Where to Go For The Best Taco in Chicago on Taco Tuesday

While we may not be as active on the Throwback Thursday’s, Taco Tuesday’s are here to stay in Chicago! For National Tequila Day (July 24th), a few of my favorite bloggers like Jennifer Mai from Jen Eats Chi and Lee Lepe from Chicago Standard and Katie from Appetite4Adventure and you know, 380 other people got together at Park & Field in Logan Square (which by the way is one of the best patios in Chicago – it seriously gives me LA vibes) to sample six different tacos to vote on the best taco in Chicago.

The Tortilla Awards

The crowd was lit with excitement as people lined up after work on Tuesday, July 24th to vote on the best tacos and take part in the festivities. The Tortilla Awards is a party open to the public featuring a city-wide search for the best tacos. It launched in Los Angeles on June 26th and will end in Austin on September 11th. For the Chicago Tortilla Awards, both partners, Tequila CAZADORES and Chef Aarón Sánchez, hand selected the top five tortilla makers to come together in person to compete for the title of being the best taco.

“My culture and heritage are the number one influence on my cooking, and there is nothing more authentic to my upbringing than the art of making a tortilla. Each of these contestants has
been selected because of their dedication and craft in preparing a fresh tortilla that reminds me of being back in Mexico, and I look forward to meeting each of them at these competitions,” shared Chef Aaron Sanchez, Chef/owner Johnny Sánchez, located in New Orleans and co-star of FOX’s MasterChef and MasterChef Junior.

Margs!

Of course you can’t have tacos without margaritas. And there were so many margaritas to choose from! After going to the tequila shot hut (with three different types of tequila), we gathered around Park & Field’s fire pit and  enjoyed Tequila Cazadores cocktails, including the Rosa La Poderosa, an exclusive recipe from local Chicago bartender Julieta Campos that features Cazadores Blanco, Apologue Aronia, cucumber, Weatherby Cola Bitters and lime.

Tortilla Taco Awards in Chicago at Park and Field 2018

While the sky was brooding, we stayed the night running back and forth to sample all six tacos and catching up on summer romances and blunders. Around 9 pm, our rims we’re getting a little saltier and the mood was lighter, and we got up to cast our votes.

Tortilla Award Winners:

Chicago blogger, Erin from 312 Food at the Tortilla Awards in Chicago

 

So, when you’re out and about this summer, add Big Star in Wicker Park to your must-see patios and tacos. Come back soon for more places to go, food to sample, and people to meet.

Amanda Elliott is a writer and speaker and a relationship builder. She believes that meeting people in person is important. After attending numerous fashion, startup, and creative events, she founded Windy City Cosmo is 2015 to help people make connections in the city as they build their businesses, start and end relationships and see and be seen. Over the past three years, the entrepreneurs she’s interviewed have become the most successful in Chicago and Windy City Cosmo won an award in 2017 for her work for female entrepreneurs.

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Velvet Taco: I’ll Have Tater Tots with My Tacos

Sandwiched right between two of Chicago’s best neighborhoods for food, shopping, and nightlife, Gold Coast and Near North Side, Velvet Taco fits right in with its trendy vibes and delicious food.

Actually a chain in Texas, Velvet Taco Chicago is the only location outside of Texas (amazing!) and is a favorite for its unique, but delicious tacos. Velvet Taco has a really casual, but hip vibe, where you can look at the giant wall-menu and order at the counter before taking a seat.

After spending the afternoon in the Gold Coast area, my friend (who is an avid taco lover) and I decided to try it because the restaurant reviews were good. It was pretty clear that the place was popular among locals, and on a Saturday night around 7 pm (prime dinner time), it was pretty full. 

valvet taco menu

Photo courtesy of Daniel Gerzina, Eater Chicago (chicago.eater.com)

Broken down by type of meat, the Velvet Taco menu has chicken, pork, beef, and even vegetarian tacos. You order single tacos, with most customers typically ordering 2-3 per meal. I decided to try the Picnic Chicken taco, a favorite amongst many online reviewers, the Grilled Flank Steak taco and split their famous tater tots with my friend.

The Picnic Chicken Taco:

I have to say, both tacos definitely lived up to my expectations. The Picnic Chicken taco, featuring avocado crema sauce, honey-dijon potato salad alongside the chicken in a flour tortilla doesn’t sound like it’d be amazing, but all of the elements went surprisingly well together. I was particularly surprised by the avocado crema, like most people, I tend to think of guacamole or just plain avocado when it comes to consuming avocados. While unconventional, the crema texture was so good, especially with the dijon flavors from the potato salad. (I also just love potato salad, so that was a great plus in my book).

velvet taco tacos

Photo courtesy of trycaviar.com

The Grilled Flank Steak Taco:

Though I don’t think anything could beat the Picnic Chicken taco, I also loved the Grilled Flank Steak taco, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who, like me, loves steak and meat. The steak was perfectly cooked, not dry at all, and flavorful. Besides the steak, the taco is made up of portobello, white queso, and grilled red onion, all held in a crispy corn tortilla.

