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  • Big Star - Open

    Post #1 - November 9th, 2009, 12:48 pm
    Post #1 - November 9th, 2009, 12:48 pm Post #1 - November 9th, 2009, 12:48 pm
    Anyone planning on taking the first-day plunge? I'm considering it, but may end up waiting a couple of days.

    Big Star
    1531 N. Damen Ave
    Chicago, IL 60622
    773-235-4039
  • Post #2 - November 9th, 2009, 1:03 pm
    Post #2 - November 9th, 2009, 1:03 pm Post #2 - November 9th, 2009, 1:03 pm
    I work about a block away and I'm on my own for dinner, so I'll probably swing by after work. We'll see.
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #3 - November 9th, 2009, 1:25 pm
    Post #3 - November 9th, 2009, 1:25 pm Post #3 - November 9th, 2009, 1:25 pm
    This place is at the top of my list of new places to try, cant wait to hear some feedback on the tequila selection as much as the food.
    R.I.P. jimswside - 5/2/16



    @GrubSeeker
  • Post #4 - November 9th, 2009, 2:12 pm
    Post #4 - November 9th, 2009, 2:12 pm Post #4 - November 9th, 2009, 2:12 pm
    I'll be there late tonight, at an hour appropriate for both tacos AND bourbon. TGIM.
  • Post #5 - November 9th, 2009, 2:14 pm
    Post #5 - November 9th, 2009, 2:14 pm Post #5 - November 9th, 2009, 2:14 pm
    I thought I read somewhere that the bar was opening tonight, but that the taco part would be coming later. Now I can't find any reference to that, so maybe I made it up in my head.
    ...defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

    Fuckerberg on Food
  • Post #6 - November 9th, 2009, 2:18 pm
    Post #6 - November 9th, 2009, 2:18 pm Post #6 - November 9th, 2009, 2:18 pm
    via Paul Kahan's Twitter

    salted pig: @PaulKahan is the opening on Monday a soft opening or "for real"? Trying to figure out when to come by.

    PaulKahan: for real, but the taco window will be closed for first few days/weeks until we get a pace going

    Also, from http://beingtotallysweetinchicago.blogs ... today.html

    Paul Kahan says it'll take a "few days/weeks" for the walk-up window to be available, so plan on waiting in line for your treats.
  • Post #7 - November 9th, 2009, 2:21 pm
    Post #7 - November 9th, 2009, 2:21 pm Post #7 - November 9th, 2009, 2:21 pm
    Stephen wrote:via Paul Kahan's Twitter

    salted pig: @PaulKahan is the opening on Monday a soft opening or "for real"? Trying to figure out when to come by.

    PaulKahan: for real, but the taco window will be closed for first few days/weeks until we get a pace going

    Also, from http://beingtotallysweetinchicago.blogs ... today.html

    Paul Kahan says it'll take a "few days/weeks" for the walk-up window to be available, so plan on waiting in line for your treats.
    ah yes, you have now outed me as a Tweeterer.
    ...defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

    Fuckerberg on Food
  • Post #8 - November 9th, 2009, 2:27 pm
    Post #8 - November 9th, 2009, 2:27 pm Post #8 - November 9th, 2009, 2:27 pm
    Suppose I have outed myself as well. :)

    I'm in the best kind of bind. I haven't eaten yet today and it's too close to taco time to eat now. I may have to follow Big Star with the farm dinner at Lula.
  • Post #9 - November 9th, 2009, 11:19 pm
    Post #9 - November 9th, 2009, 11:19 pm Post #9 - November 9th, 2009, 11:19 pm
    Just got back from the maiden voyage to what I could see becoming a regular rotation on the single bachelor's weekly eating out routine. Couple key takeaways: most everything is very very affordable, the space is very very simple, and the food is very very good (for what it is). Played some old school country all night. The window was not open, but enjoyed watching the kitchen. Paul was in there working the griddle.

    1. We waited about ten minutes to get in with a group of 5 - not bad at all for the first night.
    2. Tried a couple of different drinks and all seemed to be pretty good. We stuck with whiskeys.
    3. Pork belly tacos were amazing. These were the runaway favorite in our group.
    4. Guac for 3 bucks was a home run partially because the chips are extremely good. It was weird, but I picked up a slight bit of flavoring that I get in buttered microwave popcorn in the chips. Call me crazy... Anyone else get that? Bueller?
    5. Chicken thigh tostada was also extremely delicious. The flavor on the chicken was what really stood out.
    6. Bullet six will be used to reiterate the pork belly tacos were 7 star.

