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Taco Testing Lake County Mexican Restaurants

abf005 Nov 1, 2007 12:36 PM

When it comes to Mexican food in general, I follow one simple rule: make a good taco! Whether it's carne asada, carnitas, al pastor, barbocoa whatever! Just please make it good.

My logic is this, if a place cant even make a good taco then 99% of the time the menu probably wont have anything else I like either. So this is one way to filter out the places worthy of exploring the rest of the menu. Granted this is not ab absolute litmus test for going to a Bayless type place, but lets face it, in Lake County where most of the Mexican places are family owned, very regional, with typically the Abuela in back, possibly hand making tortillas, tamales, asada or mole, this simple test ferrets out the dives from the stars.

Not to mention it gives me chance to check out the overall menu, sauces, inspect the environment for cleanliness and if there is a unsavory crowd there or not, (after all, allot of this is in Waukegan!).

The test:
1) Order the tacos, ask what the house specialty is, order one of those; typically its carne asada (steak), or al pastor (pork), but if they offer up anything else get one!
2) Order it the way they would sell it to the average Joe, how they say they make it, no specials/ or custom jobs, if you rebuild it whats the point? I want it the way they intended it to be presented and taste.
3) Eating: make sure the first bite is just out of the wrapper/foil plain, take the second bite with lime if given, third & forth with the house red and/or green sauces or any other sauces they give you.
4) Finally rate it, what was on it? Onion/cilantro? tomatoes? how was the tortilla? flavor of the meat, flavor of the sauce etc.

I'm working my way west starting from Waukegan (which has undoubtedly the largest Mexican population outside of Chicago) going towards Round Lake and then on to Mundelein and beyond.

That's the plan, I'll post results as I go. Anyone interested in joining me on this quest please feel free to post your results or if you spot a place that I've missed, please let me know.

Taco Buenos
1000 Belvidere St, Waukegan, IL

  1. w
    wayfatwhiteeee Jul 8, 2009 07:04 AM

    This place is no longer in business..... Tried it once. Nver looked back.

    1. abf005 Jan 29, 2008 08:56 AM

      513 E PARK AVE
      LIBERTYVILLE, Illinois 60048

      Overall rating: 3
      Meat: 3 - the steak was fried on a flattop griddle
      The Sauce: 3 - red, green were typical, nothing special, chip salsa was OK
      Tortilla: 3- standard package type (del rey/el milagro etc)
      Quantity/value- high side of average, the prices were slightly higher than what you would expect to pay at most of the area taqueria’s, lunch (pictured) was about $15 with drink & tip.

      Environment: Rancho Grade has a very gringo Tex-Mex/On the Border theme feel to it. I guess that should be no surprise since it is in the heart of Libertyville, which not the most ethnically diverse community in Chicagoland. Granted it’s allot nicer inside than the typical taqueria that I boldly stroll into most days while on this taco tasting quest, but I always feel that having too much décor is just a superficial window dressing meant to keep the audience from seeing the directly into the kitchen. So if you’re into décor over flavor, than this place will appeal to you, if not, go down the street to Tacos El Rey De Oro on Millwaukee Ave. for the real thing.

      The food; eh so what! It was just OK. The combo plate (pictured) had a beef enchilada poblana (mole) a tostada and a steak taco. The taco was alright, in fact, the whole plate was just OK, but nothing that merited a $9 combo price. I didn’t hate the place or the food, but I wasn’t impressed enough to ever want to return either.

      Rancho Grande
      513 E Park Ave, Libertyville, IL 60048

      3 Replies
      1. re: abf005
        Fisty Apr 27, 2008 03:08 PM

        Thank you so much for doing this. We moved from Humboldt Park to Round Lake a few years ago, and it feels like we're living in a food wasteland. My husband noticed a neighbor getting delivery from Azteca today, which brought me here for research. Your review helps and we'll be trying Azteca soon.

        1. re: Fisty
          abf005 Apr 28, 2008 07:38 AM

          Fisty- I feel your pain, welcome food hell! LOL

          Humboldt Park? I miss that area too; I used to live in Edgewater & Roger Park myself. If you want some Puerto Rican food, a new place just opened at the corner of Sheridan & RT120 (Belvedere) about 3 months ago, I have not had a chance to hit it yet, but I did stop in and picked up a to-go menu (they were closing for the night) while on my way home from the train. It looked very clean from the remodeling, and it seemed like a nice family was running it.