Tater Tots with Avocado Crema and a Fried Egg:

But as if the tacos weren’t enough, the tater tots hit the spot. Though perfectly crunchy (but not over-fried)  on the outside and fluffy on the inside, the tots themselves weren’t even the best part. Loaded with goat cheese, smoked cheddar, that amazing avocado crema they also put on the Picnic Chicken taco, chili butter, bacon, and a fried egg on top, these loaded tots alone are worth coming back for. And at only $5.50 (the price of some tacos, and even cheaper than others), they might also be the best value.

velvet taco tater tots

Photo courtesy of Sarah Blaskovich, Eats Blog Dallas News (eatsblog.dallasnews.com)

Bomb Margarita While You Wait:

Because Velvet Taco is so busy during prime meal times, sometimes the wait time can be a little longer, but that’s to be expected in Chicago. However, you can get a BOMB frozen margarita to sip on while you wait, or a can of beer, both of which add to Velvet Taco’s hip, divey vibe. Or if you’re craving something sweet to go with your tacos, try some of their apparently amazing red velvet cake! (I was too full to get some cake, sadly).

velvet taco cake

Photo courtesy of The Local Tourist (chicago.thelocaltourist.com)
I can’t believe I had never found this place before, especially since it’s located by two of my favorite neighborhoods in Chicago. As a taco aficionado who is also friends with plenty of other fellow taco aficionados, this is a new favorite for Taco Tuesday. I will come back to all the time, and I’ll definitely have to try Velvet Taco DeliveryI won’t be getting tired of that avocado crema or those tater tots anytime soon, that’s for sure.

 

This post was written by Cindy Luan from Bootler.

 

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Yard House Comes to Lincoln Park

There are exciting new businesses coming to Lincoln Park in the NewCity Plaza. One of them, just southeast of the North and Clybourn Redline Stop, is the national chain restaurant, Yard House (1500 N Clybourn Ave.).

Yes, it has TV’s, lots of TV’s. Yes it has burgers and beer—lots of beer, 250-tap draft beer system. Beer selections aside, Yard House is one of the classiest bars. Its food and beverage matches the elevated, yet comfortable feel.

With their new opening—the first location in Chicago, I was invited to sample their menu in a private tasting. Below is my honest review of the foods and beverages, the ambiance and service.

My friend and I sat at the big, roomy booth on the side of the restaurant to take in the extensive space. Our table had dark brown wood. It was smooth and refined.

Lavazza Coffee:

Lavazza Coffee served at Yard House Photo: Amanda Elliott

Lavazza Coffee served at Yard House Photo: Amanda Elliott

We sat down midday, and my friend ordered her first cup of coffee. I am always against ordering coffee unless I know which kind they are serving me. To our surprise, Yard House uses Lavazza, real Italian espresso. This was news! It is hard to find good coffee at restaurants, especially at bars. Lavazza pairs perfectly with Yard House’s light sandwiches, and especially with their dessert.

We thanked our server, who was as sweet as she was observant and helpful, for the copious amounts of coffee refills.

Yard House Specialty Cocktails:

Meanwhile, I sampled various cocktails. Yard House has an extensive list of beer cocktails and specialty cocktails, as well as seasonal cocktails like the Rum Pumpkin Mule and Brown Sugar Old Fashioned.

Beverage manager, Gregory Howard, takes great care in creating palatable cocktails that are familiar, yet specialized.

I tried a sunset champagne mimosa. Yard House creates refreshing, yet strong cocktails, infused with real chunks of fresh fruit like pineapple and strawberries in the Southern Belle. I will warn you, the cocktails are strong and delicious. You will want to try them all, but you will feel a buzz from your first one.

Yard House Specialty Cocktails Photo: Amanda Elliott

Yard House Specialty Cocktails Photo: Amanda Elliott

I liked the way Yard House organized the drink menu. For beers, they organize selections into: cider, wild ales, malty, hoppy, strong and dark, light, strong and roasted, wheat, strong and spiced, and bottled beers.

While I didn’t have a beer flight, I did try a beer cocktail.

