Taco and Burrito Express: Eat-in Match Review

#15a. Taco & Burrito Express #3
1547 N. Ashland
Torta de Milanesa
$4.29 (no extras)

Taco & Burrito Express doesn't get much love. There are rarely more than a handful of customers inside. It doesn't even have a listing on Metromix, and it has just one review on Yelp -- mine. My theory is that this has to do with its extremely generic name. Wicker Park is notorious for its dismissal of anything corporate, and "Taco & Burrito Express Inc. #3" sounds like one of those trixie- and-bro- approved taco huts that belongs in Lincoln Park. In fact, there is a "Taco & Burrito Expres" [sic] in Lincoln Park, although given its misspelling of the word "express", it is not clear whether it is part of the same chain or a separate entity trying to avoid a trademark infringement lawsuit.

Nevertheless, I have some affection for this humble looking taco shop on Ashland Avenue. It stays open late, and makes for much better drunk food than Flash Taco. Okay, so it isn't La Pasadita, but the chaotic atmosphere of La Pasadita is sometimes the last thing to need when your stomach has already begun to growl and your head has already begun to throb. For getting in, getting out, and getting full, TBE #3 is a reliable option.

The Food: The Burrito Bracket, of course, isn't really designed to reward safe-but-not-sorry Mexican food. Rather, it's designed to identify uncannily good Mexican food, particuarly from those obscure little taquerias that you might never have discovered on your trips through the neighborhood. As such, although I endorse Taco and Burrito Express #3, I didn't necessarily expect it to outperform its low seed in this format. So how did it fare under critical (and sober) review?

Well, pretty much how I was expecting. This torta graded out at a B-minus or C-plus in almost every respect. The bread was fresh, but could have been crisper, and had become slightly soggy by the end. The breaded steak was adequate and consistently textured, but somewhat underseasoned (TBE's carne asada torta, on the other hand, has tended toward the salty side when I've tried it in the past). The condiments were fresh and well-proportioned, and the beans were tasty, but the salsa lacked a certain zest. Now, there are certain items at TBE that are quite good, particularly anything involving their chorizo, which seems to be a house specialty. But there wasn't much to lift this torta above replacement-level status.

The Experience: If you've gone to Taco & Burrito Express late at night, you've probably encountered an older, motherly-looking woman, whom I overheard being referred to today as La Vieja ("the older one"). La Vieja pretty much kicks ass, making sure that the kitchen is working hard, and that her customers go away feeling welcome and full. La Vieja was not there this afternoon -- instead it looked like her daughter was -- but you could still detect some of her influence; TBE is clean and well-lit and pleasantly if a little quaintly decorated. There is no table service (meaning no free chips-and-salsa), but it's a comfortable place to sit down. The food can take slightly longer than average to prepare, but overall the service is very friendly and a definite plus for this establishment. Whether those bonus points are enough to carry it past the mysterious Taqueria Traspazada, its opponent in this week's eat-in match, we will have to see.


Anonymous said...

i've eaten here a few times. their torta is a little salty for my taste, but they have good burritos.

Nate said...

Their tortas are definitely a weak point. See, I think restaurants should have two separate menus, the "good shit" menu and the "shit we have the raw ingredients to make if you really want it" menu.