          As you’ve discovered living up here in northern Lake County it’s really tough to find to good food, especially after having lived in the city. But I think you'll find that at the South end of Lake County it’s much better, and that only a few places you find around here will get you through the tough spots.

          Anyway, up here the options that seem to abound are basically: Pub burgers, Thin crust Pizza’s & Mexican. Other than that, I’ve found a couple of hot dog stands, one deli, a good Japanese place and one Italian place. The rest of the area places usually hit 4- 6 on a city scale of 10. As you can tell, I’m bored to death living up here! For more advise on Northern Lake County here are few threads to help you along:

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/313093 Gurnee area
          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/424826 Great Lake area
          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/458166 McHenry

          Take care and post back to us any new discoveries!

          1. re: abf005
            wayfatwhiteeee May 12, 2009 02:16 PM

            This place has long been closed. Over a year....They had very limited hours even before they finally closed.... Food was ok. Dirty bathroom. Sayw a employee come out of the bathroom and not wash their hands and then went to cook a order. That was on my second try. I passed after that.........

      2. abf005 Jan 29, 2008 08:18 AM

        El Paraiso
        14 N Mcaree Rd
        Waukegan, IL 60085
        (847) 244-3138

        Overall rating: 2.5
        Meat: 2 - the steak was fried on a flattop griddle
        The Sauce: 3 - red, green were typical, nothing special
        Tortilla: 3- standard package type (del rey/el milagro etc)
        Quantity/value- fair, prices in line with most of the area taqueria’s

        Environment: easy close parking right in front. Food wise it was OK, but nothing more. The place is kind of seedy, not dirty or dangerous, but there’s just something about this place that makes me feel uncomfortable when I’m there. The service is friendly, no issues, and the biggest thing going for these guys are that they are a late-LATE place, as in open 24 hrs a day.

        El Paraiso
        14 N McAree Rd, Waukegan, IL 60085

        1. abf005 Dec 11, 2007 09:18 PM

          816 Belvidere St,
          Waukegan, IL 60085

          Overall rating: 4
          Meat: 3 - the steak was flat top grilled tasty
          The Sauce: 4 - Red, green & chip all homemade and good.
          Tortilla: 5 - hand made fresh corn!
          Quantity/value- excellent

          Environment: clean interior, easy close parking. service was nice and friendly. When I placed my order I was immediately impressed by seeing the owners Abulita in back hand making the tortillas! I really liked this place, and found it to be both comfortable and humble, I will be back to this one to sample more of the menu.

          1 Reply
          1. re: abf005
            abf005 Jan 29, 2008 08:20 AM

            Adding the link for Paulina's

            816 Belvidere Rd, Waukegan, IL 60085

          2. abf005 Dec 11, 2007 08:51 PM

            Speedy Taco
            2722 Martin Luther King Jr Dr
            North Chicago, IL 60064 (847) 578-0299

            Overall rating: 2.5
            Meat: - 2.5 the steak was mushy and moist, like from a stew or crock-pot
            The Sauce: 2.5 - Red, green & chip, all mild with no kick
            Tortilla: 3 - package type (El Milagro/Del Rey etc.)
            Quantity/value- very fair

            Environment: clean, modern interior, easy close parking. They had a nice projector/screen set up showing cable TV. Food wise it was nothing too exciting, not that it was bad, it just was not very exciting either, service was nice and friendly though.

            1 Reply
            1. re: abf005
              abf005 Jan 29, 2008 08:22 AM

              Adding the link for Speedy Taco

              Speedy Taco
              2722 Martin Luther King Jr Dr North, Chicago, IL

            2. abf005 Nov 27, 2007 08:39 PM

              Monica's Mexican Restaurant

              Overall rating: 3.5
              Meat: - 3.5 the steak was flat top grilled, but very nicely seasoned and good quality meat.
              The Sauce: 3.5 - pretty much a standard red & green, but the chip salsa was esp tasty
              Tortilla: 3 - package type (El Milagro/Del Rey etc.)
              Quantity/value- excellent
              Environment: nice clean, modern interior, easy close parking

              Nice place that sits off of RT 45 in a small strip mall, much bigger inside than it appears from the outside. They served very respectable food with a nice atmosphere. I will be back to this one to sample more of the menu as well as to enjoy more tacos.