The Cocoa Hazlenut Stout is rich on the top, and then has a surprise sweetness at the bottom. The cocktail is a blend of frangelico, creme de cocoa, rogue hazelnut brown nectar, and young’s double chocolate stout with a jumbo ice cube in the center.

Order the Duck Appetizer:

Throughout their menu, Yard House offers healthier versions, vegetarian options, gluten sensitive dishes and what can only be described as gourmet bar food.

Crispy Duck Wings at Yard House Chicago Photo: Amanda Elliott

Crispy Duck Wings Photo: Amanda Elliott

To start, we tried the Crispy Duck Wings. If you only order one appetizer, order the duck. I first discovered duck when I was in France one year ago. Now, whenever I have the opportunity, I order the duck. And these duck wings were light and crispy. They had finely chopped jalapenos. I like my food mild, and I can only handle a little spicy kick. I appreciated the spicy kick, and I really appreciated the delicate maple soy glaze. We left the side herb salad untouched and moved towards the Lobster, Crab and Artichoke Dip.

Lobster, Crab and Artichoke Dip at Yard House Chicago Photo: Amanda Elliott

Lobster, Crab and Artichoke Dip Photo: Amanda Elliott

We had high hopes for the Lobster, Crab and Artichoke Dip. It is the very first item on the menu. And it was perfectly good. The lobster and crab were lost in the four cheese blend. Take note, we later learned that the Spinach Cheese Dip is a favorite.

The Main Dish:

Yes, we are at a bar and fries complement most dishes. So, I will start with them. The fries were average, thin and lightly crispy,and for all of the other food on the menu, I would substitute for a salad. However, we learned that Yard House makes a special Cajun ketchup that only comes with the Chicken Schnitzel sandwich. Ask for this ketchup. It is a tad spicy and delicious.

The Chicken Schnitzel was surprisingly unseasoned. It was plain much like the Swiss on top.

The flavor was led by the jam and light bread. This jam—tomato, bacon, onion jam sounds basic, but it was sweet like a jam and elevated this otherwise standard dish. I really liked it. It was premium comfort food and while sweet, not overwhelmingly so.

Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich at Yard House Chicago Photo: Amanda Elliott

Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich Photo: Amanda Elliott

For lunch, I had the Surf and Turf Burger. While my first bite of seafood was sub-par, this Surf and Turf Burger layered with asparagus and lobster was moist, savory and lightly buttery. The fact that they sandwiched the asparagus in between the lobster and beef, added a perfect crunch. I cannot say enough good things about this burger.

Surf and Turf Burger at Yard House Chicago Photo: Amanda Elliott

Surf and Turf Burger Photo: Amanda Elliott

 Add Some Tacos:

I want to take a moment to spotlight tacos, particularly the Vampire Taco. Yard House is a national chain restaurant that originated in California, and the chefs definitely brought their knowledge and passion for seafood to Chicago.

The more I tried their seafood, the more I loved it.

When the Vampire Taco came out, it looked funky with a special cheese crusted tortilla. But, it is surprisingly easy (and not messy) to eat. The added length of the tortilla keeps all of the filling nicely wrapped. It has carnitas, bacon chorizo, Chipotle salsa, roasted garlic, and cumin crema, a bit of guacamole and a dash of cilantro. It was prefect. I only had a few bites, and it tasted just as good at the restaurant as it did the next day.

Vampire Taco at Yard House Chicago Photo: Amanda Elliott

Vampire Taco at Yard House Photo: Amanda Elliott

French and Italian for Dessert:

Save room for dessert. It’s so good. Share the Mini Trio Sampler. You can select from four different mini cakes.

By the end of this nearly three hour feast, we finished the crème brûlée . There was a bite left of the lemon cake, and while we love chocolate, the Mini Chocolate Soufflé was so rich that we skimmed it for the lighter and sweeter crème brûlée, which had chocolate a few spoonfuls down.

Dessert at Yard House Chicago Photo: Amanda Elliott

Mini Trio Dessert Sampler at Yard House included Mini Chocolate Soufflé Cake, Mini Crème Brûlée, and Mini Lemon Soufflé Cake Photo: Amanda Elliott

Recommendations:

Yard House pays attention to detail from the appetizers to the drinks to the dessert. And even still, their food is reasonably priced with most cocktails at 10 dollars. You don’t have to choose between beer and wine, you can choose sake, beer cocktails, moscow mules, skinny cocktails, and champagne. There really is too much to drink in. For a bar that touts it’s beer selection, it does not overlook its cocktails.

If I had to choose my favorite drink, it would be the Southern Belle. It is Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Vodka, lemonade, fresh strawberries and pineapple.

