#12a. Dona Naty's Taco
1813 W. Chicago
Tacos al Pastor
3 @ $1.49 each = $4.47 (no extras)
Located on a well traveled but unremarkable stretch of Chicago Avenue on which the primary landmarks are burrito joints, Dona Naty’s Taco is in danger of blending into the landscape, the sort of place you’d stumble by on your way back home from Tuman’s Alcohol Abuse Center. El Taco Veloz, our #2 seed, is just down the block from Dona Naty’s, and Tecalitlan, our #3 seed, is just across the street. There is also a pizza restaurant named Naty’s a couple of storefronts down, which presumably has the same ownership.
I have to say it: I understand that Naty is a fairly common shortening of Natalia, and I’m not saying that every little taqueria needs to engage a corporate branding consultant, which would probably come up with some Spanglesh-pharmaceutical portmanteau like Talfresca!. But as far as gringo-friendly marketing goes, Naty’s isn’t much better than Taqueria la Cucaracha or (if you want to expand the horizons a bit) Booger’s Chicken Hut. As we learned last week, however, appearances (and names) can be deceiving in burritoville, and Dona Naty’s al Pastor left a lasting impression.
Food: Yep, that's right. Tacos al Pastor are my brand new toy, and I'm sticking with them for another week. Dona Naty's al Pastor set-up is standard: pork, onions, cilantro, a lime wedge, and double tortillas, which makes for some fairly attractive tacos:
Three things distinguished this al Pastor, and all of them are basically positives:
- First, the cut of the meat. Mr. Taco's Restaurant had some real problems in this department, as their slices were all over the board in terms of size and texture. De Pasada was an improvement, with nice, uniform chunks of meat, but they were basically Chipotle-style cubes rather than slices. Dona Naty's finally got it right, with thin, consistent slices of pork. This is particularly important in the case of al Pastor, because it increases the surface area and allows more of the spice mixture to bind to the pork. So while Dona Naty's spice recipe was nothing incredibly special, and while its salsas were less potent than those at De Pasada, their al Pastor got a lot of bang for its buck.
- Second, the character of the meat. Namely, there was a fair bit of lean fat on Dona Naty's pork. This is actually a good thing as far as I am concerned: it produces more variety in texture, and if nothing else, leaves no doubt that the meat is literally fresh off the bone, rather than having been over-processed. In fact, when coupled with a spice blend that had some hints of sweetness, it left a little bit of the impression of eating baby back ribs. However there were one or two chunks of meat that were just fat, and therefore inedible, and it made the tacos go down fairly "heavy".
- Finally, the onions: they were grilled! This is another huge plus for me; one major reason that I prefer Comiskey Park to Wrigley Field is because of the grilled onions on their polishes. The caramelization also provides another source of natural sweetness, again contributing to the "barbeque" flavor of the dish.
So, these were some very good tacos to my palate, although not something that you'd want to have on a diet. One other thing – Dona Naty’s has RC Cola instead of Coke products, which is sort of the equivalent of getting an e-mail from a long-lost friend. I promptly purchased a 12-pack on my way home.
The Experience: This was a little off-putting. After the waitress saw me sit down and brought me my chips and salsa, she sort of retreated to the back of the restaurant and pointed me out to the counter guy, who came and took my order. It was like she'd discretely pressed the gringo alert button to notify the authorities of a shrimp chimichanga order in progress. I'm sure that her English wasn't much, and my Spanish isn't much, but all I had to do was communicate that I wanted three tacos and a can of cola: how hard could this have been? I also can't say much for the decor -- the tables and chairs appeared to have been purchased from a McDonald's outlet store. It wasn't charming, exactly.
Still, its couple of shortcomings aside -- nobody is going to a taqueria for the modernista furniture -- Dona Naty's makes a mean taco, and would have given De Pasada a run for its money last week. We visit its actual opponent tomorrow, the even more bare-bones Carniciera Leon.