Chef Victor Albisu, formerly of BLT Steak, is currently previewing his upcoming taqueria, Taco Bamba (opening later this year in Falls Church, VA), at Jeff Black's Black Jack bar. Albisu took over the RAMMY winning bar with a steady stream of small tacos with skirt steak, chorizo, and chicarones .
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As local Mexican businesses go, the Zafra and Carrera families are moguls. This year, they opened a taqueria, Carrera's, in Bushwick, a natural extension of their businesses, selling Mexican products to local bodegas and high end restaurants. It's a cozy respite on a gritty stretch of Flushing Avenue where trucks blast down the thoroughfare.
The tortilla is the foundation by which a taqueria is built: not just for assembling tacos, but for rolling flautas, frying into crispy mantles for tostadas, and sopping up stews. A better tortilla equals a better taqueria, which is why Tortilleria Nixtamal in Corona, Queens puts fashioning a superior version at the forefront of their efforts.
A highlight of Bushwick's culinary geography is Cholula Deli, equal parts bodega, juice counter, grocery, and restaurant—one of many outer-borough stores selling Mexican wares. Owner Angelo Tapia opened the first Cholula almost eight years ago on Myrtle Avenue. Starting with a small grocery store, Tapia sold Mexican products which were then rarities in Bushwick. When waves of immigrants flocking to the neighborhood started asking for tacos and tortas, he installed a two-foot electric grill in back and started cooking.
Taco Santana is the darling of Mexican restaurants in Williamsburg, managing hangovers and hunger pangs with double-stacked tortas and greasy tacos for almost five years. It's a mere 15 foot square room with three tables, a drink case, and a tiny open kitchen. The lady behind the stove, and her family taking orders and refilling salsa bottles, know what they are doing and do it very well.
I can't say that I've ever seen Zaragoza during the day. It must be a decent place for a quick cafe con leche, a shop to duck into for a can of chipotle peppers, where the sun shines into the well-swept corners. But I wouldn't know. Zaragoza, a Mexican bodega in the East Village, expresses itself best at night. The florescent lights of the bodega draw in all sorts of night owls: couples making their way back to the L train, club kids pouring out of the gay bar across the street, DJs with their gear. You can always find on an old drunk guy slumped over his tallboy in the corner and a cluster of folks dribbling salsa onto the sidewalk out front. When you're counting on the alcohol-absorption powers of tacos, it's the last stop before you turn in.
Taqueria Izucar, a mini-eatery under the JMZ train in Bushwick, offers a minimalist brand of taco. It's a taco in its truest form: hot corn tortillas, a wisp of perfectly seasoned meat, a drop of salsa, a crunch of white onion, hitting a sweet spot so many miss. It is miles away from shredded orange cheese and limp strands of iceburg lettuce. For those who are used to tacos sporting salad, Izucar's simplicity can be a revelation.
The half-mile stretch of Western Avenue just north of the Blue Line stop (roughly from Cortland to Belden) is not exactly the most elegant road. But while it is easy to zoom by without noticing the scenery, you'd also miss one of my favorite places to eat in the city
"It may not be the prettiest-looking food but it's certainly one of the best examples of Chicago's great taqueria culture." [Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger] Tierra Caliente 1402 N. Ashland Avenue, Chicago IL 60622 (map); 773-772-9804 The Short Order: Proper al pastor...