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Taqueria Tayahua in the Heart of Chicago

Over the years Amata and I have made a number of exploratory expeditions along Western Avenue, including several trips to that subsection of the Heart of Chicago district known variously as Little Tuscany -- a reasonably apt name -- and Little Italy or, more recently, Heart of Italy. This small neighbourhood did and to a degree still does contain a core population of Italian families virtually all from Tuscany or points further north in Italy and is centred on Oakley Avenue between 23rd and 25th Streets. Within this little stretch of Oakley there are four or five Italian restaurants, with another outlier on nearby Western Avenue, but since a good friend of mine owns one of those eateries, and further, since I rarely eat in Italian restaurants, I can offer no comments on any of them at this time.

The name "Heart of Chicago" is increasingly falling out of use and perhaps in the end, it will come to be unknown to all but historians or else just an odd variant name for the little Northern Italian enclave. The reason for the demise of the old district name seems to me to be a result of the gradual intense 'Mexification' of the area, which has resulted in the eastern part of the neighbourhood to be generally viewed simply as the far western end of Pilsen, which historically speaking lay well to the east. Meanwhile, the westward and southward expansion of Mexican Pilsen has been matched by the northward and eastern expansion of the other great Mexican neighbourhood of central Chicago, La Villita. The two have met around Western, or at least so it seems to me, and the area surrounding the never very large Little Tuscany is now fairly solidly Mexican.

With regard to Mexican food offerings of the area, this meeting point of Greater Little Village and Greater Pilsen, specifically the zone around Western from 18th to 26th, is not especially rich but, even so, there a few Mexican eateries in the area which have caught my eye. Since we recently moved from the hustle and bustle of Printers' Row to our humble country estate here in bucolic Tri-Taylor and I now have easy access to the #49 Western Ave bus-line, I have taken to making the short (ca. 8 minute) ride or longish (45 minute) walk southward with a terrible resolve to visit some new restaurants and taquerias. This piece is then -- inshaa' allah -- the first of a short series of reports on places that have hitherto been little discussed on this site or the Leffian site. Perhaps their obscurity is deserved, perhaps not... I hope to find out.

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Taqueria Tayahua stands proudly on the eastern side of Western Avenue just south of 24th Street beside some manner of automotive shop (no surprise on Chicago's longest road), with an empty area to its immediate north which has allowed for the owners to adorn their building with an impressive sign painted directly on the brick wall with some handsome illustrations in the Mexican muralist tradition.* The establishment's interior is arranged thus: in the front space, there is a griddle station to the left and to the right, a few plastic tables with benches of a style common to taquerias. Beyond the griddle station is the cash register and a full service bar (without, however, any bar seating), and further on toward the back there is a second small room which looks to have more of the feel of a restaurant than the dining area in the front. There is a fair amount of Mexican- and holiday-themed decoration festooning the bar area and back room, including in the far back a Christmas tree, which for some reason I suspect is there all year round.

The name the restaurant bears is that of a town in the state of Zacatecas, in a state which presumably is a transitional zone between the northern states and cultural and culinary zones of Coahuila and Durango and the core of the Bahio in the states of San Luis Potosi, Aguascalientes, etc. The menu has only one item which is advertised as having a direct connexion to the town or state, an entree called 'platillo Tayahua' with no further description; on my next visit I'll try to find out what exactly that is. A fairly usual set of taco, burrito, gordita and torta offerings is, however, complemented by a number of quesadillas and huaraches 'estilo D.F.'. Some of the more interesting specific items on the menu were the following. Quesadillas can be ordered with huitlacoche, flor de calabaza, nopalitos and hongos, as well as with more basic taqueria offerings. Also on the menu appears liver and onions, smoked pork chops, tongue, carne en su jugo, weekend specials of menudo and pozole, and a small number of seafood dishes, most but not all of which involve shrimp. Beverages offered include, as indicated above, hard liquor and mixed drinks, as well as beer and wine; of the beers on hand are Modello, Negra Modello, Dos Equis, Corona, Tecate (cans), Bohemia, Corona, Heineken and the products from the two American mega-breweries. Soft drinks include various Jarritos products and Mexican Coca Cola.

Since my visit to Tayahua was for lunch, I kept my order simple: Mexican coke, a quesadilla with huitlacoche, and a plate of tacos with cecina and beans. Complimentary chips were offered -- hot, greasy and fresh from the fryer -- and on the table were two salsas in squeeze bottles and a small bowl filled with dried Mexican oregano (presumably for those ordering menudo but, given it was Wednesday, likely some other dishes as well). The quesadilla with huitlacoche -- this time of year presumaby with canned smut -- was good, with the huitlacoche having a mild earthy flavour. About halfway through eating it, I decided it could use a little boost and so tried the green table salsa. This was a rather thick, garlicky and spicy sauce that I rather enjoyed. All in all, it was a tasty, if unspectacular quesadilla (insofar as corn smut can be unspectacular in the US).

