By Bonnie Berger
Bereft of fine dining establishments, LaSalle Avenue rarely crosses the ravenous college student’s mind when he or she prowls for nourishment. Yet nestled between a humble transmission repair shop, an unfinished furniture store and a competing Mexican restaurant, sits Taqueria Zacatecas, a dash of flavor along the formerly bland street.
Commonly known as “Taco Z” to frugal feeders and Mexican food fanatics, this glorified taco stand sells authentic quesadillas, tacos, burritos and more for a modest price. Once based out of a taco truck, owners Jose and Griselda Ramirez transitioned into a more permanent location at 2311 LaSalle Ave. in early 2010.
The glass panes surrounding the walk-up window are decorated with home-printed menus boasting 13 different protein options and $1 tacos. A handful of picnic tables are situated under the well-lit, open-air patio where you can wait for your order to arrive. Should you shy away from this minimal amount of human interaction, Taco Z offers a convenient drive-thru, too.
Taco Z is open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday. Hours are extended until 3:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday, catering to the rowdy night crowd and bleary-eyed students breaking away from their textbooks.
With items ranging from $1 to $5, a true feast is easily affordable. The extensive meat options range from tame choices like beef fajita to more adventurous orders like “lengua,” or tongue. While the chicken fajita is above average, the “al pastor,” or spicy pork, stands out as a thoughtfully seasoned cut.
Tacos are available with your choice of meat, homemade corn or flour tortillas and are fully dressed with chopped cabbage and fresh cilantro. Depending on your luck of the draw, red or green tomatillo salsa accompanies your meal.
In true taco truck fashion, entrees are wrapped in foil and served on a Styrofoam plate for maximum mess control. Proper table etiquette doesn’t need to be your focus at this establishment.
Tearing into a foiled-wrapped taco unleashes an explosion of taste. Absorbent tortillas are fortified with crisp cabbage, spicy pork and smeared with lime-infused tomatillo salsa. Although the chicken fajita is a little overcooked, an extra slathering of salsa adds both moisture and additional spice. The moist “barbacoa,” or brisket is smoky and hearty but lacks the authentic taste of its Mexican counterpart. But, for the price, there’s no need to be picky.
Oozing with melted cheese and warm chicken, the quesadillas make up for their lack of flavor in substance. A filling option, these toasted tortillas are salvaged by whichever salsa accompanies your order.
Ingredients are fresh, and everything tastes homemade. Flavors meld together to create a satisfying memory with no one seasoning taking center stage.
The tomatillo salsa is mild enough for the faint hearted while not leaving spice lovers disappointed.
Wash down your entrée with a cool cup of spiced “horchata,” a traditional Mexican beverage derived from ground rice grain and cinnamon. Though tones of cinnamon were strong, a small glass made a sweet accompaniment to a savory meal.