Lobos Al Fresco Tacos: Round 1 Review

#11. Lobos Al Fresco Tacos
1732 N. Milwaukee
Carne Asada Burrito
$6.25 (no extras)

This is sort of a bittersweet day for Burrito Bracket, because it marks the end of the first round, and therefore also the last "undiscovered" taqueria in Wicker Park. Destiny is now manifest, every corner of the map has now been filled in, and if I want a new taco joint, I'll have to move to San Francisco -- or at least to Pilsen. Today's entrant, Lobos Al Fresco Tacos, was a particuarly appropriate way to end things, because having opened quite recently, it was one of the few taquerias in the bracket that I'd never tried. And so the sense of discovery was preserved, at least for one more day.

The Food: Generally speaking, Lobos al Fresco causes a bit of cognitive dissonance. It has an upscale name and an upscale menu -- most of its items are full dinner plates priced at $10 to $15, rather than tacos and burritos -- but the interior looks like a renovated burger joint, which is in fact exactly what it is. And it's owned and operated by somebody named Yebel Shlimovitch, which I'm assuming is not a Mexican surname.

The food provokes a similar reaction. My first taste of Lobos was its unique and somewhat wonderful salsa that came with my chips and salsa; a rich orange in color, it had a 'creeper' spiciness that bore the distinct mark of habanero peppers. And when my burrito arrived, my first impression that it was excellent, perhaps even competitive with Irazu's entry from earlier in the week. Accessorized with a nicely-seasoned brown rice and both black and pinto beans, and dribbled with a little bit of that orange salsa, it certainly had its own special character.

Upon further review, however, I found the burrito to be a victory of style over substance. The primary problem was simply with the steak, which as Time Out Chicago's David Tamarkin had warned, was bland and underseasoned. Another problem was the texture: the steak was diced up too thinly, almost producing the character of ground beef, which cheapened what seemed otherwise like a pretty good cut of meat. And eventually, all the rice and beans produced a bit of a carb overload, making the burrito go down heavy. This didn't render the burrito inedible by any means -- I will give Lobos another try. But ultimately I agree with Mr. Tamarkin's conclusion: there's some unrealized potential here.

The Experience: As its name would imply, the real attraction of Lobos Al Fresco is in its small, triangularly-shaped outdoor dining area, which might not overlook the prettiest streetscape in the world, but has to be a nice option on a pleasant summer's day; a little bit too cool for that this time of year, unfortunately. My young server was prompt and friendly, checking in multiple times to see whether I needed refills on my salsa (yes) and cola beverage (no). But the interior of the restaurant is compact, and I overheard a little bit more chatter than I needed to about everything ranging from the previous customer to where they were going to buy their tomatoes.

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