    Overall, we felt the food was great and affordable enough that you could go in there and have a $1 schlitz, a couple tacos and be out for around $10.

    Will definitely be returning.
  • Post #10 - November 9th, 2009, 11:54 pm
    Post #10 - November 9th, 2009, 11:54 pm Post #10 - November 9th, 2009, 11:54 pm
    I went there today at about 4.30 and about 70% of the bar seats were already occupied. My observations:the crispy braised pork belly tacos were awesome; the salsas were all tasty but definitely lacking in heat (3 diff types); the space is somehow smaller than what I remember Pontiac used to be; it's obscenely affordable; very respectable selection of bourbons and tequilas (~30 different types of each).

    When I went, Kahan was working the pass and he didn't seem particularly busy. Like I mentioned, the bar seating was about 70% full but the booths were essentially empty. I got an order of Frijoles Charros that were to be served with tortillas, but apparently the kitchen was already running behind in their production and they were unable to serve them to me. I was offered tortilla chips, and I felt this was an acceptable substitute.

    It is somewhat dimly lit in there (even at 4.30), and there is no bourbon or tequila list. One of the bartenders explained to me that it is forthcoming. In the meanwhile you're kind of relegated to squinting at the bottles that are on display.

    This place is going to be extremely popular and I imagine that two hour waits will quickly become the norm.
  • Post #11 - November 10th, 2009, 12:15 am
    Post #11 - November 10th, 2009, 12:15 am Post #11 - November 10th, 2009, 12:15 am
    I made it out to Big Star around 4 today. I ordered the guacamole (the chips were terrific) and 3 different tacos:

    Image
    Clockwise from the top: Birria, Pork Belly, Al Pastor

    My favorite was the Birria, served with a small cup of the consomme. The pastor was good, and the pork belly was surprisingly not a standout for me, though it was much improved by the lime Chef Kahan brought over as I was unfortunately almost done, describing it as 'essential').

    All in all, I will definitely be back and am fairly sure this is going to be another big hit for Chef Kahan. The proximity to the Violet Hour almost ensures this.
  • Post #12 - November 10th, 2009, 10:55 am
    Post #12 - November 10th, 2009, 10:55 am Post #12 - November 10th, 2009, 10:55 am
    Stopped in around 5:30 last night. Was starting to fill up, but was able to snag a booth without a problem. Drinks were terrific for $7, as they should be with Violet Hour veteran Michael Rubel behind the stick. You don't get the pomp of VH, nor the extreme attention to detail, but at $7, it's a heck of a lot better than most.

    I had the Bakersfield Buck (a gin buck riff with bourbon, lime and ginger beer) which had great spice and the Perry County Smash, a drink I've had before with rye, lemon and blackberry...I found it too sweet last night, which I think may be because the base was switched to bourbon, but I can't recall. My dining companion had La Paloma (one of her favorite tequila-based VH drinks, and declared it worthy of its namesake) and a Lagunitas.

    The refrain is the same for the food...given the pedigree, it should be this great, and for the price it's a fantastic bargain. We had healthy servings of queso fundido with chorizo and freshly made tortillas, platanos fritos, a chicken tostada and two al pastor tacos. With the above 4 drinks and a 20% tip, the bill was $53.

    It seemed (and has been observed above) that the kitchen was running behind on making the tortillas, so I will cut them some slack on not really warming/toasting them sufficiently. Still, the flavor and texture were the equal of some of the best I've had. The plantain fries were terrific, especially when doused in the green salsa. I had been dreaming of the al pastor tacos, and sadly they couldn't live up to my expectations. I'm probably in the minority in that I don't care for pineapple in my al pastor. I heard that they were basting the al pastor in pineapple rather than cooking pineapple on top of the meat (in order to preserve the texture). I was hopeful that this would mean less pineapple flavor, and no chunks in the tacos. This was not the case. The meat itself was great, and the portion overflowed the tortilla, but I'd still put this taco a step below my favorite taqueria in town...they are certainly good, and for $2 in that location, I will not complain.