              Monica's Mexican Restaurant
              839 S Lake St, Mundelein, IL 60060

              1. p
                phobal Nov 24, 2007 12:43 AM

                I am hyperobsessed with Tacos, but I live in Canada where the food is god awful (think Britain when it comes to the culinary scene here; the newspaper's reader's choice award for Mexican food has gone to Taco Time for three years straight). I will be visiting Chicago in early-mid December for a few days. Are there any places that haven't been tested yet? Although my side of the lake doesn't have crap for Tacos, my favorite thing about visiting the USA is getting some Tacos that don't suck. Let me know! Places around United Centre are particularly of interest.

                1 Reply
                1. re: phobal
                  abf005 Nov 24, 2007 10:41 PM

                  This thread: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/424655 speaks more about some of the really great places in that area, which we call the "near west side" by the United Center. I fully can endorse La Pasidita as being one of the best out there but read the thread, it has many other great recs as well. Hope you have a good visit here!

                2. abf005 Nov 13, 2007 11:24 AM

                  Lomeli's Rosticeria

                  Overall rating: 4 This is one of my favorites, they also own the Rancho Nuevo in downtown Round Lake, but somehow this place is better. Very good food in large quantities and nice service. The always included caldos soup, grilled onions & jalapenos are also a nice touch.
                  Meat: - 4 The Al Pastor w/pineapple is excellent, the steak a flat top grilled and very nicely seasoned. The Chicken is excellent, all rotisserie or grilled.
                  Sauce: 4 - Really tasty sauces (3) red chipotle, green, and a killer chip salsa
                  Tortilla: 3 - package type (El Milagro/Del Rey etc.)
                  Quantity/value- excellent
                  Environment: nice clean, modern interior, easy close parking

                  Lomelis Rosticeria
                  1316 N Cedar Lake Rd, Round Lake Beach, IL 60073

                  1. abf005 Nov 13, 2007 11:09 AM

                    Los Comales

                    Overall rating: 2 stars (out of 5) Not horribly bad, just not very good. This place had the potential to blow away all the local competition, when you walk in you see that the kitchen is behind glass so the cooks can grill the meat over a char grill fire, so I'm thinking, cool, something like La Pasidita in the city, right? Wrong!! Everything is cooked and stacked in pans so it sits there until ordered, and nothing TASTED very charred either!! Plus, I hate mini tacos, especially when they cost the same as the regular sized ones.

                    Meat: 2- dried out from standing too long. I knew I was in trouble when I ordered and in about 2 mins she was back with my food. Not cooked fresh!!! Boo. I ordered the grilled skirt steak, carne asda, & Al Pastor; I could barely tell anything apart...
                    Sauce: 3 - avg sauce in squirt bottles green & red
                    Tortilla: 2 small mini torts - package type (El Milagro/Del Rey etc.)
                    Quantity/value- Avg price priced
                    Environment: nice interior, clean and modern, looks like an old Denny's. Easy parking outside.

                    Taqueria Los Comales
                    635 N McAree Rd, Waukegan, IL 60085

                    1. abf005 Nov 9, 2007 05:42 AM

                      El Taco Parado

                      Overall rating: 1 stars (out of 5) Avoid at all costs or dares

                      Meat: 1 (carne asada, I think) YUK! Meat in gravy (I threw this one away after tasting one bite) it looked like a stew, flavor was spicy with no redeeming purpose.
                      Sauce: 0 - no sauce
                      Tortilla: 3 average - package type (El Milagro/Del Rey etc.)
                      Quantity/value- Avg price priced
                      Environment: 0
                      What environment?? It's a walk up window dive in a crappy parking lot with dont park signs all over next to The Salmon Stop fish bait & tackle shop (with a worm dispenser coke machine in the doorway). The service was crusty and rude, and the place just looks run down, dirty and divish. I had a hard time going through with placing and tasting this order, and then felt like Tony Bourdane for doing it.

                      El Taco Parado
                      1019 Belvidere St, Waukegan, IL

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: abf005
                        wayfatwhiteeee Jul 8, 2009 06:59 AM

                        These people are no longer at this location. This place is under new owners and the food is very good. And they new owners care about what they serve without having the bad attitude. You get a good product for the money, and your moneys worth. The spicey means spicey. Unless they get a batch of peppers that come in milder. That they cannot control the natural spice of the pepper. If you get the cheese and sour cream added, it will take away some of the hot. I get mine without the sourcream and cheese. They also make a sweet hot sauce from time to time. It is vetry good. I think that is the green sauce. The place is clean, and the produce is kept at the proper temps, and they cook their meat and chop their vegtables fresh every day. One of the owners has had cancer issues in the past so they are very concerned with how clean and fresh the product is due to his/or her past health. They care about their product and their customers.

