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#lategram This was my overall impression of Dallas. Big and empty. Not pictured: a zillion cars.

#lategram This was my overall impression of Dallas. Big and empty. Not pictured: a zillion cars.

Slave Narratives, the Civil Rights Movement, Dignity, and Educational Rights

This just came out and it’s one of my favorite Harvard Ed Review pieces I’ve ever worked on. Manuel Espinoza and Shirin Vossoughi argue that educational rights exist before they are ever declared by the law— that they come from the learning experiences of subjugated people. They draw from African-American slave narratives and Civil Rights testimony to make their argument, and the piece is beautifully written. So happy with the outcome. The piece is featured in this issue so you don’t need a paid subscription or anything to read it. Enjoy!

The Best Tacos in Chicago

Growing up, tacos were my family’s go-to meal. Mom’s coming home late from work? Pick up some tacos! Holiday barbecue? Arrachera and corn tortillas on the grill! Got three dollars to spend and you missed lunch? I’ve got a taco with your name on it! I grew up in pre-gentrification Logan Square, and my father lived in Pilsen, meaning I was shuttling between two of Chicago’s great Mexican cultural epicenters. When I moved to Boston three years ago, I mourned for tacos. Part of the problem is the tortillas. In Chicago, El Milagro tortillas can be purchased for pocket change just about anywhere, from the drugstore to the liquor store, and you can pretty much guarantee they’re less than 36 hours old. They contain corn, salt, and lime. What else do you need? Boston ain’t got that. (So if you are a family-owned tortilla operation and you’re looking for a place to franchise, consider New England! Lobster tacos, baby!)

So when a friend informed me this week that he was going to Chicago for the first time and needed recommendations, I wracked my brain trying to decide where to send him for tacos, but I found myself completely torn. So, as I generally do in times of ambivalence, I turned to Facebook.

The Best Tacos in Chicago (as determined by my Facebook friends)

You will note that I have excluded Big Star from this list, as well as any retaurant serving some kind of taco-inspired fusion. This is a list for the classic neighborhood taquerías that are such a special part of Chicago’s culinary landscape, many of them family-owned, serving masterfully-crafted tacos to generations of Chicagoans. This is a list for the Platonic ideal of tacos. 

The two big winners:

  • Rubi’s at Maxwell Street Market: “pretty bombastic,” “killer,” plus you get to spend the day at the Maxwell Street Market! Handmade tortillas for the win. 
  • La Pasadita (several locations) actually got the most votes. I’m only putting it second to Rubi’s cause Rubi’s is at Maxwell Street so #bowdown. 

Little Village won out as the neighborhood with the most recs, including Los Barrilitos, Atotonilco, El Faro (with a special vegetarian seal of approval), La Justicia, and La Chaparrita.

Other great tacos:

  • L’Patron: this was deemed the reigning favorite in Logan Square, and especially good for vegetarians [though my family allegiance is to El Cid]. Also in Logan Square, Cemitas Puebla is the “one place to go” for tacos árabes, though someone else on the thread gave it minus a hundred points, which was awesome because until then I didn’t know we were giving points. So, that one is contentious. Meanwhile, Estrella Negra cooks their steak tacos in bacon grease, just to prove that the universe is a good place. Then my mother came on the thread and publicly betrayed our family’s El Cid loyalty by saying Taqueria Moran was, if not better per se, “also quite good.” She also said Los Comales but I think Los Comales is really only a good choice if it’s after 2 in the morning. 
  • Fogata Village: best in Pilsen. [I must add that I was raised to believe that El Milagro is the best in Pilsen]. Special mention in Pilsen goes to Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan for all goat everything. Seriously, if you want goat head meat tacos, go here.
  • Taco L Jalisiense: best in Humboldt Park
  • Taqueria El Asadero: called the best steak in the city; located in Ravenswood
  • DeCero on Randolph “if you want someplace fancy”
  • Tecalitlan in West Town/Ukrainian Village
  • Paco’s Tacos in Brighton Park
  • Allende in Lincoln Park
  • Takito Kitchen in Wicker Park “but I always want tacos on Mondays and they’re closed on Mondays”
  • Carmela’s Taqueria in Upton for best pastor, 

Katie B. put in this special plug: “I would like to take this opportunity to rep the intersection of Lyndale and Western. My new favorite Mexican joint, El Comalito, just opened there. It’s basically just an abuelita who makes tortillas and tamale masa from scratch, and the carne asada, al pastor, and carnitas are bombin (as is the chicken mole on weekends). I really want this place to stay open so I task everyone on this thread with going there. Also at this intersection is an excellent birria place (Birrieria Estilo Jalisco) and a vegan Mexican place with convincing fake al pastor (Quesadilla La Reina del Sur). So, go to western just south of Fullerton!”

Bill S. said he’d heard of a new spot, Authentaco, being very good, but couldn’t vouch for it. Jonathan W. read that and went there and reported back (because see, this Facebook thread had become a magical place): “more expensive than La Pasadita, but probably worth it. The huitlacoche quesadilla, pork rind taco, and roasted poblano taco were all outstanding. (La Pasadita’s burritos, though, still reign supreme, uncontested by Authentaco).”

Danny, co-founder of Meso (a blog/project exploring Mexican-Chicagoan cuisine) and therefore the closest thing on this thread to an official expert (well, aside from all of my lifelong taco-eating friends and family, and also Chicagoans will tell you we’re experts at anything food-related but anyway) weighed in to say that asking about the best tacos is like “grandma’s chocolate cookie recipe: everyone’s grandma’s is the best. With tacos, I just think if it’s with cilantro and onions and the meat is good, you’re good to go.”

The moral of the story is— why have one best taco restaurant when you can have thirty? 

Art & Interview in Cognitive Liberation

The new issue of art-activism journal Cognitive Liberation is now live, and the editors were generous enough to publish my cover art for Home Court as well as an artist’s statement describing my thoughts on the piece, and even more exciting, a fantastic conversation I had with co-authors Ben Alfaro and José Olivarez.