    Service was excellent, in fact. Considering it was opening night in a pretty full room, I was pleasantly surprised. As we left at about 6:30, the room was nearing capacity and the pace was considerably more frenetic.

    ETA: Ambiance-wise, I liked the music, but the place was far too dark for an establishment that is serving food.
    Last edited by kl1191 on November 10th, 2009, 11:45 am, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #13 - November 10th, 2009, 11:01 am
    Post #13 - November 10th, 2009, 11:01 am Post #13 - November 10th, 2009, 11:01 am
    Was expecting them to serve all night, and was foiled when the kitchen closed at 11, minutes after I finally was able to get a bar seat. Quite a few industry luminaries in there, all laughing and getting smashed. The equally pickled patrons that I waiting behind raved about the food as well. Probably gonna try to swing by again tonight and give it a try. The platanos fritos looked incredible.
  • Post #14 - November 10th, 2009, 4:55 pm
    Post #14 - November 10th, 2009, 4:55 pm Post #14 - November 10th, 2009, 4:55 pm
    Just an FYI, that apparently Big Star is CASH ONLY. I hadn't seen that pointed out anywhere. Not sure if that's permanent...they were having an issue with their POS system last night, which may or may not be related.
  • Post #15 - November 10th, 2009, 5:14 pm
    Post #15 - November 10th, 2009, 5:14 pm Post #15 - November 10th, 2009, 5:14 pm
    It better be damn good considering they scooped the THUNDERCANS location.

    NAV MAN is gonna have to get a bite for the TOP TACO competition. That dollar Schlitz sounds tastey.
    Cheetos are my favorite snack atm.
  • Post #16 - November 11th, 2009, 1:02 pm
    Post #16 - November 11th, 2009, 1:02 pm Post #16 - November 11th, 2009, 1:02 pm
    Only seen it from the outside, plan to partake soon. B12 has a blurb on it, as well as the Urban Daddy. Good to see something finally open in that spot.

    "(Justin) Large is particularly jazzed about the L.A.-inspired al pastor taco, for which the kitchen has acquired a special trompo (the traditional spit on which the meat roasts): “What makes this spit great is that the actual spit itself is heated. It’s not like your traditional gyro cooker where it’s just flames on the outside charring this giant hunk of raw meat. The spit will be on display – we’re going to do it old-school style and carve the meat right off the spit onto the taco.” The other fancy kitchen object will be the wood-fired grill, on which Large is particularly psyched to make a wood-grilled fish taco. “I love a good fried fish taco, when done well it’s outstanding, but the wood-fired grill is like magic. The flavor and what it imparts to the fish is amazing.”

    http://www.b12partners.net/wp/2009/09/0 ... kes-shape/

    http://www.urbandaddy.com/chi/food/7930 ... r_Park_Bar
    Last edited by Ref 3 on November 11th, 2009, 1:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #17 - November 11th, 2009, 1:46 pm
    Post #17 - November 11th, 2009, 1:46 pm Post #17 - November 11th, 2009, 1:46 pm
    LA-inspired pastor taco?

    OK, I understand this place is pretty darn good and I'm likely to dig it. But I continue to be perplexed by white-toque chefs' recent propensity to maintain (or at least suggest) that by opening taco stands they are bringing something new to flyover country. As I understood it, al pastor tacos are an early 20th century invention that emerged from the Lebanese-Mexican community of Puebla, Mexico (see also tacos Arabes). Of course, Chicago has a very large population of folks with Pueblan roots and we have Cemitas Puebla cranking out fine examples of obscure but delicious Pueblan street foods.
  • Post #18 - November 11th, 2009, 2:45 pm
    Post #18 - November 11th, 2009, 2:45 pm Post #18 - November 11th, 2009, 2:45 pm
    (Justin) Large is particularly jazzed about the L.A.-inspired al pastor taco, for which the kitchen has acquired a special trompo (the traditional spit on which the meat roasts)

    From what I can tell this quote is actually from Grub Street. It's not clear to me either what is LA-inspired about Big Star's tacos al pastor. Also, doesn't trompo refer to the top-like shape of the rotating stack of meat, not to the spit itself?