My second course of tacos was really quite good. The three tacos came arranged thus: two corn tortillas dressed with a smear of refried beans, then generously topped with chopped cecina hot from the griddle, along with griddled onions, a good dose of cilantro, and chunks of fresh lime on the side. These were admittedly about as simple a thing as I could have ordered but to me a good test to see whether a place can at least get a very basic dish right. I would say they did. One complaint here is, however, that the red salsa seems to have been pico de gallo and, contained as it was in a squeeze bottle, one could really squeeze out only a little watery juice.

In all, my lunch cost a slightly surprising $11.15. But I was sufficiently pleased with what I had that I will return again in the near future with Amata and the taco-loving Lucantonius to sample some more offerings, including some substantial dishes. I ran a search on Tayahua in LTH and that turned up nought but I strongly suspect someone out there has been to this pleasant taqueria/restaurant. I hope some further opinions will appear below.

Here is the address and phone number:

Taqueria Tayahua
(773) 247-3183
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.

* A small picture of the illustrated sign painted on the bricks of the north wall can be found on this webpage; alas, clicking for the enlarged version doesn't seem to be working today (it did yesterday). There are, however, a number of other interesting signs from establishments on or near Western Avenue.

salvete,
Antonius

Post-site-move character problems fixed.
Last edited by Antonius on April 21st 2005, 12:29pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
- aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
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Antonius,

My friend, Brendan, lives around the corner, and he proudly introduced me to this spot, sometime last winter. He said that it was his favourite taqueria in the area. At the suggestion of the waitperson, I ordered a platillo which featured a heaping serving of meat that had been griddled with a sauce of chile de arbol. My order was accompanied by a stack of freshly made corn tortillas. I enjoyed my meal, but for some reason, I have not been back since. Your report has renewed my enthusiasm.

Recently, I tried another spot that Brendan frequents. This is the El Taconazo located at 2350 W Cermak Rd. Here, I tried the costillas en salsa verde. It was decent, but I suspect that my serving had suffered somehow. In retrospect, the waitperson's reaction to my order may have suggested that it was not a frequent request. ;) As I know that Brendan likes the place so well, I must return to try some of the other items.

There is another place on that stretch of Western that I have been meaning to try. It is just a block or so to the north of Taqueria Tayahua, on the same side of the street. I am blanking on the name, and I cannot find the scrap of paper that I scrawled it on. ;) I am curious to know if you are familiar with the place, and if you have tried it.

Erik M.
Last edited by Erik M. on November 19th 2004, 12:48am, edited 1 time in total.
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Erik:

Many thanks for the response and additional info. I'm glad to hear your friend Brendan thinks highly of the place and that you liked it well enough. There's always a little trepidation involved in writing on a place you know other people have been to but without having heard any other opinions. At the moment, my suspicion is that this is the kind of place that is not a destination sort of a restaurant, that is, one that one would go way out of one's way to visit, but that it's also the sort of place a reasonable person would really love to have in their neighbourhood. As I said, I'll be heading back, hopefully with Amata so we can try a couple of things and see just how good it is...

I've heard good things about Taconazo, or at least the Taconazo incarnation back on Blue Island, which closed some time back, perhaps as much as a year ago or more. I would guess the place in the little strip mall at Cermak and 22nd is the same place moved west, to an area with less competition, perhaps.

I think I know what and where the other place is that you mention... A long name starting with Tamaxta... under or just south of the Blue Line stop on Western north of Cermak... haven't been but will happily go... Want to meet up for a visit there?

A
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Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
- aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
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Antonius wrote:At the moment, my suspicion is that this is the kind of place that is not a destination sort of a restaurant, that is, one that one would go way out of one's way to visit, but that it's also the sort of place a reasonable person would really love to have in their neighbourhood.


Yes, I agree. I remember that I was a bit jealous of Brendan at the time, as I didn't yet know of a taqueria in my neighbourhood that had handmade tortillas. Also, I have romantic notions about being a "regular" at a place that is just a block away. I mean, I have Lorraine's Diner, Antonius, but it is just not the same. :twisted:

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Lorraine's Diner... Dirty Dishes - But Damn Good Food

Antonius wrote:I think I know what and where the other place is that you mention... A long name starting with Tamaxta... under or just south of the Blue Line stop on Western north of Cermak... haven't been but will happily go... Want to meet up for a visit there?


In my initial post, I was tempted to say, "oh, I know that the name has an 'x' in it." ;)

Yes, I would like to go there soon.

Erik M.
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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:
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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:
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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:
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Amata and I each ordered a quesadilla to start off with, Amata’s being de espinacas and mine de flor de calabaza:
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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 or chales 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).
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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!:

VI wrote: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:
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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:
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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.

