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Maxwell Street Market - Chicago

Melanie Wong | Oct 23, 2016 10:02 PM

Sunday morning I made the pilgrimage to Maxwell Street Market to find my breakfast among the bevy of Mexican food stands. I started at the W. Taylor Street end and headed north.

First stop was the Churro Factory's truck. A regular, unfilled churro that was nice and hot was $1.50 and better than I've had in a while. http://www.churrofactory.com/

The ribbon fries offered by the funnel cake stand caught my eye. I'm a sucker for handmade potato chips of any kind and I circled back later to get a box, $6. They're extremely thin and fried on site. Offered with a choice of habanero, Valentina, nacho, or ketchup for sauce, the lady at that stand folded an envelope of aluminum to give me some Valentina hot sauce to go. Good potato flavor, and not that greasy.

Around the corner on Powell Street, Tio Deme was dishing up tacos filled with birria de res (beef) or lengua (tongue). An order includes a complimentary cup of consome. My pair of tacos, one of each, was only $5. The meats are also available by the pound for $14 and come with corn tortillas. The Jalisco-style red birria was a warm and comforting way to start the day. The lengua disintegrated into buttery shreds, almost like a hash, and was my favorite between the two meats. The beef birria was a bit firmer but equally tasty. Watch out for the marinated onions served on the side by request, as they pack habanero-level heat.

The long line waiting to order at Rubi's almost dissuaded me. But I stepped around the side of the booth to take a look at the cone of al pastor rotating on the trompo under a pineapple crown and observed the careful grilling over charcoal of the carne asada, all the while inhaling the meaty aromas and deciding this seemed special. Further confirmation that I'd made the right choice came when I approached the order-taker and had a chance to watch and talk with one of the ladies making the tortillas. The appearance of the raw masa and the roasted corn aroma coming off the comal where the tortillas are cooked made it clear that this was fresh ground nixtamal and not Maseca. I asked her gingerly if these were tortillas de maseca, making her frown and shake her head "no". When I asked if this was nixtamal, she broke out into a smile and said "yes".

I ordered one taco each of carne asada, al pastor, and flor de calabaza (squash blossom), $3 each, topped with cilantro, red onions, tomato, but hold the lettuce. Miraculously, a seat at a table opened up just when I needed it and I added salsa from the squeeze bottles. Rubi's puts far too much red onion on the tacos, but that's my only complaint. The tortillas were as tasty and toothsome as I'd hoped for. My favorite turned out to be the carne asada made with tender steak, grilled complexity and just enough fat for extra beefy flavor. Al pastor was also very good, and though I'd forgotten ask for some of the piña, a little diced pineapple was included with the chopped meat. Tender and juicy pork with a subtle marinade that did not overpower the taste of the mat, but not much caramelization. The squash blossoms were the small type, using several to a serving sauteed with red salsa to soften a bit but still retain the juicy crunchiness. I was happy to see two kinds of grilled cebollitas included with the plate, a bulbous sweeter onion and a scallion, as well as a grilled chile pepper and some key lime wedges. With this kind of quality it's clear why Rubi's has such a following.

I spotted a stand that was selling the big copper pans used for making carnitas. But I did not notice much in the way of carnitas sold at the taco stands. Are there not many from Michoacan in Chicago or some other reason for this omission?

Besides prepared food, there were a couple of produce vendors too. On my way out, I bought a champurrado from Henry's Tacos (closer to Taylor St) that was very good. I'm sorry I had less than two hours at the market, as I would have loved to tasted more and asked more questions.

What are 'hounds favorites here?

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