Taco Tuesday, or any day of the week, is a great day to sink your teeth into some tasty tacos. With so many fantastic taco joints in Chicago, though, it can be hard to choose where to go with your brood. So here is a tour of some new, authentic and fun taquerias to visit with kids. Let the fiesta in your mouth begin!
Locations: Wicker Park & Wrigleyville
When I ask Chicagoans where to go for tacos with little ones in tow, the top reco is Big Star. Both the Wicker Park and Wrigleyville locations are super chill, colorful and casual. The new Wrigleyville location is right across the street from the ballpark and the Wicker Park location is housed in a 1940s gas station with a huge outdoor patio. Go early for less wait.
Let’s talk tacos. Executive Chef Paul Kahan designed a Mexican street food-inspired menu. Many say the tacos are tiny but pack a flavorful punch. Taco de Panza (pork belly) and Taco Al Pastor (pork shoulder with grilled pineapple) are the most popular. Pescado (fried fish) and Papas con Rajas (potatoes) are great choices, too.
Location: River North
Pronounced “SHO-ko” and translated to “little sister,” this quick-service café by Rick and Deann Bayless offers bold flavors and convenient dining morning through night.
Short ribs, carnitas, chicken tinga and red chile vegetable tacos are offered, along with Mexican sandwiches, salads, snacks, hearty soups and pastries. The runaway hit here is the bean-to-cup chocolate drinks. I had a Mint Chocolate that was roll-your-eyes-back-in-your-head good with mint fresh from the garden.
Locations: Lincoln Park, North Bridge, River North
The casual Taco Joint restaurants in Lincoln Park and River North offer happy hour specials weekdays 4-6 p.m. that include $2 tacos. When at the Shops of North Bridge, grab a quick bite from its location on the fourth floor.
Barbacoa (braised beef), Yucatan Pulled Pork and Al Pastor are the most-ordered tacos. Al Pastor is normally pork, but theirs is slow-cooked chicken and it’s spicy good. The Shops at North Bridge location also serves Cauliflower Al Pastor. Chunks of adobo-roasted cauliflower are in a tangy sauce with grilled pineapple, fresh onions and cilantro on top, providing an interesting vegetarian option.
Location: Old Irving Park
This newer taco joint, located by the Golden Nugget and close to Blue Line and Metra trains, went with the CTA theme and ran with it! The train ambiance and transit authority memorabilia is awesome. The menu is a combination of traditional and contemporary dishes.
The fresh fish and shrimp tacos with Cajun seasoning are complemented with crunchy jalapeno coleslaw and cilantro aioli. Tinga Chicken, pulled chicken in a chipotle adobo sauce, is quite popular. Even picky kids can be pleased with simplified dishes here.
Location: Block 37
Located on the third floor of Block 37, Latinicity Food Hall and Lounge by Richard Sandoval features eight food stations with inventive Mexican-inspired options in a cool space with a coffee bar and lounge. You receive a dining card with the flexibility to visit multiple stations, then pay as you exit.
Machefe Taqueria serves tacos, burritos and bowls while Burguesa serves burgers and fries with a Latin kick. Chaufa provides Asian fusion. It’s a melting pot of flavors, so all members of the family are bound to find something they enjoy. Pueblo is a sit-down restaurant that serves Mexican with a contemporary twist.
You can’t go on a taco tour without visiting Pilsen, a vibrant Mexican-American community on Chicago’s West Side. The restaurant name translates to “five radishes” and refers to the chef, Alfonso Sotelo, (a Rick Bayless protégé), and his four brothers who used to sell radishes at a market in Mexico.
The inside vibe is relaxed, and a huge park with a zipline swing and the National Museum of Mexican Art are down the street. Outside the restaurant and through Pilsen, check out the beautiful, artistic murals.
While the other mouthwatering options on the menu could overshadow the seven taco choices, make sure to order tacos for the homemade tortillas and well-seasoned meats. It’s not often that you see Pibil on a menu (slow roasted pork in an aromatic and colorful sauce of oranges and annatto). Vegetarians love the chunky Roasted Vegetable taco. There are a few children’s choices on the menu, but it’s best if kids are adventurous and up for trying new things here. The staff is very welcoming and incredibly accommodating. They make a fresh flavored water of the day and it is fantastic.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Chicago Parent’s Going Places. Read the rest of the issue.