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The Fairest Taco of Them All

July 02 2013 - 12:00 PM

Over the past few years, Wicker Park has evolved into a curious hub for chef-driven tacos and modern taquerias. Big Star and Antique Taco are two of the most prominent destinations, constantly packed with locals and people who seem to not have jobs, thus affording them the opportunities to fill seats at all hours of any day. Although they’re in the same neighborhood and they both attract similar crowds, the two have never gone head-to-head… until now. This past weekend, the two taquerias squared off at the Chicago Artists Coalition‘s Starving Artist event. It was a taco battle to behold, featuring the two teams pounding out tacos at an impressive rate to feed the starving hordes and vie for votes.

The third annual Starving Artist event was a lavish, bustling soiree filled with art- and food-lovers alike. Hosted by the Chicago Artists Coalition, Starving Artist serves to pair local artists with local chefs, who team up to create new art pieces and gorgeous bites of food. It’s an aesthetic smorgasbord for the senses, featuring artists and culinary artists enticing both eyes and mouths. Along with a roster of chefs that included Fabio Viviani of Siena Tavern and Abraham Conlon of Fat Rice, a new addition this year was the taco battle. Finally, these two Wicker Park staples were face-to-face, or rather back-to-back, as both kitchen teams were situated under an outdoor tent, making tortillas fresh on-site and filling them with ingredients cooked on makeshift stove-tops.

Taco lines were long and winding. The artists may not have literally been starving, but they were certainly hungry for tacos. Big Star’s offering was a taco de borrego, filled with braised lamb shoulder, salsa borracha, pickled and grilled spring onions, housemade queso fresco, cilantro, and mint. The lamb was sublimely succulent and tender, like a pot roast more meltable than an M&M. It retained much of its braising liquid, making for an extremely juicy taco that you could practically slurp through a straw. Talking with/nagging a few attendees, I heard some people say that the lamb was a little too sweet, while others likened it to their favorite meaty comfort food.

On the other side of the tent, Antique Taco was churning out shrimp tacos with an elote-like corn salad and pickled onions. The plump shrimp had a nice spice to them, complimented nicely by the creamy, slightly sweet corn salad. Some guests mentioned that this taco tasted more complex than Big Star’s, and the shrimp was a big crowd-pleaser.

Guests were given key limes as voting tools. Once they had tried both tacos, they casted their votes by placing them in the jar labeled with the taqueria of their choosing. Ultimately, it was victory for Antique Taco, and by night’s end, starving artists were pleasantly stuffed on tacos.

Photo courtesy of Antique Taco

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