The West Loop’s Boozy Taco Spots, RankedBelieve it or not, Taco Bell Cantina did not come in last.
At last count, the West Loop has nine boozy taco spots within a one-block radius of each other. Seven are on Randolph, and one is a fucking Taco Bell. They all (even Taco Bell) have a long cocktail list and a menu that probably includes a “taco Tuesday” special. They also appear to have an agenda that involves getting people to drink a lot of margaritas and shout “woo hoo!” while spilling out onto the sidewalk.
What’s the deal with these places? Why do we now have a drunken Randolph taco restaurant row? And, most importantly, which are the least awful? We ranked them all, from best to worst.
La Josie can be a shitshow, but it’s our shitshow. Here, you are required to shout-talk and you won’t be able to see your carnitas after 9pm when the lights go from dim to, “Wait, who are you?” But the Mexican food is good. The tortillas are handmade, and while we wish they two-plied them for the tacos, the fillings are always well-seasoned. Plus they have delicious Mezcal margaritas and a friendly staff that won’t conveniently disappear when your pitcher is empty. They have three bars and a rooftop, and in the summer you can count on all four being completely slammed.
This brewery has had different chefs and owners over the past few years, and the current iteration is probably the weakest. Mainly because they changed some of the recipes, like their previously-great black beans. That said, it still beats 80% of the places on Randolph, and is a great place to go with a group. They have taco platters with options like lamb neck and duck mole, and they all come with handmade tortillas that are nice and chewy. The patio is crowded, but not in an unmanageable way where you’ll worry queso will get spilled on your head.
The last thing a city full of taquerias needs is national chain cosplaying as one. But Tacombi, a taqueria chain with locations all over the East Coast co-owned by one of the Shake Shack guys, opened on Randolph and Peoria. The food is pretty good: they have chewy tortillas, crispy quesabirria, spicy esquites, and all the meat is flavorful. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling you’re at a Disney-esque “Taqueria World” while waiting 20 minutes for a $9 taco on a branded folding chair and table staring at the entrance to Gin Alley.
Despite the Green Line thundering by, the large sidewalk patio at Bar Takito is a relatively low-key spot for bottomless brunch. That alone makes it a precious rarity in the West Loop, but this place also has specials that are actual deals, including the aforementioned brunch, and a Taco Tuesday with $3 mix-and-match tacos. Some of the fusion tacos are overwrought and complicated (like the miso pork belly with hummus) so stick with the more straightforward options like chicken tinga and carnitas.
Have you ever heard of Parlor Pizza? Of patio-and-tax-evasion fame? Texan Taco Bar is owned by the same folks, and is much, much worse. The rooftop is a Big 10 nightmare come to life, and the menu includes things like “quesapizza” and a “Big Tex Taco” that’s exactly what it sounds like: A giant crispy taco filled with lettuce, cheese, and ground beef. That’s the level of nuance you can expect from this place. Unless you want to get sucked into a Midwestern bro vortex, enter at your own risk.
Federales opened in 2016, and is the West Loop’s original unhinged boozy taco shitshow. It’s one that involves throwing shot glasses made of ice at a bell, a retractable roof, and a giant patio with bouncers checking IDs and managing the crowd. Make no mistake, this is a margarita spot that serves food, and that food isn’t very good. But if you’re here to eat you’ve missed the point.
This chain started in Texas, and has a menu filled with fusion tacos that seem invented by a hungry drunk person with nothing left to lose. They’re not very good, and we can’t think of anything worse than their chicken and waffles taco, made with a flaccid taco-shaped waffle, gloopy gravy, and leathery fried chicken. Despite serving alcohol and a sign that says “WE’RE OPEN REALLY LATE” the counter-service space is way too much of a fast-food restaurant to make you want to hang out here after going out.
We knew things had gotten out of hand when Taco Bell opened on Randolph and started serving liquor. Won’t this neighborhood's thirst for money ever be sated? No. So here we are, staring into the abyss of a Crunchwrap Supreme paired with a Baja Blast margarita. We’ve had worse.
Welcome to worse. Bodega is the newest taco spot on Randolph, and this counter-service Miami import (with a speakeasy club in the back) jammed itself between Velvet Taco and Texan Taco Bar. Thanks to carne asada that tastes boiled, flavorless, greasy quesabirria, and tortillas that we’re not convinced are flour or corn (but we are certain are bad), there is no reason to eat here. Just do yourself a favor and head past the strobe light and the “it smells like tequila and bad decisions out today” sign, and just go to the speakeasy in the back of the restaurant. Hopefully no tacos sneak in behind you.