                        1. re: abf005
                          gordeaux Jul 8, 2009 08:29 AM

                          Ever been to Tito's Tacos in LA?
                          The place is absolutely crowded at all times, and it sounds exactly like your description of El Taco Parado - except, they call their meat, um...meat. You can only order a "Meat burrito" - lol. I asked countless ppl where the best burrito in LA was, and I can't tell you how many times Tito's was the answer. I gave in, and went at lkike 3 in the afternoon, and it was PACKED. Worst food I've eaten in a LONG time. Walk up window, stewed meat..<shudder> I don't even like talking about it. And the place was packed. Lines and lines to order food. I asked for cilantro and onion on a few of the things I ordered, and the lady looked at me like I had three heads. The salsa was straight from a tomato sauce can.
                          I should just stop now.

                          1. re: gordeaux
                            abf005 Jul 10, 2009 08:03 PM

                            Gordeaux!! Your the best!

                            I just got back from LA and I can confirm that without a doubt, it is the WORST eating city in the US. Especially for Mexican. I've been going there close to yearly for the last 35 years and have yet to hit a great Mexican restaurant. So Tito's comes as no surprise. This past trip I tried the Tamales at some way over rated place in the San Fernando Valley, they were hockey pucks in con husks with some horrible meat, I returned one dozen of them since they were cold to the touch!! That's LA for you.

                            As to the review by wayfatwhiteeee, I'll do a drive by and see whats going on there sometime soon. I doubt they've magically turned into a Las Asadas or La Pasita overnight.

                            For the record, I stopped doing the Lake County taco tests after about 25-30 places when I concluded that it was a colossal waste of time to try to find a char grilled steak or chicken anything up here.

                        2. abf005 Nov 4, 2007 04:16 PM

                          Taqueria Guerrero #1 & #3

                          Overall rating: 1 stars (out of 5)

                          Meat: 1 (carne asada) Awful!! At both locations the meat had a greasy horrible aftertaste, pan fried, and just gross (I threw them away after tasting)
                          Sauce: 3 average
                          Tortilla: 3 average - fresh, package type (El Milagro/Del Rey etc.)
                          Quantity/value- $1.25 ea, a fair price
                          Water st (downtown) was a really run down and dirty dump, limited metered parking
                          Glen Rock location is clean, nice inside, easy parking with its own lot.

                          I'm rating both of these at the same time as they equally sucked. By far the worst Tacos I've ever had in Waukegan, both my son and I tossed ours in the trash! I was so disgusted I even forgot to snap pictures. This is one place with three locations to AVOID.

                          Taqueria Guerrero
                          205 W Water St, Waukegan, IL 60085

                          Taqueria Guerrero 3
                          1300 Glen Rock Ave, Waukegan, IL

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: abf005
                            gordeaux Nov 5, 2007 07:34 PM

                            Man do I admire you on this quest. I have a feeling that you'll be "kissing a lot of frogs" on this journey as well ;-)
                            Hope you get a good one soon!

                            1. re: gordeaux
                              abf005 Nov 6, 2007 06:37 AM

                              Thanks!! I'm confident the good will outweigh the bad, there are some really good Mexican places out here.

                          2. abf005 Nov 4, 2007 03:58 PM


                            Overall rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)

                            Meat: 2.5 (carne asada) OK spicing, grilled, but mine was dry and crispy as if it had been sitting around
                            Meat: 3.5 (ground beef) this is the Pepe's taco, the one they built the chain on, its still one of the best tasting ground beef tacos I know of, so it's good for what it is.
                            Sauce: 2.5 average, chip sauce is kind of heavy tomato and mild. The actual "Taco sauce" is a vinegar based sauce, also mild
                            Tortilla: 3 average - fresh, package type (El Milagro/Del Rey etc.)
                            Quantity/value- tacos are about $2 each, not such a great deal anymore.
                            Environment: clean, very festive and loud, fun with a nice outdoor patio, has a chain feel, easy parking nearby.

