Taqueria Tayahua in the Heart of Chicago II
Back in November, in the initial stages of focussed exploration of some of the neighbourhoods near our new home in Tri-Taylor, I had occasion to visit Taqueria Tayahua (pronounced: ta-YA-wa) on the Heart of Chicago side of Western between Cermak and Blue Island. I took a real liking to the place and very much intended to get back soon, all as noted in the original post of this thread, but in this city of seemingly endless choices in Mexican restaurants, it turned out that on the several occasions when I had a hankering for the sort of offerings TT presents, the temptation to keep exploring the now easily accesible Villita
proved itself stronger than the desire to return to any known place on the well-trodden Western Avenue. And verily, exploration is good; but so too Taqueria Tayahua and after finally getting back there last week –– this time accompanied by Amata –– I came away feeling a little foolish for not having visited this fine little restaurant with regularity over the past several months.
For those travelling southward on Western, TT is hard to miss, thanks to this classic bit of mural painting, replete with portraits of happy little sea creatures, as well as quaint illustrations of some Mexican fast-food staples:
The restaurant is divided into two spaces, the front half of which has a grill station, a few tables, and a small but festive looking full-service bar:
At the front end of the grill station, right by the window, is a gyro-style rotisserie dedicated to the production of the noble carne al pastor
and flanking that piece of equipment the masa press and griddle which are used for the production of fresh tortillas, quesadillas, huaraches and other forms of corn-cakes:
Amata and I each ordered a quesadilla to start off with, Amata’s being de espinacas
and mine de flor de calabaza
The freshly made masa shells of both were very nicely prepared but with regard to the fillings, Amata and I both agreed that the spinach was not especially exciting while the squash blossom filling was quite delicious and, to my mind at least, much tastier than that of El Nuevo Kappy’s (see link)
counterpart (but nota bene: no requesón
offerings here at TT); in both versions, onion is a prominent element in the filling but at TT there was a more substantial presence of the flors de calabaza
and a touch of tomato (absent in Kappy’s tlacoyo
version) which seemed to really lift the overall taste considerably. This large (estilo D.F.
) quesadilla was really good and a good bargain as well, I believe.
For my second course I was in the mood for a torta and ordered torta de lomo (de res)
, pictured below, which featured a nicely crisped roll, crema instead of mayonnaise (thank God!) and a standard array of accoutrements (beans, cheese, crudités
The meat, in this case lomo de res
and thus ‘ribeye’ rather than lomo de puerco (cerdo)
or ‘pork loin’ (as recently discussed in the thread on Oscar’s (see link)
), was very thinly sliced –– reminiscent of the sort of ‘minute steaks’ I grew up with in New Netherland –– and delicious. All in all, this was a very well made torta
and, to my mind, pleasantly not overloaded and excessively heavy (making it possible to eat the quesadilla as well and not leave feeling like a siesta was the only activity possible).
The real highlight of the meal was, however, Amata’s choice for second course, namely carne en su jugo
, which is a speciality of the house and, though this dish is primarily associated with the state of Jalisco, one surmises that it is no less popular in the southwestern part of the state of Zacatecas, where the town of Tayahua lies, not far from the border of Jalisco. Without doubt, there are other places in Chicagoland which serve carne en su jugo
but I would guess that there aren’t all that many of them (though surely more than a few), since in my not limited explorations of humble Mexican eateries I haven’t seen it on many menus or on wall, counter or window ‘signage’. A fellow fan of such restaurants, Vital Information, has encountered this dish and enjoyed it too, judging from the citation below, taken from this post by Rob that appeared in Lefflandia (see link)
some time back and was brought to my attention by Amata – baie dankie vir die tip!
I really, hardly know anything about carne en su jugo. I thought it was, like a soup, sitting around like all restaurant soups, waiting to be laddled out. No! It is a fresh made dish. Steaks are grilled, then chopped, placed in bowls with crumbled bacon, whole beans, and then, then, the juice, the soup gets poured over. El Paso's bowl was very rich, a fatty broth almost like a classic petite marmite. It was already garnished with radishes, onions cilantro and avocado, but one could add to their taste, flash fried dried chili peppers.
The version at TT struck me as tasting no less delicious and perhaps rather more than that which Rob enjoyed at El Paso
. The broth was dark and delicious, the freshly grilled steak tender and tasty, the beans a nice counterpoint in taste and texture to the meat, and the whole concoction was picked up by the smokiness of the generous dose of chopped bacon in the bowl. And properly garnished, the dish is quite handsome to behold as well:
Food-styling by Monsieur Antoine, coiffeur de cuisine.
Of course, the garnishes are not just there for the eye; the radishes, avocado slices, chopped onion and cilantro all add their own textures and flavours to an already sophisticated bowl of food and the lime and dried chile de arbol
raise the dish to yet greater heights.
In a thread on carnitas joints
, VI argued that his favourite, Carnitas Paisa
, surpassed other such well-known and excellent purveyors of pork on account of the fact that at that establishment they offer fresh handmade tortillas. There is no question that fresh tortillas add a lot to the overall quality of a Mexican meal and this is one of the particular strengths of a favourite of mine in Little Village, Casa de Samuel (see link)
. Well, the tortillas at TT on the couple of occasions I’ve been there were handmade to order, with a nice thickness and that special appeal of seeming rusticity:
If you look up to the picture of the masa and al pastor stations, you can see this very tortilla, with its prominent hole, cooking on the griddle.
Taqueria Tayahua seems to be a family run operation and, between the staff and the almost exclusively Mexican-American clientele, has a very pleasant and friendly atmosphere. Perhaps two trips and the sampling of only some six dishes or so is not sufficient experience on which to base a solid opinion, but my impression so far is that this restaurant is a cut well above the average simple Mexican place of its class. The carne en su jugo
is very much worth trying and I think their quesadillas estilo D.F.
are quite good; I was as happy as the proverbial clam (see mural above) with my torta de lomo de res
. Amata and I will surely be back there to explore further their other offerings and to get an occasional bowl of the aforementioned steak and bean soup –– y para chupar unas chelas frias también
. Hopefully, we’ll see some of you all there.
2411 South Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60608
Hours are 8 a.m. to 12 midnight but on Fridays and Saturdays they're open 24 hours.