    Anyway, on to the food. Big Star's tacos al pastor feature nicely crisped bits of pork on handmade tortillas for a very-fair-for-the-neighborhood price of $2. What's not to like? Well, I didn't at all care for the pervasive strong pineapple flavor in every bite. Often you'll find the trompo crowned with a pineapple, slices of which can be added to the taco according to customer preference. I much prefer the contrast of flavors and textures that comes with this approach. That being said, you can do much, much worse in this town.

    Tacos de chivo ($2), shredded goat with onion, cilantro and radish, come with a little cup of comsomé for dipping or drinking. The meat didn't have much in the way of appealing texture (mushy) or flavor (bland) and the comsomé added little beside salt. By far my least favorite of the three tacos. The birria from Zaragoza is in a different universe.

    Paul Kahan has a real affinity for pork belly and has long been famous for his brilliant preparations of this luscious meat. The tacos de panza ($3) are as good as expected, easily the best thing I tasted at Big Star. Whether it's precisely a traditional preparation I couldn't care less; these tacos are incredibly tasty.

    Big Star
    1531 N Damen Av
    Chicago
    773-235-4039
  • Post #19 - November 11th, 2009, 2:46 pm
    Post #19 - November 11th, 2009, 2:46 pm Post #19 - November 11th, 2009, 2:46 pm
    JeffB wrote:LA-inspired pastor taco?

    OK, I understand this place is pretty darn good and I'm likely to dig it. But I continue to be perplexed by white-toque chefs' recent propensity to maintain (or at least suggest) that by opening taco stands they are bringing something new to flyover country. As I understood it, al pastor tacos are an early 20th century invention that emerged from the Lebanese-Mexican community of Puebla, Mexico (see also tacos Arabes). Of course, Chicago has a very large population of folks with Pueblan roots and we have Cemitas Puebla cranking out fine examples of obscure but delicious Pueblan street foods.


    People get so defensive .... could it just be that they do a different version of al pastor taco in LA? Such as the difference between NY hot dogs and Chicago hot dogs? or pizza in either place? Especially since two of the three most recent "taco stands" have been opened by Chicago based chefs? (I guess it is possible that you are not including XOCO in your rant, which would change the ration to 1 out of 2)

    SSDD
    He was constantly reminded of how startlingly different a place the world was when viewed from a point only three feet to the left.

    Deepdish Pizza = Casserole
  • Post #20 - November 11th, 2009, 3:01 pm
    Post #20 - November 11th, 2009, 3:01 pm Post #20 - November 11th, 2009, 3:01 pm
    Misinformation doesn't help anyone. I'm not being defensive or bolstering the Second City, I'm pointing out an inaccuracy. I have spent lots of time in L.A. over the years, for family and business, and know my way around the taco stands pretty well there. I love LA. I love NY. To your point, though, no, there is not difference I've noted in LA pastor. If there is a specific LA style, it's nothing I've heard of. This was implicit in my comments. Granted, there certainly are plenty of regional US styles of Mexican-ish foods (Mission burrito, eg). So it could be as you've suggested, but it isn't.

    By the way, thanks, Rene. I think you are correct that the LA-inspired reference is the journalist's, not the chef's. The chef said the place's vibe is 1930's Bakersfield inspired, which is kooky cool. I take back the "white-toqued" comment.

    PPS, headcase, if you really think the stuff you quoted is a "rant," well, I'm sorry I offended you and I thank you for your contributions over the years. Also, Xoco doesn't have tacos and I wasn't criticizing it.
  • Post #21 - November 11th, 2009, 3:37 pm
    Post #21 - November 11th, 2009, 3:37 pm Post #21 - November 11th, 2009, 3:37 pm
    Kahan repeatedly twittered and was quoted in articles leading up to the opening that he was doing research on the LA taco scene, specifically with reference to a particular cart/stand's al pastor...I assume that's where the line in the article came from.

    ETA: Here's one of the tweets:
    http://twitter.com/PaulKahan/status/2635554909
  • Post #22 - November 11th, 2009, 3:46 pm
    Post #22 - November 11th, 2009, 3:46 pm Post #22 - November 11th, 2009, 3:46 pm
    Interesting. So maybe "stand-inspired." Do you have a link? Be interested to know if it's a place I've been.