                            Pepe's Mexican Restaurant
                            760 N Green Bay Rd, Waukegan, IL 60085

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: abf005
                              sausagefinger Nov 16, 2007 08:22 PM

                              It is a chain. I'm not a foodsnob, but if you are looking for authentic or just fresh, this is not the place. Better beef tacos are made with shredded beef. I'm from Lafayette, IN and most local Mexican restaurants have purveyors from Chicago. For 2.5 stars, I'd rather go to La Bambas. http://www.labambaburritos.com

                              1. re: sausagefinger
                                abf005 Nov 17, 2007 10:03 AM

                                You've missed the point of this thread on two levels; firstly, I was NOT seeking or asking where are there better chains or more authentic Mexican food, but rather, how do all the EXISTING purveyors of tacos in Lake County ILLINOIS taste. Secondly, I was referring to Lake County IL and not Lake County IN.

                                As such La Bamba clearly does not fit since they have absolutely no presence in Lake County Illinois whatsoever.

                                That being said, I am familiar with La Bamba and their crazy slogan of "Burritos as big as your head!" based on the downtown location that I have visited many times. And they would probably fit in as a great to have chain up here in Gurnee. As to the tacos at La Bamba, they offer steak (not shredded beef) tacos that I would give a 3.5 or 4 rating on, I especially like the layer of cheese that they melt between the two tortillas inside each taco, ironically much like Pepe's" stuffed taco...

                                1. re: abf005
                                  sausagefinger Nov 17, 2007 06:51 PM

                                  Maybe we have a misunderstanding here. I'm saying that Pepe's tastes like a one star rating. If I were following your rating, in my neck of the woods, I would think La Bamba's has 2.5 star food. I mentioned nothing of where you should eat, whether La Bamba's needs to open shop in your county, or that La Bamba's offers shredded beef. I only eat pork tacos at La Bambas, and my tortillas are open faced with meat, cheese, and sauce. So I'm not even sure what you are talking about, with the whole melted cheese action. My response wasn't meant to be an attack, only a statement that Pepe's has really bad tacos. And with the level of quality meats available in your area, as they deliver quality meats all the way to my neck of the woods (Tippecanoe County, Indiana), Pepe's surely has the means to raise the bar.

                                  1. re: sausagefinger
                                    abf005 Nov 18, 2007 08:28 PM

                                    OK maybe your right, I guess we have a communication gap!! So I'll start over.

                                    IMO, I still consider the tacos at Pepe’s to be a 2.5, not bad, but not great. Certainly I can attest that each Pepe's location and quality is slightly different form each other as I have had very different experiences from various Pepe's around town, with the Waukegan location only rating a 2.5 and the locations on Taylor St or Archer (by Midway) in the city would be at least 3’s.

                                    I guess I don't have an issue with the ground beef (picadillo) or the way they steam the meat rather than just fry it, so I’ve never felt that the meat was inferior at all. Lord knows, I’ve been to many Taquerias around the country where the contents of each taco is a total mystery to me. Steak or beef? Yeah, but from what part of the cow? Chuck? Flank? Who knows.

                                    Anyway, a one to me would be Taco Bell or Taco Johns style of tacos, with those fake crunchy hard shell tacos or even worse Burger King/Jack-in-the Box tacos with those deep fried greasy mystery meat filling tacos which would be a 0

                                    So you can see, a 2.5 is not a ringing endorsement at all, but rather a statement of just below average.

                                    Last thing about La Bamba, maybe your locations serves different food than the downtown location that I've visited. But at the Madison location, when they heat up the tortillas they start with a quesadilla first, and then add in the taco ingredients (steak, lettuce, tomato & more cheese) and that's how it’s served. What you describe as being "open faced" sounds more like a Tostada, did I miss something?

                                    1. re: abf005
                                      sausagefinger Nov 19, 2007 09:10 AM

                                      Single tortilla with toppings, folded in half to eat. I should have been more descriptive. Something about Pepe's ground beef gives me the heebees, just like the thought of getting a taco at Burger King. Granted, I've eaten my fair share of junk, but I couldn't bring myself to go to BK, Bell, or the Crack. True that there may be variations in restaurant locations, and sadly I've been to the Pepe's up there. Again, it's not a personal thing, as you've found many better places to eat and given higher feedback. I'll have to try a few when I'm up in Gurnee visiting family. Keep chowing.

