Monday, July 30, 2012

Big Star

I have mentioned Paul Kahan before.  The man is like culinary royalty in Chicago.  He is a James Beard nominated and award-winning chef who owns five restaurants and a very fine bar (or four restaurants and two bars depending on how you want to count it) all of which are very different and all of which are very good.  While he is well known in the fine dining world with Blackbird and avec, his last two places, Big Star, and Publican Quality Meats, have been decidedly lower end (The other two places are The Publican and The Violet Hour).  Having said that these restaurants are decidedly lower end however, does not mean that they are any less good.  I went to Big Star recently for some tacos and beer.  Located in the heart of Wicker Park, actually located right next to Wicker Park, there really isn't much to say about the building.  It looks like an auto service garage, complete with two big garage doors.  The walls are cinder block and painted white and there is a big vintage Taco sign with blinking lights on the back wall.  The bar is very large nice and serves on all four sides.  There is a really nice selection of whiskey and tequilas and it has a turntable playing vintage vinyl.  The patio is very large as one might expect of a patio that occupies the former parking lot of a service garage.

The menu is fairly small and features tacos at a very nice price.  While the average person will eat three or four tacos, it is still fairly inexpensive.  While I said that I came for tacos, I also had to get some beans.  They weren't refried beans as you might find in most taquerias but it was really good anyway.  Besides the pinto beans, it had bacon, tomatoes, poblano peppers, onions, and was topped with queso fresco and cilantro.  It was also served with fresh corn tortillas.  It was kind of sloppy transferring it to the tortillas, and it was good eating it straight out of the bowl that it was served in, but tortillas and beans are a natural match.

Of the other things that I ordered in or on tortillas, I had two tacos and a tostada.  I started with the tostada because it was vegetarian and I thought I would start light.  I don't remember what it was called but it had huitlacoche, chihuahua cheese, onions, and arugula.  Huitlacoche is a fungus that grows on corn and has a very short season.  It tastes like mushrooms obviously, but it also has a slight corn flavor.  The arugula was lemony and wasn't too peppery, so I assume it was a new cutting.  It was very good.  The first taco that I had was a Taco de Panza which is a crispy pork belly taco with tomato guajillo sauce, onions, queso fresco, and cilantro.  It was spicy, and crispy, and chewy, and the pork was nicely sweet.  As with any pork belly, it was great.  The other taco was a Taco Al Pastor which was a marinated and spit roasted pork shoulder with  grilled pineapple, grilled onions, and cilantro.  The marinade was kind of spicy but it went well with the tang of the pineapple.

Everything was very good and I really liked it here.  The decor was very low end and the food was cheap but it as very well prepared, and despite the fact that it was pretty loud, the music selection, mostly old country, was also very good.  While there are frequently long lines to get a seat, it is still a viable option for some very good tacos and a drink or three. 

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