CHIReview

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

El Tragón Taqueria review image
8.4

El Tragón Taqueria

$$$$

1234 N Halsted St Unit C, Chicago
View WebsiteEarn 3X Points

Eating at a gas station usually only happens out of necessity—no one should go out of their way for a hot dog that’s taken a few too many spins on the roller. But not every gas station has an El Tragón Taqueria hiding behind it. 

Though this Mexican spot in Lincoln Park shares a parking lot with a Mobil, El Tragón Taqueria isn’t just a convenient place to grab some tacos to process the trauma of spending $300 to fill up your gas tank. It’s a destination in its own right.

El Tragón Taqueria review image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

El Tragón is tiny, but the bright atmosphere makes it feel cozy versus claustrophobic. Vivid snapshots of life in Mexico decorate the walls. Upbeat pop music and the clang of utensils hitting the grill reverberate throughout the space. At some point during a visit, the owner might ask how things are tasting, then cover your plate of tacos so that they stay warm while you finish up some chilaquiles.

The short menu focuses on a handful of Mexican dishes like tacos and quesadillas, with a small variety of fillings to choose from. This should make deciding what to order easy. But when everything is this delicious, be prepared to feel envious after seeing something that didn't make the cut on another table.

El Tragón Taqueria review image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

That jealousy is brief, quickly replaced by bliss and appreciation after tasting the perfectly seasoned fillings. The chicken and al pastor are given a deep tissue massage with a complex mixture of spices and chiles. Equally pampered is the smoky bistec, and juicy birria develops even deeper flavor after relaxing in a bath of consomé. And it doesn’t matter whether they come in taco, quesadilla, burrito, or torta form—there isn’t a single bad vehicle for the fillings. But one item that always needs to be on the table is the chilaquiles. They come with a spicy salsa that through some sort of culinary sorcery, never makes the chips soggy.

El Tragón Taqueria’s only downsides are that it’s small, and that texting people, “let’s meet at the gas station for dinner” can seem like a case of autocorrect. But for a lowkey spot where you can BYOB and eat some fantastic Mexican food, it’s perfect.

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Food Rundown

El Tragón Taqueria review image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Bistec Taco

This is the best taco here, and (bold statement incoming) one of the best tacos in the city. Tender slices of ribeye are grilled with a sprinkling of cheese, giving it a crispy crust, which is complemented by grilled green onions.

El Tragón Taqueria review image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Al Pastor Taco

El Tragón’s al pastor is made with tender pieces of pork butt blanketed in a smoky marinade of over 20 ingredients, including achiote, cumin, plus guajillo and ancho chiles. Some grilled pineapple tops it off to add an extra layer of sweet and sour.

El Tragón Taqueria review image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Chicken Taco

The perfectly cooked pieces of chicken get the same smoky spice treatment as the al pastor. It comes with cilantro and onions, and is especially delicious with added brightness from freshly squeezed lime.

El Tragón Taqueria review image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Quesabirria

The quesabirria here is sublime—buttery braised beef and molten cheese are pressed between a griddled tortilla. Unlike the birria taco, the quesabirria doesn't come with consomé, so definitely ask for a side of the savory soup. Get this.

El Tragón Taqueria review image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Quesadilla

There’s nothing complicated here—it’s a large tortilla filled with cheese and your choice of meat. Is there anything wrong with that? Hell no. Liberally use their housemade chile de árbol salsa for added flavor.

El Tragón Taqueria review image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Chilaquiles

There’s a three-way tie for “Best Dish at El Tragón”—the bistec taco, the quesabirria, and this. The crispy tortilla chips are served with your choice of chicken or asada, fried eggs, and a spicy red sauce that’s the owner’s mom’s recipe. We get that this is a cherished family secret, but we’re willing to go full National Treasure Nicholas Cage to find out what makes it so good.

El Tragón Taqueria review image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Burrito

The burritos are the most filling option on the menu. The perfectly calculated ratios of ingredients (meat, rice, beans, sour cream, and pico de gallo) creates an ideal balance of salty, tangy, smoky, and acidic flavors. Plus, there’s crispiness from the griddle-pressed tortilla.

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