                            2. abf005 Nov 3, 2007 02:19 PM

                              La Azteca Pizzeria & Taqueria
                              1529 Cedar Lake Rd. Round Lake Beach, Il. 60073

                              La Azteca Pizzeria & Taqueria
                              1529 N Cedar Lake Rd, Round Lake, IL 60073

                              1. abf005 Nov 3, 2007 02:14 PM

                                La Azteca Pizzeria & Taqueria
                                1529 Cedar Lake Rd. Round Lake Beach, Il. 60073

                                Overall Taco: 4 stars (out of 5)
                                Meat: 3.5 (carne asada) good spicing, grilled fresh on order.
                                Meat: 4.5 (al pastor) excellent! One of best I've tasted
                                Sauce: 4.0 above average all homemade, nice kick and flavor
                                Tortilla: 3 average - fresh, package type (El Milagro/Del Rey etc.)
                                Quantity/value- very good
                                Environment: clean, small functional inside, easy parking

                                Pizzeria & Taqueria? Seems like a strange combo that's for sure, but hey it works! And what a sleeper this place is, the tacos are really good and the al pastor is one the tastiest I've ever had, with well integrated onions and pineapples in the pork, it has that perfect blend of sweet and spicy that make this one really tasty. Everything here was so tasty on my first visit last week that I just had to go back for more tacos and to explore the menu today. The house special chicken Enchilada with homemade tortillas is not to be missed, and with the Azteca grocery store (that they also own) across the street the Saturday & Sunday tamales are really good too. Boy, am I ever glad I ventured into Round Lake and stopped at this one!

                                1. abf005 Nov 2, 2007 03:33 PM

                                  Tacos El Rey De Oro #2

                                  Overall Taco: 4 stars (out of 5)
                                  Meat: 3.5 very fresh, good quality & taste, fried up fresh on a commercial griddle.
                                  Sauce: 3.5 average
                                  Tortilla: 3 average - fresh, package type (El Milagro/Del Rey etc.)
                                  Quantity/value- Excellent
                                  Environment: large clean, very nice (festive) inside, easy parking.

                                  This is one my favorite places for Mexican food in Waukegan. I've been eating here for several years now and the consistency has always been right on, no matter the time of day (or night!) that I've visited. So maybe that's why I didn't start here right off the bat since I knew I was already a regular and big fan and quite honestly this was the bar I set for the others to beat or be judged by. I'll also mention that I've pretty much explored most of the menu here, and have found it to be pretty solid as well, my kids swear that this is the best Spanish rice anywhere! But honestly, I don't think that the seafood is one of their big strengths, its good but there is better in that category.

                                  But back to the taco, El Rey serves it Mexicano unless requested otherwise, they always cook up the meats on demand AFTER you order so nothing is sitting there waiting for a customer for who knows how long, this particular point really means allot to me. The spicing is good, as in I can taste it, and it gives the meat a really good flavor, granted it's not charbroiled, but it is tasty.

                                  On this occasion I ordered the al pastor & carne asada (both are pictured) and as always, El Rey delivered up the same fresh, delicious food I've become accustomed to getting when I eat here. I highly recommend this place.

                                  Tacos El Rey De Oro
                                  1605 Washington St, Waukegan, IL 60085

                                  1. l
                                    libgirl2 Nov 2, 2007 02:41 PM

                                    My parents swear by Tacos El Norte in Lake Zurich. My dad loves the Carne Asada, my Hispanic mother the Tacos. I had the fajitas there once and they are delicious. I only wish I lived up that way (or they moved down by me!)

                                    213 S Rand Rd
                                    Lake Zurich, IL 60047
                                    (847) 726-9114

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: libgirl2
                                      abf005 Nov 3, 2007 04:36 PM

                                      libgirl2- Ah yes the venerable Lake County Mexican chain of El Norte! I've been to 4 location; in Gurnee, Waukegan, Mundelion & Round Lake Beach. All are on my list of places to eventually re-visit, I never knew there was another in LZ, so I haven't been there and I'll have to add it in.

                                      Quite honestly though, I used to be a big fan of them in the mid 90's when I first moved up to Gurnee from Chicago. But after about a year or two of being close to a weekly regular at any of the above locations, I stopped going due to some really gross food experiences (sad, but true). I'd had too many bizarre things in my food and too many odd-isms happening with the staff while I would eat.

                                      I'll visit for the purpose of this Taco test, but for this one, I have to get my courage up to go back to first! LOL

                                      1. re: abf005
                                        libgirl2 Nov 5, 2007 04:49 PM

                                        The Tacos El Norte in LZ is very clean and the staff is very friendly.

