Mexican street food sizzles at Libertyville's new Milwalky Taco
Chef Lee Kuebler, owner of Milwalky Trace, has branched out into the galley-style space next door, opening a new Mexican street food concept: Milwalky Taco. The taqueria's menu of 11 tacos is buffeted by an in-depth tequila, mezcal and whiskey list with a selection of imported beer, soda and wine.
The restaurant is narrow, with a bar and the kitchen on one side and a row of tables on the other. Get there early because the restaurant is fast becoming a place to be seen and crowds quickly; no reservations are accepted. Overall, the taco menu (and its few appetizers, sides and desserts) is a fairly accurate representation of street food tacos from Mexico. If you're looking for an authentic experience, and you love cilantro (because it's on everything), head to Milwalky Taco.
We started our meal with the queso fundido appetizer, melted Chihuahua cheese with poblano peppers and house chorizo, served with fresh tortillas. Like many of the appetizers at Milwalky Trace next door, it arrived in a cast-iron dish, still sizzling and smelling divine. Overall, it was pretty mild with a strong oregano flavor. Don't be scared off by the poblano peppers -- although sizable chunks are mixed with the chorizo and cheese, they aren't spicy at all. We would have liked more chorizo, or least a heftier chorizo taste, but overall it was a decent dish.
We both ordered three tacos each, the pollo, nopales, pescado, barbacoa, walking taco and panza, and got a side of grilled knob onions. The onions -- bulbs and greenery both -- came perfectly charred and salted in a small black dish. By the time it occurred to me that I could put some on the tacos, I had already eaten them all because they were so good.
I tried the pollo taco (wood-grilled chicken, pickled red onions, cotija cheese and cilantro) first. Before I had a bit with chicken in it, I was already won over by the robust and earthy cheese sprinkled throughout. The chicken itself was nice and tender and not so overwhelmingly juicy that it spills out of the taco. Pickled onions brought everything together and rounded out the taste.
Next up was the nopales taco with braised cactus paddles, tomato, sautéed onion, queso fresco and cilantro. I fell in love with cactus as a dish in Mexico City, and this was no exception -- a sweetly strong and almost pickled flavor reigned supreme over this taco. It's one I would go back for when I'm culinarily lusting for those true Mexican cactuses.
The pescado -- beer-battered pollock, cabbage, chipotle mayo, cilantro and onion -- was like a spicy fish fry in a taco. More cabbage would have been nice, but an ample amount of mild fish cooked to light and flaky doneness was the star.
We indulged in some slow-braised lamb with the barbacoa taco, also toting pasilla-tomatillo salsa, cilantro and onion. The meat tasted just like lamb you'd find at an Indian restaurant, and it was tender and flavorful. This one was almost one of my favorites; it just had a bit too much grease for my taste.
My true favorite was the walking taco. I usually eat mine with nacho cheese Doritos, but Milwalky's take on this fast-growing trend came served in a Fritos bag with corn chips, chili con carne, pinto beans, fire-roasted tomato salsa, Chihuahua cheese, cilantro and onion. It was a little too spicy at first, but the beans evened out the heat until the flavors balanced well. This is the perfect to-go item for anyone who doesn't want the sit-down experience.
The only taco we weren't thrilled with was the panza: pork belly, fire-roasted tomato-guajillo salsa, queso fresco, cilantro and onion. The meat to toppings ratio was way off, and the pork belly itself was pretty tough. We didn't finish it, but we were already completely full from the other food anyway.
For dessert, we had the churros and Mexican hot chocolate. Both separate and dipped together, these were a highlight of the meal. The churros were warm and crispy, doused in cinnamon sugar on the outside and delightfully soft on the inside. When you dip them in the slightly spicy hot chocolate, the drink's creamy thickness sticks to the outside like velvety chocolate glue. The combination is phenomenal.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.
Milwalky Taco605 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville, (224) 513-5766, milwalkytaco.com
Cuisine: Mexican street food
Entrees: $3 to $5 per taco
Hours: 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 4:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday