Hola a todos and welcome to Mastication Monologues! This really has been a post that has been long in the making, but it is not short on quality by any means. Today’s restaurant in question is De Cero on the Near West side of Chicago. It is a modern version of a taqueria or taco shop for y’all who don’t habla espanol. It takes the ingredients from the Pilsen and Little Village Mexican strongholds and presents it in a more Rick Bayless upper echelon Latin cuisine fashion.
Sharing the block with other famous dining establishments like Le Chevre and Girl and the Goat (post coming soon), De Cero is a simple restaurant with open patio dining and indoor dining. It’s simply furnished with wooden chairs and a soft lit interior. When I went with my girlfriend and her party posse, we hung out on the bumpin patio that was occasionally ruined by spontaneous drizzle storms. Being the Midwesterners that we are, we just sat through it and enjoyed the wonderful food and drinks.
First, there were the libations. They have non-alcoholic selections like the classic Jarritos that can be found in every corner store stocked with Latin goods, but we came for the more adult beverages. I started by wetting my whistle with a mango con chile margarita ($9.75). Not only did it come with chile, but our waitress indulged my thirst for spicy food by letting me know I can put habanero chili powder on the edge. When it came out, it checked all the boxes for me for a bebida perfecta (perfect drink). It was the perfect blend of the natural sweetness of the sunny yellow mango with the occasional hint of tequila and a bold punch of smoldering chile with each sip. Later on in the night, I tried the jicama margarita, but it was the blander of the two options.
As for appetizers, we got the chips and salsa entrada ($6.75) where we chose the pico de gallo, red picante, and tomatillo lime verde salsas. A side of guacamole was thrown in there for good measure. Out of the trio of super salsas, my favorite was the pico de gallo. All of the different elements like the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and tangy lime juice were in perfect harmony which I couldn’t say the same for its compadres. The red picante was pedestrian but a bit heavy on the smoky chile element, and the key lime green tomatillo salsa was more sour than savory which didn’t really catch my fancy. However, the guacamole made me think “Holy moly” with each ravenous bite of the tortilla chips. Even though it was the same color as toothpaste, it tread the line between chunky and smooth excellently and the cilantro pepped up this potentially bland side. My girlfriend also tried the spicy goat cheese tamale ($3.75).
I got four different tacos: spicy applewood chorizo, rajas, al pastor, and chicken mole ($3.75 each). Surprisingly, I thought the best one of the four was the rajas. This doesn’t mean that the other ones were huge let downs, but I felt that I tried better versions in cheaper restaurants. Especially with the al pastor that had plenty of spiced pork shoulder but not enough pineapple. The chorizo was not as spicy as I was anticipating which left me crestfallen since I’m used to Mexican sausage bringing the heat. The chicken mole was more of an experiment for me since I’ve never really been a big fan of mole. Even though I love chocolate, this cocoa infused sauce never really jived with my palate. At De Cero, it was no different, but I’m sure many other people love it. The black beans that came with the tacos, however, were a nice change of pace compared to the typical brown refried bean goo they serve at every tex-mex eatery. They were served whole, simmered in a pork based broth with a chunk of pork thrown in for good measure. It was food for the soul.
By the end of the meal, I felt like a stuffed gordita, but the overall quality of the ingredients in the tacos and the zesty margaritas made De Cero a taqueria experience without equal, especially with lovely company.