Places to Visit: Chicago's 'The Taco Joint'

Places to Visit: Chicago's 'The Taco Joint'

There are bars in this world that are special. They make their name in carrying selected spirits that cater to certain sensibilities. They crave exploration; they savor the unusual; and they delight in taking their patrons on a journey rather than serving up shots of the same old, Same Ol’.

We come in contact with these bars from time to time and we want to make a point of mentioning them for people to visit.

In the fall of 2011, we were in Chicago killing time before a tasting of award-winning spirits from a competition that took place that year. Next door to the venue was this place that looked like had been transported from the mountains of Montana after the Unabomber abandoned them upon his arrest. Needless to say, it was out of place on ritzy Halsted Street in Chicago. We probably wouldn’t have entered at all if we hadn’t glimpsed the shelves (upon shelves upon shelves) of artisan tequila through the window.

Did we really just see that? Let’s go see!

Going in, you see what could be the finest lineup of exquisitely selected tequilas and mezcals (and nothing else) that you can find anywhere in the world. Being seated, you’re presented with an honest-to-God tequila list instead of a wine list, with notes about the production and distinctions from each one. Water is offered not out of a pitcher but in Gran Centenario tequila bottles.

The Taco Joint is deeply immersed in Mexican cuisine. The chips that come out aren’t simply homemade chips. There are several different kinds of chips, including plantains, all mixed together. With the chips you receive three different styles of homemade salsas. This complements the special of the day: homemade specialty guacamoles. That’s right—guacamole is plural in that you have different ingredients and versions to choose from rather like ordering an omelet.

The staff actually know what they’re talking about—as willing to talk about the different tequilas as they are the Bears’ record.

The place was like finding some James Beard award-winning chef kicking out burgers from a truck in the parking lot of a shopping mall. Or better, the time when Joshua Bell played his $1,000/minute commanding violin skills in a Washington DC commuter station for free with a hat out for the passerby.

The tequila list was astonishing. The breadth was impressive with a number of well-known premium brands but the rest of the shelf space positively groaning under the weight of boutique, niche labels. We elected to sample the Gran Centenario Reposado and the Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal. Both are outstanding by the way, the first to be taken neat for a silky smooth, perfectly aged expression of tequila while the latter is a wild ride of flavors that would jolt the senses of the most cynical and snobby of professed tequila aficionados.

So there we were: we ordered an assortment of homemade chips, three different salsas, a specialty guacamole, a drink order of $54 reposado and another of a $75 mezcal. Our total bill was $27.95. It felt like we were stealing. Querying the staff, we discovered that Tuesday night is “half-off” night and one can purchase a flight of tequilas for $7.50.

Let us repeat that: for $7.50, you can sample some of the world’s greatest tequilas… probably less money than you’ll spend in parking.

The Taco Joint could be one of the greatest places to get a drink in a city that’s famous for cuisine and drinks, perhaps second only to New York City itself (and maybe not even that, in some respects). For anyone who has ever wondered what tequila is and what it can be, for an amazingly low price you and all of your 50 closest friends can have the time of your lives sampling the world’s best tequila with some of the most authentic cuisine in the northern part of the continent.

If you’re within a 100 miles of Chicago on a Tuesday night, make the drive to the Taco Joint.

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