#2. El Taco Veloz
1745 W. Chicago
3 @ $1.25 each = $3.75 (no extras)
El Taco Veloz did not become the #2 seed in the Burrito Bracket without a formidable reputation. I'd had only one experience with it in the past -- a drunken, late-night sojourn last winter in which I took advantage of its take-out counter to good results. But from reading the reviews, it seemed like it could capture the best of both worlds: the quality food of La Pasadita and the kitschy experience of Arturo's Tacos. On an unusually slow work day on an unusually warm September afternoon, it was the perfect day to check it out and indulge in some chorizo tacos and a bottle of beer.
The Food: Chorizo is one of my favorite Mexican goodies, but I had a little bit of reluctance about including it in the competition. One problem is that it is generally (although by no means always) made from the fattier, not-so-desirable parts of the pig, thriving more on its aggressive mixture of spices than the inherent quality of the meat. Another problem is that I suspect that at least some of the taquerias in our competition are buying their chorizo pre-ground and pre-spiced, which would tell us little about their ability to cook up a good meal. So my fear was that it would be hard to differentiate a good from a bad chorizo. Did Taco Veloz prove me wrong?
At first, it looked like it might not prove anything. I could not find a chorizo option under tacos on its colorful, but disorganized menu. Fortunately, my waitress didn't bat an eyelash when I simply ignored the menu and ordered three chorizo tacos up.
The distinguishing feature of Veloz's chorizo is that it is ground up quite finely and left on the skillet for some time, producing a burnt umber color rather than the red-orange that you might see at some other taquerias, and a flavor and texture that are reminiscent of good bacon. Although a long way from heart-healthy, the meat appeared to be of a fairly high quality, and was less greasy than you might think. The chorizo was not spiced exceptionally aggressively, and arguably could have used a bit more paprika, but the result was a mature flavor profile with undertones of roasted chestnuts.
The tacos were dressed with the standard accouterments of onion and cilantro; I also took advantage of one of the extra limes that my waitress had brought out with my Corona. (Veloz also offers a garnish of pickled carrots, cauliflower, and peppers, but I passed on that.) The tortillas were quite good with a distinctly strong corn flavor. Both the red and the green salsas were good as well; I liked the red better with my chips and salsa, with its roasted and almost smoky flavor, but the spicier green proved to create better dynamism with the chorizo.
This review has been a little ... clinical, but the bottom line is that these were quite satisfying tacos. On the dirty word scale, they were not worth the prized double expletive "holy fucking shit, these are good" nor probably a single expletive with a modifier ("holy shit"), but were certainly worthy of a solitary "shit" or "damn".
The Experience: We talked last week about the difference between "masculine" and "feminine" taco shops, the former tending to get you in and out quickly while the latter encourages you to take your time. To some extent, El Taco Veloz straddles the line between the two. The food itself is prepared very efficiently (veloz means "fast", after all) and the tacos were absolutely piping hot when they were brought out to me. At the same time, my very hospitable waitress seemed to be intent on getting me to relax, encouraging me to take my time with the menu; rather than bringing me my check when I was finished, she told me that she'd meet me at the counter whenever I was ready to get up and go.
There is quite a bit to keep your eyes busy while you're waiting for your tacos. The interior of the restaurant is dark, even in the middle of the day, but with lots of decoration and a weird, slightly tripped out lighting scheme. The restaurant was about half-full and almost uniformly Mexican, although within that boundary the crowd was fairly ecclectic (Mexican hipsters, Mexican gangstas, blue-collar workers on their lunch break, etc.) The music was good -- peppier and dancier than the standard norteño music. Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention the prices -- just $1.25 per taco, or fully 37% cheaper than "hole in the wall" Carnceria Leon. It's a fun experience, and could prove to be a difference-maker if Taqueria Traspasada puts up a challenge later in the week.
#2. El Taco Veloz
Posted by Nate Silver at 4:56 PM