slaw.

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21. Shrimp taco at La Lagartija

Restaurants Mexican United Center

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.

Soft Shell Crab Taco at Big & Little's
Photpgraph: Nick Murway

22. Soft shell crab taco at Big & Little’s

Restaurants American River North

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.

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Taco de Cecina at La Cecina.
Photograph: Nick Murway

23. Taco de cecina at La Cecina

Restaurants Mexican New City

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.

Velvet Taco
Photograph: Morgan Olsen

24. Spicy tikka chicken taco at Velvet Taco

Restaurants Fusion Rush & Division

Go with us on this border-blurring creation that captures the essence of an Indian favorite inside a corn tortilla. A crisp chicken tender is perched atop buttered cilantro basmati rice before it's drizzled with spicy tikka sauce and crowned with fresh Thai basil. It's crazy enough to work.

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

25. Taco de papas con rajas at Big Star

Bars Mezcalerias Wicker Park

While Big Star is best known for its perpetually packed patio and 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. The best is the taco de papas con rajas, which balances creamy potato hunks with rustic and spicy red chilies.

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