    Presumably Kahan is well versed in Chicago's taco stands as well; I admire the research ethic. To be fair and balanced, I'll reiterate that I'm certain Big Star brings the goods, what with house made tortillas, pork belly, low prices (cheaper than Pasadita?), booze and honky-tonk. And I'll add that by random coincidence I've been to each of his other places in the past month. I like everything that team does.

    End of rant.
  • Post #23 - November 11th, 2009, 4:05 pm
    Post #23 - November 11th, 2009, 4:05 pm Post #23 - November 11th, 2009, 4:05 pm
    According to this post:
    http://somethingglorious.typepad.com/somethingglorious/2009/09/paul-kahans-honky-tonk-tacos.html

    The inspiration for the al pastor at Big Star is Super Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara, CA. I've enjoyed every meal I've had at Kahan's places, but I prefer the al pastor at El Asadero.
  • Post #24 - November 11th, 2009, 4:18 pm
    Post #24 - November 11th, 2009, 4:18 pm Post #24 - November 11th, 2009, 4:18 pm
    Huh. Don't recall Super Rica having any al pastor. :?:
  • Post #25 - November 11th, 2009, 5:07 pm
    Post #25 - November 11th, 2009, 5:07 pm Post #25 - November 11th, 2009, 5:07 pm
    I've been to Super Rica a few times. I was sort of hoping Kahan was basing his pastor on a little-known cart from the barrio, tipped by TonyC or ErikM, and not the cheerful, somewhat gringo-ized, extremely well-known taqueria to the rich and famous in Santa Barbara. I like Super Rica. It goes way back and I believe Julia Child put it on the "foodie" map long ago. At this point, you are more likely to learn of it from Where magazine in your hotel room than from Jonathan Gold's column. Nothing wrong with that. It's not in LA and it's not entirely traditional in its approach, which might explain the different spin ReneG describes. I don't recall pastor at SR, either, and I certainly don't recall a spit, trompa, vertical roaster, whatever.

    Menu posted over at Yelp shows no pastor. Maybe it was a special.

    http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/6RBZfirn ... Zb4pdAH6gA
  • Post #26 - November 11th, 2009, 11:23 pm
    Post #26 - November 11th, 2009, 11:23 pm Post #26 - November 11th, 2009, 11:23 pm
    I stopped at Big Star tonight after work – about 6 p.m. You have to know where you’re destined for to find the place, for people unfamiliar with the neighborhood. I saw no sign or building number, but people walking in the door and assumed it was what I was looking for.

    A door-man met each person entering and explained seating was at the bar, unless it was a party of 4, for which the persons could sit at a booth. I think all of the booths were empty (something about that policy needs to change, because onh a slower night there will - as tonight - be people standing along the walls because no bar stools are available to sit). Several empty seats were available at the bar and I chose the one on the corner of the rectangular-shaped drink emporium – the one providing the best view into the kitchen. I wanted a floor show as well as something to eat/drink.

    Big Star is a bar that serves food, and that was nicely made clear when I mentioned to the gracious bartender that I couldn’t read the drink list nor the food menu because it was so dark in the place and he explained, “I know. But this is a lounge.” He was almost apologetic. Telling, though.

    I ordered a draught Pabst, but the bar was out of the brand. The bartender recommended a draught Pils from California which I thought had an off-putting taste . . . as if the barrel was sitting around warm then cooled and served. I also ordered a shot of Herradura Silver tequila. Had I been sitting on a stool instead of standing I probably would have fallen-off when the bartender told me the tab for both the 12 oz. draught beer and shot of tequila was just $9. I think the drinks were reasonably priced.

    I didn’t want a lot to eat, just a couple or several samples of the tacos. I’d thought about returning at a later date when I had more time to explore additional menu items. Seated next to where I was standing was what turned-out to be a wonderfully gracious young couple (woman/man) who had already been to the bar two or three times and they offered their critique of the tacos. I indicated I intended to have just two: the taco al pastor and the birria/goat. The young woman quickly added I should give the panza a try and when I replied that I didn’t much like panza she said it was like nothing I’d eaten before. Impressed by her passion, I ordered one of the panza tacos as well.

