#8. Arturo's Tacos
2001 N. Western
3 @ $1.80 each + 45¢ sour cream each = $6.75
Defeated #9 Lazo's Tacos in Round 1 [review]
As a rule of thumb, there is an inverse relationship between the size of a restaurant's menu and the quality of its food. Case in point: consider The Cheesecake Factory, which has a menu the size of a phone book, versus Charlie Trotter's, which doesn't really even have a menu at all, but simply dictates to you what you're going to be eating that evening (possibly with substitutions for food allergies -- if they're in a good mood). Even within the realm of fast food, this principle largely holds true. Chains like In-and-Out Burger, Chipotle, and Potbelly Sandwiches focus on small, simple menus featuring well-sourced ingredients. As a result, there are more efficiencies in their food costs, keeping the menu more affordable, and the quality is considerably higher, enough so that even a self-proclaimed food snob like me will find himself eating there once in a while.
Arturo's Tacos has a very large, diner-style menu: the menu literally takes up the entire length of the wall of the establishment. Some things on its menu, things like the milanesa torta, are quite good. Other things on its menu, things like the barbacoa tacos that I ate today, perhaps should not be offered.
The Food: Well, these were certainly good-looking tacos. Arturo's is more cognizant of presentation than perhaps any other restaurant in the bracket save Tecalitlan, and that presentation extends both to its interior decoration and to the food itself. Aligned neatly on the plate, and accompanied by a lime wedge and the streaming sunlight of Armitage Avenue, my tacos were almost self-consciously photogenic --as opposed to La Pasadita's, which might generously be described as "fugly".
Unfortunately, there's no way around it. I have a soft spot for Arturo's Tacos -- I consider it to be a Chicago institution, and it has served up many a good meal to customers in a variety of states of sobriety. But these barbacoa tacos simply weren't any good. As you might infer, the primary problem as with the meat, which was overcooked, stringy, and had a rather unpleasant aftertaste; it seemed like it had been sitting in a vat for awhile. The tortillas were also a little too tough and the sour cream verged on being runny; just not a good experience all around. The salsa was redeemable, at least.
The Experience: On the other hand, good food or bad, at least Arturo's heart is in the right place. The interior of the restaurant is beautiful, with a slightly kitschy, almost grotesque aesthetic that is distinctive without being overdone. The service was extremely prompt -- it might not have been three minutes from the time I ordered my tacos to the time they were sitting in front of me. Although it looks like they've slightly upped the prices on their tacos recently, the operation is certainly endearing enough that it's earned a mulligan on a bad meal here and there. But this was one of those bad meals.
#8. Arturo's Tacos
Posted by Nate Silver at 4:15 PM