Monday, February 25, 2008
I was never a big fan of Mexican food. I just didn’t have very much exposure to good, authentic Mexican food growing up I guess. New York is notorious for its dearth of great, authentic Mexican cuisine, and I think it should go without saying that Montreal doesn’t have the most thriving Mexican dining scene - fancy, casual, whatever.
Chicago really changed my mind. The Mexican population in Chicago is the largest in the nation after Los Angeles, so it should come as no surprise that the Mexican food here would be better than I could find at home.
My newfound love for the cuisine can really be traced back to one establishment. Until I tried La Pasadita, my mind had not yet been blown by Mexican food. The fact that I now crave Mexican food, whereas prior to my time in Chicago it was hard to even convince me to have Mexican, is a true testament to the food at La Pasadita.
I started Law School on a no-red-meat kick that lasted all the way through this past November. I know – you’re probably asking yourself – the girl moves to Chicago of all places – the arguable red meat capital of the world – and swears off the stuff. I have no real reason for my choice in doing so other than that I just kind of lost my taste for it for a while there. I would see a big fat steak on a plate and have no desire to tear into it.
Because of this voluntary restriction, I would order the chicken taco at every Mexican place I patronized. This could probably explain why it took me so long to catch the Mexican wave. Other chicken tacos came to me as nothing more than a pile of low-grade dark meat sadly served beneath a spattering of cilantro and onions. Though I’m admittedly not a dark meat lover, I feel safe saying that the quality of the meat is just not that great – dark meat or not.
However, La Pasadita’s chicken is an incredible victory. I don’t think I am speaking in hyperbole when I say that the chicken served at this inconspicuous joint in the Bucktown neighborhood is among the very best chicken served in the city of Chicago.
Breast meat usually gets a bad rap, often deservedly so, as unless served on the bone, beneath a thicket of skin and roasted perfectly, the meat has little chance of remaining juicy. The meat here though, it’s another story altogether. I’m not sure what it is that they do to it, but I am – without fail – always presented a touchdown of a taco – filled to the brim with incredibly flavorful, but in no way overly salty, unbelievably moist cubes of chicken breast. Perhaps it is just that it is cooked on the same grill as all of their meat that endows it with this flavor, but whatever it is, I can only hope that they continue to do it exactly as they have been.
The carne asada is another winner. On my last visit I found my carne asada taco a bit too greasy, and I have heard some complaints that the meat is over-salted on occasion, but for the most part, this is good stuff - tender and unabashedly flavorful.
That giant mound of meat you see above is the Parrilladas Especial, a pile of chicken, carne asada, sausage, short ribs, green peppers and onions. Rice, refried beans and a stack of warm tortillas accompanied the monstrous cast-iron contraption, kept warm by a heating element below. Meant to feed three to four, the leftovers made for some delicious nachos at 3 a.m. At $20 for the regular and $25 for the Especial, the Parilladas are, by far, the most expensive item on the menu, but it can feed the table.
There are three Pasaditas located on the block just south of Division, one on the east side of Ashland and two on the west. While investigating this online, I found the following interesting tidbit – the larger restaurant-style Pasadita was created to cater to the yuppie crowd with Tex-Mex cuisine. I’ve had Tex-Mex though, which was much of the reason for my aforementioned lack of affinity for the cuisine, and this is so much better than that stuff. That said, the menu does include a few items added specifically for the non-Mexican customers that came in droves once the area became gentrified (the website notes the vegetarian burrito in particular).
Tacos run from $1.55-$2.00, and a super taco (lettuce, tomato, guacamole, sour cream, onions, cilantro, cheese) goes for $3.00. I take mine with just onions and cilantro, and, of course, a good douse of green sauce. To me, that’s as good as it gets. Simple, no-frills, delicious.
I usually stick to the tacos, though friends rave of the burritos. A recent 1 a.m. visit confirmed my suspicion that burritos are just too much for me. I enjoy the simplicity of the tacos, as the flavor of the meat is given the opportunity to pop and mingle with the onions and cilantro, without being overwhelmed by guacamole and cheese. One thing is for sure, though, burritos here are not light on the meat, as is the case in many other establishments that opt for the cost-saving rice-stuffing route.
Once a little-known, barebones establishment, the secret has long been out - and for good reason. Gourmet this ain’t, but it sure is great.
1132 N. Ashland (just south of Division)
Chicago, IL 60622
1140 N. Ashland
1141 N. Ashland