    No photos tonight, because the “environment” wasn’t right to take them.

    jimswside wrote:This place is at the top of my list of new places to try, cant wait to hear some feedback on the tequila selection as much as the food.


    I’m a clear/clean tequila drinker and prefer the blancos. The Herradura Plata I had tonight tasted weak, though – weaker than I recall the typical taste of the same brand/age I’ve had many times before.

    Stephen wrote:Paul Kahan says it'll take a "few days/weeks" for the walk-up window to be available, so plan on waiting in line for your treats.


    The walk-up window faces west and in the winter some of the strongest/coldest winds come from the NW and other than at 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, I don’t suppose many people will be willing to stand in line waiting for a taco in the winter months. From my view standing at the bar near the kitchen tonight, I saw that the window area appeared ready for use. Window use will add another person to the kitchen staff, though – probably raising the staffing level from 4 to 5 in a relatively small square footage.

    jpeac2 wrote:Couple key takeaways: most everything is very very affordable, the space is very very simple, and the food is very very good (for what it is). Played some old school country all night. The window was not open, but enjoyed watching the kitchen. Paul was in there working the griddle.


    The space is a bit too simple to be comfortable for me. I don’t think much money went into the décor or the building of the bar. It’s a sterile-feel sitting/standing there. Nothing but painted walls and exposed inexpensive porcelain incandescent bulbs fixtures (with the light level turned down very low). Whether the food is “very very good” remains to be seen over time. I’ll admit that I think it’s priced to sell to a crowd probably expected to be heavy-drinkers. Probably food items delivered better, better quality and better tasting than, say, another new “Lounge” featuring Mexican-themed food: Mercadito. No music was played when I was there – but it was still the “cocktail hour” period, I’m guessing – and music is probably not played then.

    jpeac2 wrote:2. Tried a couple of different drinks and all seemed to be pretty good. We stuck with whiskeys. 3. Pork belly tacos were amazing. These were the runaway favorite in our group.


    The drinks I had weren’t above my expectation level. They were average for a neighborhood bar. I think, too, that the panza taco was the stand-out amongst the three I sampled. The problem is that it’s too dark in the room to see what you’re eating and I don’t like that type of environment. Part of my eating enjoyment is appreciating the appearance of what I’m eating. I want to see it, feel it, toy with it a bit before enjoying/eating it.

    jpeac2 wrote:Overall, we felt the food was great and affordable enough that you could go in there and have a $1 schlitz, a couple tacos and be out for around $10.


    The sale of alcohol is what this bar is all about – food is secondary, but probably more highly considered/thought about than some other “lounges.” The pricing structure seems to be reasonable, particularly so for the Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood. There was no draught Schlitz tonight. How do you run-out of beer the third day you’re open? Maybe the demand for that beer was so strong it exceeded the purchase planning. Odd, though.

    uvasabri wrote:I went there today at about 4.30 and about 70% of the bar seats were already occupied. My observations: the crispy braised pork belly tacos were awesome; the salsas were all tasty but definitely lacking in heat (3 diff types); the space is somehow smaller than what I remember Pontiac used to be; it's obscenely affordable; very respectable selection of bourbons and tequilas (~30 different types of each).


    “Awesome” isn’t a description I’d apply to any one of the three tacos I had tonight. I did enjoy, particularly, the panza. The pastor was more difficult to figure-out. I wasn’t provided with any salsas, just the naked tacos (with whatever condiments I couldn’t identify because of the dark, which were added in the kitchen) and a couple of wedges of lime.

    uvasabri wrote:It is somewhat dimly lit in there (even at 4.30), and there is no bourbon or tequila list. One of the bartenders explained to me that it is forthcoming. In the meanwhile you're kind of relegated to squinting at the bottles that are on display.


    The darkness is a problem (for people concerned with what they’re eating), I agree. About the drink/tequila list: I was presented with a drink menu that listed all of the tequilas and probably the bourbons and other liquors. The list was very detailed and included prices. I couldn’t read the list, though (the darkness problem, once again). Bring a flashlight.

    Stephen wrote:My favorite was the Birria, served with a small cup of the consomme.


