I ascribe to only one inviolable rule when it comes to ordering tacos. Never, ever judge a taco by its price tag. I’ve had “one-buck-chuck” tacos so tasty they made my heart burst like a split piñata. And I’ve sampled ridiculously pricy tacos so nuanced I would’ve opened a second mortgage to obtain their recipe. So generally speaking, I order first and worry about the tab later. Our first round at Tacos Guanajuato in Kildeer went as planned. We ordered like a pair of hungry chefs stuck on a five-hour layover in Mexico City. Classic carnitas: Note the restraint in using only red onion, cilantro, and a touch of guacamole so the carnitas take center stage. Spanish octopus tacos: Tiny grilled morsels marinated in orange juice, lime, and thyme topped with a guajillo mayonnaise and thin crispy potato sticks. As well as a truly avant-garde option, chef Jovanny Diaz’s tongue-in-cheek “Nashville Hot” tacos: Tiny fried chicken flamethrowers—dressed in a sauce made from chile de arbol and guajillo peppers—so spicy my gringo eyes wept from the aromas alone.
Truth is, chef Diaz’s tacos are a find, each served on wonderfully spongy masa tortillas that are grilled to order. Midway into our feast, I couldn’t help but break my own commandment and check the prices. Four to five bucks each? For tacos made from quality rib-eye, Norwegian salmon, and homemade chorizo? How, I wondered, does this place turn a profit?
Answer: Diaz is the son of a butcher, whose family made its own cheeses and Mexican cremas. When owner Margarita Challenger was running a previous restaurant, she gave Diaz a test run and immediately recognized his talent. “All I want,” Challenger told him, “is someone with an open mind because an open mind can continually be filled with new ideas.” Turns out, Diaz has ideas to burn. He keeps his prices low by butchering his own meats and making just about everything else—mole, salsas, sauces tres leches cakes—from scratch.
The only problem that we found was that his main dishes are every bit as memorable as his tacos. So do as we did: Graze on some tacos—no HELOC required—while saving room for the his enmoladas and fajita: two dishes so mouthwateringly tender only a butcher’s son could produce them.
Tacos Guanajuato is located at 20771 N. Rand Road in Kildeer. For more information, visit tacosgtogo.com or call 847-847-1056.
According to Diaz, if you want to make more-authentic Mexican dishes you need to study your Mexican peppers. Start easy with a few salsas. Here’s a quick crib sheet:
- 10 tomatillos
- 2 whole jalapenos
- 1 medium garlic clove
- Avocado (optional)
Boil all ingredients together for 5 minutes of a hard boil or until soft to the touch. (Careful when you touch them, as they will be hot!) Let them cool for at least 15 minutes before blending all together with about . teaspoon salt to taste. Adjust if needed. Add 10 chopped cilantro springs to the salsa—or cubed fresh avocado for extra flavor and texture.
SPICY RED SMOKY SALSA
- 10 whole tomatillos
- 4 whole guajillo peppers
- 2 whole Chile de arbol
- 1 whole garlic clove, roasted
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt or to taste
- 1 cup of boiling water
In a hot frying pan, roast the various chiles, garlic, and the tomatillos on all sides. Place peppers in a bowl and pour water over them to hydrate. Place tomatillos, roasted garlic cloves, and hydrated peppers in blender. Add salt and blend until smooth, adding more salt if needed. Pair with tacos, enchiladas, chilaquiles, or chips.