                                    2. abf005 Nov 2, 2007 02:30 PM

                                      El Famous Burrito - http://efb.no-ip.com/

                                      Overall Taco: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
                                      Meat: 2 I'm guessing it was fried on a commercial griddle, but I also think it was stewing in broth afterwards, to stay moist and hot as they held product for serving. The meat was unusually soft/mushy with some sort of stewed aftertaste throughout the taco.
                                      Sauce: 3 average
                                      Tortilla: 3 average - fresh, package type (El Milagro/Del Rey etc.)
                                      Quantity/value- fair -
                                      Environment: clean, nice inside, easy parking.

                                      Before anyone points it out, I know this is a chain in the Chicago area with 16 locations throughout Chicagoland, but in this test virtually everyone will get sampled with the exception of Taco Bell!

                                      My taco was served up "Americano" style meaning lettuce, tomatos & cheese vs "Mexicano" (onions & cilantro), It had fairly generous portions that were in line with the other taquerias in the area. And overall, it was OK, nothing much to really criticize, but nothing to rave about either.

                                      El Famous Burrito
                                      3210 Belvidere Rd, Waukegan, IL 60085

                                      1. abf005 Nov 1, 2007 05:27 PM

                                        Taco Buenos

                                        Overall Taco: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
                                        Meat: 3.5 was cooked fresh upon ordering, had a nice spice, but not overpowering.
                                        Sauce: 3.5 they offered 3
                                        Tortilla: 3 average - fresh, package type (El Milagro/Del Rey etc.)
                                        Quantity/value- very good-generous
                                        Environment: small, clean, street parking

                                        Pictures on the above (main) post & on the link. Taco Buenos was pretty good, I liked the in house sauces and thought the food was fresh and tasty. The store front is a bit creepy being right off of Belvidere like it is, in fact I wasn't sure if it was going to have seating or be carry out, but inside its clean and comfortable. I thought this was enough of a surprise that it bears further menu explorations.

                                        Taco Buenos
                                        1000 Belvidere St, Waukegan, IL

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: abf005
                                          gordeaux Nov 2, 2007 05:45 AM

                                          abf -

                                          Would you mind adding to your list of criteria? One thing that will always make/break a taqueria for me: Char grilled or pan fried steak. If it's pan fried, I have no interest in going there unless they do something else absolutely excellently like pollo, carnitas, al pastor, barbacoa etc. Pan fried steak just reeks of common denominator no pride mediocrity when it comes to taquerias IMO.

                                          1. re: gordeaux
                                            abf005 Nov 2, 2007 06:40 AM

                                            Good point. I'll add it in, although sadly it seem to truly be an exception and not a rule for most taquerias. I think one of the coolest things I've had so far, were handmade tortillas at two of the places while on this quest. I'll be posting one of them next.

                                            For the record (since I cant edit the above posts):

                                            Both Taco Buenos & La Huitzoquena fried the steak on commercial griddles.

                                            1. re: abf005
                                              gordeaux Nov 2, 2007 07:26 AM

                                              "Good point. I'll add it in, although sadly it seem to truly be an exception and not a rule for most taquerias."

                                              This is why I don't go to most taquerias. Only the good ones. Good luck on your search. I don't venture in that area, so I can't add anything for you. If you're in my necks of the woods, check this thread for char grilled skirt steak joints. Again, good luck!. Definitely admire your chutpah on this one, and look forward to the reports.

                                              1. re: gordeaux
                                                abf005 Nov 2, 2007 03:47 PM

                                                I remember that thread well!! I hit the other-other-other La Pasidita as a result of one the posts! It was awesome too, I havent found one like that up here *yet*.

                                        2. abf005 Nov 1, 2007 05:13 PM

                                          La Huitzoquena - http://www.lahuitzuquena.com

                                          Overall Taco: 2 stars (out of 5)
                                          Meat: 2 mild on the spicing, but my carne asada was overcooked from standing on the grill for too long, otherwise nothing special.
                                          Sauce: 3 average
                                          Tortilla: 3 average - fresh, package type (El Milagro/Del Rey etc.)
                                          Quantity/value- good
                                          Environment: clean, nice inside, easy parking.

                                          I think I must have hit these guys on an off day or something. It was after the lunch rush (about 1 PM) but even so, the food wasn't being cooked fresh and they seemed preoccupied with other aspects of running the business. I'll have to do another spot check, as I thought these guys had more potential then what I saw that day.

                                          La Huitzuquena
                                          318 Belvidere Rd, Waukegan, IL 60085

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