Chicago is known just as much for its Mexican cuisine as it is for its deep dish pizza and hotdogs, and no visiting food lover should forgo at least a nibble of a taco during his stay, especially if coming from a Mexican food desert. Considering that many taquerías and burrito spots are open 24 hours, you might be able to fit that nibble in at two or three in the morning, maybe after visiting the city’s impressive bath house or one of the numerous clubs or bars in Boystown.
You can go to any number of all-night taco joints in Chicago. However, it would be hard to imagine a place that would serve your burrito and horchata with such a heaping side of playful inappropriateness as Taco & Burrito Express in Lincoln Park. Your ears are bombarded by blaring banda music the moment you walk in and as you walk up to the counter you feel as if you’re walking into a party where everyone is welcome. The men working behind the counter are all joking around, and I’m sure that if you asked, they’d let you in on the joke. The mustachioed ringleader of this jovial gang of taco slingers flashes a big, toothy grin and asks you what you want before yelling it back in a lilting northern Mexican accent to his comrades who go to work deftly preparing whatever hunger killer you've ordered – in my case, it was a breaded steak torta.
As soon as you take your seat with your glass bottle of Jarritos soda or your bucket of hibiscus tea so sweet it could do a hummingbird in, the joking continues. If you know a few words of Spanish, you might catch bits and pieces of their lewd and comical banter. If you’re lucky, one of the staff might get tired of whatever banal norteña is blasting on the sound system and change it to a quick paced song about urinating while walking. You’ll be singing “caminando y meando” to yourself for days until it audibly escapes your lips in front of the shocked cashier at a bodega, moving you to stop singing about watersports and move on to some other depravity.
The fun may not stop there, however. When you finally get that torta, there might be a DePaul coed ordering at the counter, her leggings-clad posterior unknowingly positioned perfectly between you and the employee sweeping nearby. He might just catch you glancing at her and take advantage of the moment to make surreptitious hand gestures on the quality of her backside while pursing his lips, ignorant of your possible assessment of his equipment while he was so preoccupied with hers.
If you could pay a cover just to witness this show, I would say it is totally worth it, and yet the food is as good as the spectacle: meaty, spicy, cheap, and delicious. Their torta is enormous, and for the virgins, Taco & Burrito Express’s rendition is a good introduction to this Mexican sandwich. The giant water roll is smeared with refried beans and guacamole and topped with meat, lettuce, pico de gallo, and sour cream. The soft bread will soak up any liquor sloshing around in your stomach, and the mélange of textures and flavors will put a smile on your face as you walk back home singing about walking and pissing.