Antonius
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Taqueria Tayahua
2411 South Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60608

(773) 247-3183

Hours are 8 a.m. to 12 midnight but on Fridays and Saturdays they're open 24 hours.
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Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
- aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
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Maestro,

That looks pretty good. I'm a little disturbed by the Nemoesque clown fish swimming among the mariscos. Mexican food muralists have that sense of humor though.

-- Chupacheladas (I think I just realized my new CH handle)
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Jefe (Chupacheladas):

Very observant... Not a typical ingredient for tacos or cocteles... All I can offer as an explanation is that el pescado payaso is keeping the mariscos entertained and distracted from their impending fate...

Happy bivalves and happy crustaceans probably taste better, no?

:wink:

A
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Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
- aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
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Antonius wrote: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.

Antonius,

Had lunch at Taqueria Tayahua yesterday and you were right on the money, friendly staff and a cut well above the average. There were four of us and we sampled a small cross section. I especially enjoyed the huaraches, both chorizo and pastor, and carne en su jugo. I initially attempted to order a torta ahogada, but, combined with my nonexistent Spanish, and the fact I don't think they offer them, I opted for the Lomo en chile de arbol. As Steve Z said, the rich red sauce was perfect for "sopping up" with a tortilla.

I'm looking forward to trying other menu items, including recommended dishes such as Quesadillas with huitlacoche, flor de calabaza or nopalitos.

Thanks.

Enjoy,
Gary
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Lunch yesterday was quite good! I especially enjoyed the Lomo en chile de arbol, but actually all of it was very good.

Huarache al Pastor
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Steve Z.

"Why should I eat a carrot when I can eat pizza?" - Dan Janssen
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Here’s another shot of Tayahua’s carne en su jugo, highlighting its rich chile/tomato/bacon-enhanced broth. The platter of accompaniments is one of the nicest around (the one pictured is for two large orders). In addition to the usual beverages, they serve tepache, a fermented pineapple water (partly visible in background). I tried their tepache several weeks apart and found the flavor quite different each time. If you don’t like it at first, maybe try it again.

Carne en su Jugo at Taqueria Tayahua
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Dang it ReneG!

Now I'm hungry. If anyone is interested I'll be the out of place guy reading the paper around 12:00 today with carne en su jugo dripping off of my chin 8)

Flip
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Had birria on the mind, but dammit I forgot to update my little Chowcago guide to include the contact info for the places. I thought TT's carne en su jugo was a pretty dern good backup though, and worth the hellish hour drive. It was mighty tasty, especially the broth, and it seemed as though the bits of bacon progressively became chunks, then hunks, then almost entire in-tact strips. I liked the caramelized onions and then the minced raw ones to garnish. This was like the Mexican version of haleem to me - hearty meat/bean stew with all the garnishes (although I might not use all the dried chiles next time). I was stuffed beyond belief, but really wanted to try the crema, and then remembered Antonius' pictures, so I grabbed a pastor torta. Ate half, with difficulty, looking at the other half right now, again with difficulty. It was good though.

You guys are really spoiled here. I mean, just those handmade corn tortillas are a food blessing to have -- very rare sighting in NC (where I live). Over the past several months of traveling to Chicago, it has, without a doubt, become my favorite eating city.

Thanks
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I went to TT on Sunday with my girlfriend, who really wanted to try it. I live in west Pilsen so it's very close. My GF has spent much time in D.F. since her mother is from there.

So we had to try the quesadillas estilo D.F. - we got the flor de calabazas and it was delish! We also tried tacos al pastor, which were equally awesome. I am a big al pastor fan, and seeing the pork roasting on the spit inside the entrance put a big smile on my face. TT's al pastor was better than Taconazo up the street at Western/Cermak.

The other item we tried was a haurache, also estilo D.F. - she likes them plain, with just the cheese, onion and cilantro and man, it was tasty! The masa was cooked perfectly, as it was slightly chewy-crunchy. She tells me that some places overcook huaraches and this makes the masa tough. Her testimonial is that these dishes were comparable to the stuff she likes in D.F.

We will both be back!
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- Mark

Homer: Are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon? Ham? Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad, those all come from the same animal.
Homer: Heh heh heh. Ooh, yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.
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Mark,

thanks for reminding us about Tayahua. I stopped by this evening for an al pastor huarache and a glass of tepache, both of which were very enjoyable.

Thanks again for reviving this thread and passing along your girlfriend's expert opinions!
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I recently went to Taqueria Tayahua and thoroughly enjoyed it. The interior is that of a typical taqueria with counter service up front and a few tables and chairs in the back. I had something listed on the menu as a sencilla but not sure if that's what it's called that resembled a mexican pizza. I then had the quesadilla(mexico city style) with the al pastor and it came with lots of cheese. I liked this place because the tortilla was home made and there are lots of options such as squash blossoms, cactus, etc for fillings. I would probably not order the pork in the quesadilla again because the cheese makes it quite rich. I would go for something like the squash blossom for a more balanced meal. The quesadilla was homemade and good. I did not particularly care for the guacamole. They take credit cards.
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