While disappointment reigned at Playa Azul, I had an opposite experience in Pilsen yesterday. On our way to the Fine Arts Museum, we stopped into a secondhand store, and the owners asked if we were hungry. We were hoping that this would be the invite to a free home-cooked meal, so we said yes. No free eats, but they did direct us to Gonzales, a nondescript place (far less fancy than nuevo leon or cuernavaca) at 18th and Damen.
There, we found a great menu (beef tongue platter, menudo, caldo de res, chilaquiles, in addition to the usual tortas, etc.) with few, if any, items over $7, fresh chips served with biting pico de gallo, as well as a dish of pickled jalapenos, plus a complimentary small order of nachos (in this case, cornmeal fried in a corn tortilla covered with ranchero sauce and daubed with sour cream and guacamole. in apprearance, it was more like a quesadilla). The horchata here was rich and nutty--I've been drinking the watered-down stuff served from the bubblers in Rogers Park--the creamy almond flavor cools the salsa-singed tongue.
We split an order of tacos al pastor (3 for $4.10) with avocado on the side. The avocado flesh was flawless and ripe; rolled into the taco with fresh cilantro, onions, and lime, it was some of the freshest-tasting mex I've had in a long time. The charred pork and citrus was exactly right, and a nice wake-up to my palate, which has been dulled of late by Uptown Tacos. Gonzales has definitely unseated the carniceria at North and Blackhawk as my favorite taco spot in town.