    As was mentioned by ReneG, after eating birria[i] at Zaragoza Restaurant – one will never look at other [i]birria’s in the same light again and other variations will probably be unfulfilling. I didn’t detect anything particularly special in the flavoring of the birria taco I had tonight, nor could I see what I was eating.

    kl1191 wrote:Stopped in around 5:30 last night. Was starting to fill up, but was able to snag a booth without a problem. Drinks were terrific for $7, as they should be with Violet Hour veteran Michael Rubel behind the stick. You don't get the pomp of VH, nor the extreme attention to detail, but at $7, it's a heck of a lot better than most.


    About the “detail”: I thought the bartenders on duty tonight paid close attention to the details. For opening week, these guys were unexpectedly comfortable as I observed them serve 50+ patrons. They’re not rookies (not like the ones I observed at Mercadito reading drink recipe books – lost in space).

    kl1191 wrote:It seemed (and has been observed above) that the kitchen was running behind on making the tortillas, so I will cut them some slack on not really warming/toasting them sufficiently. Still, the flavor and texture were the equal of some of the best I've had.


    The woman making the tortillas seemed to be keeping-up with demand tonight, from what I observed. My order arrived in front of me less than 10-minutes after I placed it. I was surprised with the quickness (Rick Bayless: You could learn something about simplicity). However, most patrons were probably concentrating more on drinking than eating, but orders were moving out of the kitchen with rapid succession. They were the thin variety of tortilla, which can easily be confused with commercially-produced varieties.

    kl1191 wrote:I had been dreaming of the al pastor tacos, and sadly they couldn't live up to my expectations. I'm probably in the minority in that I don't care for pineapple in my al pastor. I heard that they were basting the al pastor in pineapple rather than cooking pineapple on top of the meat (in order to preserve the texture).


    In Mexico, this variety of taco has only one or two slivers of pineapple – cut from the top of the spit where it crowns the meat. My taco had a crushed pineapple-like portion that was uncharacteristic of the traditionally-presented pastor. For whatever reasons, “excellent” pastor is difficult to find in Chicago and I don’t accept substandard tacos of any kind simply because they’re low-cost.

    kl1191 wrote:The meat itself was great, and the portion overflowed the tortilla . . .


    Yes, no Xoco skimpy portions here – “overflowing” is how I describe what I was served.

    kl1191 wrote:Just an FYI, that apparently Big Star is CASH ONLY. I hadn't seen that pointed out anywhere.


    Payment was by “cash only” tonight, as well. I’m assuming there’s a data processing glitch that’s being attended to and that the bar will soon be accepting credit/debit cards.

    Ref 3 wrote:"(Justin) Large is particularly jazzed about the L.A.-inspired al pastor taco, for which the kitchen has acquired a special trompo (the traditional spit on which the meat roasts): “What makes this spit great is that the actual spit itself is heated. It’s not like your traditional gyro cooker where it’s just flames on the outside charring this giant hunk of raw meat. The spit will be on display – we’re going to do it old-school style and carve the meat right off the spit onto the taco.” The other fancy kitchen object will be the wood-fired grill, on which Large is particularly psyched to make a wood-grilled fish taco. “I love a good fried fish taco, when done well it’s outstanding, but the wood-fired grill is like magic. The flavor and what it imparts to the fish is amazing.”


    At first I didn’t think the pastor was being cooked on a spit, nor being cut from a trompo. I mentioned my suspicion to the young couple seated next to me and they quickly corrected me by saying there was a spit, a trompo, etc. I walked over to the pass between the kitchen/bar and, there, tucked into a corner of the kitchen was the spit, and on it a trompo of sorts with the meat cooking. The meat was not of the same consistency/composition of a trompo in Mexico but it is being used and that’s important to know (for people who know about pastor and enjoy it). A friendly and suited man (management/ownership?) standing at the pass told me the bar is preparing one trompo daily (these first three days) and that when it’s gone (at about 8 p.m. the first two days), it’s gone for the day. A second trompo will probably soon be prepared to meet the demand.

    JeffB wrote:LA-inspired pastor taco?

    OK, I understand this place is pretty darn good and I'm likely to dig it. But I continue to be perplexed by white-toque chefs' recent propensity to maintain (or at least suggest) that by opening taco stands they are bringing something new to flyover country. As I understood it, al pastor tacos are an early 20th century invention that emerged from the Lebanese-Mexican community of Puebla, Mexico (see also tacos Arabes). Of course, Chicago has a very large population of folks with Pueblan roots and we have Cemitas Puebla cranking out fine examples of obscure but delicious Pueblan street foods.


