El Taco Veloz [#2] defeats Picante Taqueria [#10]

Unlike other recent underdogs, Picante Taquera [reivew] turned out a burrito that exceeded expectations, but it wasn't enough to put it in striking distance of El Taco Veloz [review], which was en route to shattering De Pasada's record with a Burrito Breakdown score of 43.5.

Three of our final four taquerias are now established: Veloz, La Pasadita, and De Pasada. The last spot will be fought over by Irazu and Tecalitlan, which was the premier matchup of the second round all along. Any of our five remaining taquerias serve up good enough food to win the entire bracket, and there will be no easy decisions from here on out. Stay tuned.

Picante Taqueria: Round 2 Review

#10. Picante Taqueria
2016½ W. Division
Al Pastor Burrito
$4.95 (no extras)

Defeated #7 Chipotle in Round 1 [review]

All right, let's be perfectly honest here. There was pretty much no way that Picante Taqueria was going to defeat El Taco Veloz. Not after Veloz's spectacular showing earlier in the week, and not when Picante is such a bare-bones operation that they don't even have a seating area. Mathematically, this would have to be just about the best burrito I'd ever eaten for Picante to make up the points it's losing in the service and experience categories. So, Picante was a little bit of a lame duck heading into yesterday's visit. That doesn't mean that it's without its redeeming facets, however.

The Food: The way that I'd describe the food at Picante is "surprisingly good". Not great, but surprisingly good. All of their ingredients are of a fairly high quality (although the pork was sliced up thinner than in needed to be), and this burrito was proportionate and fresh-tasting. Their salsa is underrated, and their tortillas are above-average. Their pork al Pastor is a little toward the spicier side rather than the sweet side, but it's a pretty good blend, and as at Veloz the Pastor was accentuated by grilled onions.

One mild complaint: their burrito is a little sloppy, by which I mean that it isn't wrapped all that tightly and so the ingredients tend to slip out. This problem is a bit more acute because Picante is exclusively a take-out joint, and so if you decided to walk your burrito north a couple of blocks and eat it in Wicker Park, you'd inevitably wind up spilling some on yourself (those al Pastor stains are notoriously difficult to wash out!).

The Experience: There isn't any: Picante has no indoor seating area, and their outdoor seating area is closed for the season. The service experience, such as it is, is mixed. The turnaround time on my burrito was considerably quicker than on past visits. On the other hand, Picante gets a deduction because I asked for both hot and mild salsas and my take-out bag wound up containing only the hot.


El Taco Veloz: Round 2 Review

#2. El Taco Veloz
1745 W. Chicago
Al Pastor Burrito
$4.00 (no extras)

Defeated #15a Taqueria Trespasada in Round 1 [review]

I remember the moment that I first conceived of Burrito Bracket. It was in those halcyon days of late July, 2007. I was walking down Milwaukee Avenue, so sweaty from the 90-degree heat that my glasses kept slipping off my nose. I was a kid back then, looking for lunch in all the wrong places.

When the days grow shorter and colder, it helps to hold on to memories like this one, as a squirrel hoards nuts for the winter. It's always Daylight Savings Time when it hits me: the passing of the seasons. What bureaucrat was it decided that we needed less daylight in the middle of winter? He surely can't have been stationed in Chicago. It was cold and dusky by the time I left my apartment for a late lunch today, the sort of day that makes you want to hibernate, to subsist on a diet of cable television and takeout Chinese until the sun comes out again. No, not to give up the fight; but perhaps to take a rain check on dreams of finding the perfect burrito.

The Food: And then you sink your teeth into a burrito like this one, and you remember what the whole struggle was for. This was probably the single best item of food that we've tried in the Bracket to date. Let me count the ways.

First, there was the wonderful flavor of the pork al Pastor, a rich, sweet flavor -- a perfect autumn flavor. Second, there is Veloz's salsa, a complex, peppery blend that somehow defies description, but is instantly recognizable to the tongue. Third, there are the little extras. Veloz, like Dona Naty's, cooks its onions on the skillet with its pork, giving them a caramelized flavor, and for another unique touch, there is a container of pickled jalapenos sitting on the table. Fourth, there is the way that everything stays in balance. This burrito contained a large number of ingredients, flavors, and textures -- meat, beans, salsa, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, cheese in that perfect state of meltedness, the pickled jalapenos -- and yet no one taste overwhelms the others, and the burrito is the perfect size for a hearty lunch, rather than some supersized monstrosity.

The perfect burrito? Not quite. The meat itself was only of average quality, and while generally tender, its texture varied a bit from slice to slice. But for the grand total of $4.00, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better meal in the city.

The Experience: Anybody that calls Veloz a hole-in-the-wall doesn't know their holes from their walls. No, it isn't white tablecloth stuff, nor does Veloz get much light; there are no windows on either side of the dining area. But there's a kitschy, eccentric coziness to the interior, which this time was accentuated by a homemade mural of Halloween ghosts down the right-hand wall. The colorful lighting and equally colorful music from the jukebox are designed to get you to sit down and stay for a while. And the service is notably efficient, if a little informal.