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Mar 24, 2013 07:36 PM

Great al pastor found! Los Barrilitos

Ever since being introduced to taco trucks in Oakland, I've been a big fan of al pastor tacos. After living in LA, and finding some of the best al pastor this side of the border (Tacos Leos taco truck), I've been a fanatic. Since moving from LA, I make it a goal to seek out the best al pastor in the area and since coming to Chicago 2 months ago we've been disappointed. After doing a lot of research I was expecting to be wowed by Tierra Caliente, but we were actually repulsed (apparently we went at a bad time, and I still intend to give them another shot around 11:30am). The best we had found was at L'Patron, which was ok, but not from a spit and lacked the true flavor and depth of spit roasted al pastor.

Fast forward to today, when I had planned a trip to La Chaparrita, which was next on my list of taquerias to try, and wanted to add another taqeuria nearby to try out. I did some quick searching on LTHforums and came across (taqueria) Los Barrilitos, which had al pastor on a spit (at least according to some pics). It was pretty close to La Chaparrita too. Perfect. We went to La Chaparrita first, and thought it was good all across the board (tacos de: longaniza, al pastor, asada and cabeza). The asada was not chopped up, but surprisingly good, the al pastor did not come from a spit, but had small chunks of pineapple, and for non-spit al pastor was good. The longaniza was good too, though I have to give the nod to L'Patron's chorizo. The tortillas were good here as well, and service was excellent.

A quick trip down to Los Barrilitos and I knew we were in for a good experience when I saw the beautifully layered pork on the spit. We ordered al pastor and asada tacos and these were more substantial than La Chaparrita and cheaper. The al pastor came in thin, marinated strips and were excellent. The real deal. They came without a slice of pineapple, which I expect was because they were out (I didn't see a pineapple on the spit or anywhere else in the kitchen), and that is my only complaint. A slice of pineapple would have elevated these to sublime. The asada was very good as well, and their salsas were excellent, and they provided an onion/habenero escabeche to add some heat. This place is easily the best taqueria in my very limited time in Chicago, but I expect it will be hard to find a better one.

Chowhounders, do yourself a favor and give this taqueria your patronage. Next time you find yourself at La Chaparrita, only order 3 tacos and drive down to Los Barrilitos afterwards for 3 more to compare for yourself.

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  1. Thanks for the heads-up. Glad someone else here is a big taco fan.
    Since you seem to enjoy authentic Mexican street food, try the carne en su jugo at Los Gallos #2 if you get the chance.
    4252 S. Archer

    4 Replies
    1. re: camusman

      I'll add it to my list (I think my gf would love that). Is there a reason for #2 over the others (there is one in Little Village not far from Los Barrilitos...)?

      1. re: mdpilam

        Tends to be a bit more consistent, but if you're close to one of the others and it's more convenient, you'll probably still get a good bowl.
        Oh, and hit Birrieria Zaragoza if you like goat.

        1. re: camusman

          Yup, already have Birrieria Zaragoza on the list.

          1. re: mdpilam

            Zaragoza is life-changing. I do not exaggerate.

    2. No tripas at La Chaparrita? I urge you to try their tripas doradas next time you go. As for Los Barralitos, yes, very decent al pastor. Their pastor is the more mild-ish version in terms of what can be found around town. I hope you give Tierra Caliente another chance. I don't care for much of the al pastor I've had around here, but Tierra Caliente's really floats my boat, and Los Barralitos is a distant second. Not that theirs is bad at all - in fact, I really like theirs too. But when T. on, it's just excellent, imo. Theirs is a milder style as well. I hope you keep posting about your taco trials. For carne asada, Las Asadas is tops in my book. Flame grilled skirt steak goodness.

      5 Replies
      1. re: gordeaux

        I've given tripas a shot a few times before, but just don't like it.

        "mild-sh version"? Can you explain? I definitely plan on giving TC another shot, and Las Asadas is high on my list too.

        Oh, I forgot to mention... La Chaparrita gave us a plate of cebollitas (grilled green onions) with our tacos, which a lot of places don't do, but I wish they would. They are absolutely delicious.

        1. re: mdpilam

          I really suggest you ask Cesar for one taco de tripas doradas at La Chaparrita. Just one. Only one. Just one. Just try one. One. You might be incredibly surprised at how clean and crispy. Cesar's tripas might be the best taco in the Chi. And I'm a carne asada FREAK. Try one. Just one.

          As for the "mild-ish" tag:
          In Chicago, there are a few styles of al pastor that I've come across:

          1. Soupy, dark red marinade slathered pork, with a very strong, aggressively salty / achiote paste flavor. These spots usually have no trompo going, and griddle their al pastor, OR, they have a trompo going only at certain times, but the rest of the time, the meat is pre-cut, slathered in marinade, and then griddled before serving

          2. Mildly spiced, lighter flavored. These spots usually have a trompo going. Two examples are Tierra Caliente, and Los Barrilitos. I haven't come across another place in Chicago that serves like Los Barrilitos with the thin, curly, slices like that. But, imo, their milder spicing (compared to the red soupy stuff in other spots) compares to the spicing at Tierra Caliente.

          Here's a tripas taco from La Chap, and also - oh yeah, you need to get to Big Star for panza and their al pastor too! I can talk tacos all day. I have some nice pics of them across town. Probably more than any person should have. The 2nd pik is a pastor from Tierra Caliente. Third is the carne asada from Las Asadas.

          1. re: gordeaux

            I will definitely try a tripas taco next time at La Chaparrita.

            1. re: mdpilam

              When you as for a taco de tripas, they are giong to ask if you want it dorada (crispy,) or suave (soft.) I like both, but if you have not previously been a fand of tripas, I would HIGHLY suggest crispy.

              Enjoy your "cow bacon" taco.

              If Big Star is not on your list for pastor, I think it should be. You also want to try their panza, which is pork belly with the same-ish flavor profile as pastor. They are pricier than others in town (I tihnk around 3 bucks each,) but the ppl I know who really like pastor really enjoy their version as well.

              Another highly regarded joint for al pastor is Taqueria Atotonilco. I'm just not a major fan of pastor, so I don't seek out and try all of the joints around town that supposedly specialize in it, but Atotonilco is one of those joints that a lot of ppl claim is the best in the city.I've not been there yet.

              1. re: gordeaux

                Finally tried Big Star yesterday, and really liked the al pastor. I'd say it was right at the top behind Los Barrilitos for me (so far). Really liked their salsa roja as well. We also got the pollo taco, which had a texture problem - it seemed "slimy". The chicken itself was very good though. Also had the salad, which I thought was "meh, it's a salad", but gf kind of liked it and the Sonoran dog, which was pretty good, but impossible to eat unless you can unhinge your jaw. Also I thought the mustard completely dominated and distracted the flavors. The dog itself was delicious.

                While eating the tacos, we sensed that something was just not right, the tortillas seemed off. I thought they were maybe not cooked long enough (they seemed a bit mushy inside). But we found out that it's because they use rice flour. WTF?! Why? Corn tortillas are much better. Is it to try to be cool and hip, so the hipsters will like it?