photo credit: Kim Kovacik
Aztec Dave's Cantina
If you’re sport-averse, eating dinner at a place where the primary purpose appears to be drinking and/or watching a game might not be your first choice. But Aztec Dave’s Cantina in Humboldt park—a dark narrow space with beer signs and multiple TVs—has great Mexican food that will make anyone want to stick around and figure out why that person wearing a jersey on TV is crying.
Aztec Dave’s feels like a Polly Pocket Food Truck that unfurled and started serving tequila. Which makes sense, it started out as a truck in Pilsen, and this is their first brick and mortar location. Like the original, the menu is mainly made up of tacos, burritos, and tortas, each with a variety of perfectly cooked fillings loaded with flavor.
Freshly fried chips are the vehicle for crispy chorizo and queso fundido that could stretch to the ceiling if you had a ladder and the inclination, and the spicy carne asada burrito is constructed with an ideal ratio of juicy, charred meat to beans and cheese. The sweet mole de pollo dinner comes with rice, tortillas, and refried black beans that are so rich and creamy you’d swear had to be made with lard and dairy, but after a conversation with our server and a phone call to the owner (they’re really creamy, OK?) we can assure you they’re not. The tortas deserve their own sentence and here it is: Each one has caramelized chihuahua cheese seared directly onto the soft griddled bread, which is a thoughtful (and delicious) touch.
The crispy cheese on the tortas is why we find ourselves randomly thinking about Aztec Dave's when we’re standing in line at CVS. And while getting food here can take a long time (a peek into the kitchen will show one person operating the grill and your server is just as likely to be your bartender) we don’t care. Freshly fried chips, spicy marinade for tender carne asada, and burritos wrapped with more care than a standard baby—all of it makes us want to grab a seat at the bar and hang out to watch some sport we hopefully know the rules to.
The queso fundido comes with warm tortilla chips, and melty cheese that you’ll want to wrap around your body like a toga. Plus, you can add some crispy chorizo without the meat overtaking your cheese.
Dave’s offers several proteins (steak, shrimp, pork, fish, and chicken) with varied preparations to fill their burritos, tacos, and tortas. We’ve liked every combo, but when it comes to the burrito we like the asada loaded with beans, rice, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and sour cream.
Carne Asada Torta
Between the spicy medium-rare steak and the bonus of caramelized chihuahua cheese seared right onto the toasted bun, this is a perfect torta. Which, by the way, also comes with lettuce, tomatoes, beans, avocado, and sour cream.
Guajillo Shrimp Taco
The grilled guajillo shrimp has enough heat to let you know it’s arrived at the party, and the taco has pico de gallo that gives it a pop of acidity. This is a refreshing taco.
Al Pastor Taco
Another great taco option is the al pastor. It’s delightfully spicy and the pineapple offers a counterbalance of sweetness.
Mole De Pollo Dinner
The mole at Aztec Dave’s is sweet, which is offset by spicy heat. The rich sauce coats tender pieces of chicken, which work wonderfully as a taco or burrito, but we prefer it as a dinner. It comes with creamy refried black beans, rice, and tortillas.