Ground Rules

The ground rules are relatively simple. I have set up a playoff bracket of 16 taquerias, all of which are within walking/biking distance of my apartment. Each week, I will consume some tasty Mexican food staple from each taqueria, and determine which one is better. Pretty simple, huh?

This is not a literal side-to-side taste test. As much as I love burritos, I'm not about to eat two of them in one sitting. But I will eat the same item from each restaurant. Week 1's item, for example, is carne asada burritos. So I'll get a carne asada burrito from La Pasadita (the #1 seed) on Tuesday, and a carne asada burrito (the #16 seed) from Flash Taco on Wednesday -- something like that.

Items will be consumed on the premises; burritos can lose a lot of their gusto even from a simple 5-minute walk back to the apartment. However, the scoring will be determined almost exclusively based on the taste and quality of the food; things like service, "atmosphere" and price will only be used as tiebreakers. You don't go to a taqueria for white-tablecloth dining.

I'm going to do my best to judge the items based on exactly how they were prepared that day. Taquerias are notoriously inconsistent, which is exactly the point of doing a multi-round competition; whichever restaurant wins is going to have to have turned out a good product for several sittings in a row. In addition, I'm going to make sure that I mix up the kinds of items, and the kind of meat, that I sample from each taqueria. If I have a carne asada burrito from La Pasadita in Round 1, and it wins its bracket and proceeds to Round 2, then the next time around I'll have some item other than a burrito, and some kind of meat other than steak. The only exception is in the final, where I will sample a "signature dish" from each taqueria, perhaps something that I've tried before and perhaps something that I haven't.

The taquerias are seeded based roughly on their yelp ratings, although the seeding committee has been known to rig the brackets to create better match-ups, such as the epic Week 2 clash between next-door neighbors Lazo's Tacos and Arturo's Tacos, which is the taqueria equivalent of Duke-UNC or Yankees-Red Sox.

[1] La Pasadita 1141 N Ashland
[2] El Taco Veloz 1745 W Chicago
[3] Chipotle 1733 N Damen
[4] De Pasada 1108 N Ashland
[5] Taqueria Super Burrito 1502 N Western
[6] Taco Cafe 1608 W North
[7] Picante Taqueria 2016 W Divsion
[8] Arturo's Tacos 2001 N Western
[9] Lazo's Tacos 2009 N Western
[10] Lobos Al Fresco Tacos 1732 N Milwaukee
[11] Dona Naty's Taco 1813 W Chicago
[12] Mr Taco's Restaurant 810 N Mashfield
[13] Taquereia Traspazada 811 N Ashland
[14] Supermercado Guanajuato 1438 N Ashland
[15] Taco & Burrito Express #3 1547 N Ashland
[16] Flash Taco 1570 N Damen

You can see the bracket (and my crappy graphic design skills) at any time by scrolling to the bottom of the page.

You might be asking: what exactly makes a taqueria a taqueria, and where exactly is Wicker Park? The Platonic image of a taqueria probably involves counter service rather than waiter service. You stand in line, place your order, pay the cashier, and have a delicious burrito in your hands five minutes later. However, many of these restaurants straddle the line between counter and waiter service, and some like La Pasadita actually offer both. So I haven't been completely strict about this about this criteria. On the other hand, a restaurant like Tecalitlan (which is excellent, by the way) is probably too much of a "sit down" place to qualify as a taqueria. Broadly speaking, any place that you'd take your mom to isn't eligible for this competition.

There is no official definition of what constitutes Wicker Park (technically speaking, Wicker Park is one of several neighbrohoods in Chicago's West Town community area).
However roughly speaking the boundaries that I'm working within are those that I can plausibly walk to. That constitutes Western Avenue to the west, Chicago Avenue to the south, Armitage Ave. to the North, and the Expressway to the East. This includes portions of what might be called Bucktown, Noble Square, Ukrainian Village, and Humboldt Park, as well as Wicker Park. I haven't left any restaurants out, at least not intentionally. In fact, pretty much every taqueria within these boundaries should be included. Actually, I'm concerned that at least one of them (Taco Cafe) is no longer open, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it; there is a contingency plan in place.

That should more than cover all our bases. Tune in next week for the clash between Flash Taco and the heavily-favored La Pasadita.


Sean said...

La Pasadita rules!

Abby said...

what about including El Cid in your list? It's not technically Wicker Park, but they've got a huge billboard you can see from the blue line touting themselves as the best tacos in the city..or something like that. Just curious how they stack up. Personally I can't get enough of the fish tacos.

Nate said...

I love El Cid! Unfortunately, it's just a little too far away from me to be somewhere that I can really go for lunch on foot. I might do a second version later that expands the boundaries further, but I'm going to need to get a bike first!