My favorite dish on the menu is the Surf and Turf Burger. I have had a lot of good burgers, but what surprised me about this one was that it didn’t need sauce. It was a standalone good burger.

I will say that the Vampire Taco is the most expensive taco on the menu at $6.50. However, order the Crispy Duck Wings, a beer cocktail and a Vampire Taco, and not only will you be eating the finest food on the menu, but you will also be delightfully full.

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Top Chefs Come Together for 11th Annual Big Night Out

It’s 6:00 pm. It’s starting. But nobody’s going in quite yet.

The white, infectiously happy puppy has the spotlight. We all start to pull out our phones and take photos from multiple angles. These puppies are after all the red carpet, special guests of the night. And just like America’s sweetheart, we are captivated and can’t help but support them. They are the reason we are all here. Here at the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602), for the 11th Annual Big Night Out on Thursday, October 8, 2015.

Big Night Out is the largest fundraiser event for Friends of Chicago Animal Care and Control (FCACC), a Chicago non-profit organization that saves over 20,000 animals that came into custody of Chicago Animal Care and Control (ACC). Through FCACC, Chicagoans and area residents can foster or adopt pets who need it the most.

Everything is dog themed. It’s not a Cosmo anymore. It’s a Cosmopoodleton. It’s not just a bicycle, it’s a St. Germain bicycle.

We all start to slowly move around the Cultural Center. There are top chefs from iconic restaurants. Big Night Out started from one of those chefs’ visions’. Chef Jackie Shen of The Stray Dog started Big Night Out and still remains an integral part of the event.

The Auction:

This year’s big live auction package includes a weekend getaway to Michigan including a private in-home dinner party for you and nine guests prepared specially by Chef Jackie Shen.

The auction items included, “Sit. Stay. Play,” which had Blackhawks memorabilia and “Well Groomed,” which included a Helen Ficalora necklace. Other items included a two-night stay at the Drake Hotel.

Doggie Bag Needed:

While everything was dog themed, we were missing one thing, a doggie bag.

The food was irresistible and there was just too much to try it all.

“Do a lap, see what you like,” one veteran attendee informed me, “But don’t waste your calories on this one,” she smiled putting down her sandwich.

The food included fall-inspired dishes from some of the most venerable Chicago restaurants.

“You have to try the lobster bisque!” one man raved.

“Acadia is one of  the most expensive restaurants in Chicago. It’s easily a thousand bucks a meal,” he said leading me to their table.

He waited as I tasted Chef Ryan McCaskey’s lobster bisque. It tasted like Halloween for adults. It’s so sweet, but it had buttery undertones.

Big Night Out Big Night Out

Acadia (1639 S. Wabash Ave.) was one of many first-time supporters to participate in Big Night Out. Others included Vanille, Rosebud, and Raw Bar.

Although everyone agreed at our table that the lobster bisque was exceptional, I was still holding out for Taco in a Bag (4603 N. Lincoln Ave.). It didn’t need avocados. It had a perfect Chipotle sauce. What I loved most was that I looked classy chowing down on my taco neatly packaged in a bag as everyone swirled elegant pasta dishes and lobster bisque.

Top Chicago Chefs:

I spoke with Laura Piper, the Executive Chef at One North Kitchen & Bar (1 N. Upper Wacker Dr  #250)  She is good friends with the owner of Taco in a Bag and agreed that his tacos were really good.

I immediately warmed up to her.

“What inspired this dish?” I asked, tasting the sliced pear in her amuse bouche.

“Fall, and I really like Robiola cheese,” Chef Piper smiled, “Our food is every man type of food,” she paused,  “or every woman—if you will.”

Another favorite of the evening were the Common Tacos from Mercadito (108 W. Kinzie St.). Corporate Chef Aldo Ayala is originally from Mexico, where he had six dogs.

“I really love dogs,” Chef Ayala said.

Since moving to New York, and then opening up three restaurants in Chicago, he added, “I have to travel a lot like every week or every other week.”

At this time, he doesn’t have any pets, but he is happy to support animals in creative ways such as in this setting.

Live Entertainment:

The night was complete with SMK Photobooth, which included dog themed props and zebra glasses. As one of the first people to try the photo booth, I was instantly photo-boomed.

Other entertainment included the lively violinists from Cover Girl, a group of women who use the entire event space to entertain guests individually, yet as one with their purple electric guitars and pop and rock renditions of popular songs.

Donate to Friends of Chicago Animal Care and Control:

There’s still time to help puppies and cats by donating or learning more about adopting a pet. Please visit FCACC for more information.

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