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Trendy Space and Classic Flavors at The Laughing Taco

Aug. 1, 2017
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What do you get when you cross a Mexican taqueria with the sterling reputation of Justin Carlisle and his wife, Lucia Muñoz, and sprinkle in some gentrification for good measure? The Laughing Taco.

The Laughing Taco

Phone: 414-210-3086
Address: 1033 S. First St.
Price: $
Website: laughingtaco.com
Handicapped access: Yes
Hours: Tu-Sa 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 4-10 p.m.

The little counter service restaurant, located in the corner space of the brand-new Trio Apartments building in Walker’s Point, is owned and operated by Muñoz and modeled after taquerias from her home city of Monterrey, Mexico. When I imagine what a taqueria there might be like, I figure they’re quaint little spots that specialize in a couple of taco options, served quickly to a wide cross section of locals. The Laughing Taco delivers on all those points, but at a moderately higher price than other Walker’s Point taquerias—perhaps that’s the price of renting a spot in a new mixed-use building. Judging by how busy the restaurant was at lunch on a weekday, plenty of people are willing to pay it for a seat in a space that’s sleeker and more austere than any other taqueria on the South Side.

The tacos, the only thing they serve besides drinks, are delicious. While there are seven varieties on the menu, they really only have four fillings: two meats, and two vegetarian options. Trompo, what they call their marinated pork, is essentially al pastor. Pork steaks are coated in bright orange seasoning, layered on a vertical spit, and roasted. When it’s time to serve, meat is cut off the spit. The marinade is heady with mild dried chiles, achiote and spices. It’s quite tasty, but I found myself missing the roasted pineapple that usually accompanies al pastor.

Bistec, the other meat option, is one of the best versions of steak tacos I’ve had. The chopped beef—which comes from Carlisle’s parents’ farm, same as the meat at Ardent—is seasoned so well that you’re not going to need to reach for the salsa bottles immediately after your first taste. There’s no gristle or fat to be found, just tender beef chopped into just-the-right-size pieces.

Of the vegetarian options, the papas are described as “potatoes in a tomato sauce (non spicy)” and that’s an apt description of their mildness. The more unusual nopalitos combines chopped cactus paddles with a mild red chile sauce. It’s better than the potatoes, thanks to a more flavorful sauce and still-crunchy texture.

All four fillings can be ordered in doubled corn tortillas ($2.50-$2.75). The tortillas are fluffy and light, and relatively small. Only the meat fillings come with onion and cilantro on top, leaving the mildest options without toppings. For those, you’ll want to utilize the salsa bottle labeled “hot” that’s filled with creamy green sauce made with puréed fresh chilies.

Unless you’re a purist or gluten intolerant and must have corn tortillas, the best option here is the larger flour tortilla tacos ($4.75-$5). They come in three combinations of the meat fillings, avocado and toppings, along with something ingenious: cheese griddled onto the tortillas. A pile of white cheese is placed directly on the griddle and allowed to melt before the tortilla is stuck on top of it. You end up with a gooey layer of cheese in between a warm tortilla and savory cheese crisp. It's infinitely more satisfying than some cold shredded cheese thrown on top of the taco, but they can get a little greasy. Wash them down with a refreshing paloma or margarita slushie from the machine that greets you when you walk in. Alcohol is a nice addition that many taquerias don’t have.


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