Tacos can be found pretty much anywhere in Chicago, but few taquerias focus on the traditions of Mexico City.
As Hispanic Heritage Month begins, NBC 5’s Food Guy Steve Dolinsky visited one of his favorite taquerias in Little Village, where they use pretty much ever part of the animal.
All day long, plates overflow with finely-chopped white onions and fresh cilantro at La Chaparrita – a colorful grocery store with maybe a dozen tables inside – just off the main drag of 26th Street. Neighbors and regulars come here for the palm-sized tacos, each packed with ingredients with roots in the center of Mexico.
“The tradition of the tacos comes directly from Mexico City,” said Angelina Mendez, the owner of La Chaparrita.
“The tacos we serve here are suadero – beef chuck; longaniza – Mexican sausage; tripe – which is very popular, which is the intestine; beef head; lengua – beef tongue.”
Some of the ingredients stew away in a flavorful broth, which also graces the tortillas before hitting the plancha. Next to the vat, a steamer, holding the cow’s extremities.
“In the steam what we hold is the tongue, the head, the brain and the sweetbread,” she said.
It’s more about texture – the tongue is exceptionally tender and delicious, and improves with the chopped onion and cilantro, not to mention one of three different homemade salsas, which add a jolt of chile.
“The salsas are a very unique recipe here at La Chaparrita,” said Mendez.
Red, green or habanero – you choose your heat level.
There is also steak and al pastor – or finely sliced pork – tossed with pineapple, in case you’re not into the odd bits. To drink, do try a glass of tepache, a funky Mexican answer to kombucha.
“The tepache is a fermentation of pineapples, and then one percent oranges and one percent tamarind,” she said.
Mendez says while most of her Mexican clientele goes for the tripe and the tongue, she says some guests who might be unfamiliar them are usually pleasantly surprised when they order outside their comfort zone.
“People are quite amazed, and they find it incredible that it’s something that’s edible.”
2500 S. Whipple St.