I was at one of my dealers in Chicago earlier this year and one of the guys hollered at me, "Hey, do you want a taco?" He had a boat of tacos in front of him and they looked pretty good. I asked him where he got the tacos from and he said, "A place called El Carrito. They deliver and we use them pretty regularly." When I asked if they had a restaurant, he said, "They do. And it's not far from here." On a recent trip into Chicago, I happened to be sitting at a stop light and I looked over and saw El Carrito in a small strip mall. I made a mental note of the location and ended up going there for lunch one day.
Joe Zureikat was a native of the south side of Chicago who ended up running the Foremost Liquors store in a strip mall at the corner of Peterson and Lincoln Ave. Zureikat discovered there was a dearth of good places to eat around him and when a spot opened up next to his liquor store, he leased it out with intentions of putting in a small restaurant.
He wanted a place with good and authentic Mexican street food. He enlisted the help of Valentine Hernandez, a Mexican native who learned to cook in his hometown of Mexico City. Together, they came up with the concept of El Carrito - which roughly translates into "The Little Cart" - using only fresh and locally sourced items. The duo opened El Carrito in May of 2015.
As I said, El Carrito is in a strip mall next to Foremost Liquors on the northeast corner of Peterson and Lincoln Ave. (see map) There was plenty of parking out front when I pulled in around 1:30 p.m. Inside the restaurant, it's sort of a contemporary industrial decor with a high ceiling with exposed duct work and beams. Small street carts were either used as displays or functional napkin and condiment holders.
The menu was on placards above the ordering window. It featured a number of meats including their carne asada which was grilled skirt steak, suadero (a Mexican-style brisket), pierna en adobo (a pork leg cooked in an adobo sauce), tinga (chicken cooked with chipotle peppers, tomatoes and onions) and something called chicharron prensado - pork meat with the skin on that is cooked in a guajillo sauce with spices. The meats were available in tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and tortas. El Carrito also featured fajitas, a grilled tiger shrimp cocktail, tamales, and a dish called pozole - a Mexican stew made with pork, hominy, mild chile peppers, and then served with cabbage, radishes, oregano and tostadas.
The dining area at El Carrito featured lime green chairs and bright colored table tops. The tables were sort of haphazardly situated across the dining room. It was cozy, but well lit with the large windows in the front of the restaurant.
I got a small basket of chips with the green salsa to start out. The chips and salsa were $3.49 and both were very good. The chips were fresh and warm, while the salsa verde was had a great flavor with a bit of a burn on the back end. El Carrito doesn't serve alcohol, but with Foremost Liquors next door - owned by one of the guys who owns El Carrito - you can go there to get beer or mixings for margaritas and bring it into the restaurant.
For lunch that day, I got three tacos - the carnitas taco was cooked in a concoction that included fresh herbs, a bit of orange juice, and topped with chopped onions and cilantro; the al pastor pork taco was cooked in three different types of chiles and topped with pickled onions, cilantro and grilled pineapple; and the barbacoa taco featured braised beef cooked in a chimichurri sauce and topped with cilantro and pickled onions. I had ran out of the salsa verde from eating the chips, so I asked one of the young ladies cleaning up in the dining area if I could get some more green salsa. She came back with two little tubs - maybe an ounce of sauce each. Oh well...
Now, I was lucky to get the above picture of the tacos because not only did they look good, they smelled good, too. I had put some of the salsa verde on the carnitas taco and almost started to take a bite before I snapped the picture of the food. But the wait was worth it. All three tacos were fabulous. The taste combinations of the meats, chiles, spices, veggies, herbs, fruits, and whatever else was part of the individual tacos were all outstanding.
I'm certainly glad that I found out about El Carrito. The tacos I had were all very good and I'm sure the other things on their menu would be just as good. The choices of meats on their menu were varied and interesting. Everything tasted fresh with a lot of great flavor combinations going on with each taco. El Carrito is nothing fancy, but the street-style tacos were nothing short of excellent.