    What constitutes pastor is well-defined. It either is, or isn’t. It’s becoming fashionable for some restaurants to exaggerate their fare – Xoco and Mercadito, to name just two. They should be “called” on the liberties they’re taking. I’d be similarly offended if Big Star continues to refer to it’s pastor as if what is offered in L.A. is somehow different than the pastor as understood in the Mexican community as a whole.

    Rene G wrote:Anyway, on to the food. Big Star's tacos al pastor feature nicely crisped bits of pork on handmade tortillas for a very-fair-for-the-neighborhood price of $2. What's not to like? Well, I didn't at all care for the pervasive strong pineapple flavor in every bite. Often you'll find the trompo crowned with a pineapple, slices of which can be added to the taco according to customer preference. I much prefer the contrast of flavors and textures that comes with this approach. That being said, you can do much, much worse in this town.


    Good bar food, definitely.

    Rene G wrote:Tacos de chivo ($2), shredded goat with onion, cilantro and radish, come with a little cup of comsomé for dipping or drinking. The meat didn't have much in the way of appealing texture (mushy) or flavor (bland) and the comsomé added little beside salt. By far my least favorite of the three tacos. The birria from Zaragoza is in a different universe.


    My reactions to that taco were similar to yours.

    Rene G wrote:Paul Kahan has a real affinity for pork belly and has long been famous for his brilliant preparations of this luscious meat. The tacos de panza ($3) are as good as expected, easily the best thing I tasted at Big Star. Whether it's precisely a traditional preparation I couldn't care less; these tacos are incredibly tasty.


    The panza was an unexpected surprise for me – the best-tasting taco (meat) I had tonight.

    kl1191 wrote:Kahan repeatedly twittered and was quoted in articles leading up to the opening that he was doing research on the LA taco scene, specifically with reference to a particular cart/stand's al pastor...I assume that's where the line in the article came from.


    He should have done his research in Mexico. 1. In Mexico City. 2. In Puebla. I’m not impressed with the “research” indications, but I wish the bar/restaurant success.
  • Post #27 - November 12th, 2009, 8:07 am
    Post #27 - November 12th, 2009, 8:07 am Post #27 - November 12th, 2009, 8:07 am
    Bill,
    Thanks for taking the time to post, enjoyed all the info and your insights.
    Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?...........Louis Armstrong
  • Post #28 - November 12th, 2009, 7:11 pm
    Post #28 - November 12th, 2009, 7:11 pm Post #28 - November 12th, 2009, 7:11 pm
    I made it to Big Star for an early dinner last night, and had a pretty positive experience. I tried one of each taco, the wood-grilled bass tostada, and a limeade. The pastor + birria tacos ($2 each) were both fine.. the pastor was way too heavy on the pineapple, personally, but the birria was pleasantly gamey and juicy. Pork belly tacos ($3) were very good, but the real standout was the fish tostada ($3), which was superb.

    The limeade ($2) was sweet and sour and fresh and served over perfect kold-draft ice, which was a nice touch. The handmade tortillas were fine enough, but my gold standards are casa de samuel and sol de mexico, and they weren't quite at that level (or of that style.. these were much denser and a bit smaller).

    One thing of note: all prices include tax, so a $2 taco is really a $2 taco, so the prices really are dirt cheap.

    Also: an impressive selection of sodas, including most of the AJ Stephans flavors ($3), Mexican Coke/Fresca/Sprite ($2), and three flavors of jarritos.

    I absolutely can't wait until they open for lunch and start offering carryout. I'll probably still drive over to Las Asadas and Tierra Caliente from time to time, but it'll be in heavy rotation for me.

    It's a very, very challenging place to take photos after the sun goes down -- extremely dim and yellow lighting, but here are a few pics anyway:

    taco al pastor @ big star
    Image
    birria and pork belly tacos @ big star
    Image
    wood-grilled fish tostada @ big star
    Image
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #29 - November 12th, 2009, 9:47 pm
    Post #29 - November 12th, 2009, 9:47 pm Post #29 - November 12th, 2009, 9:47 pm
    I went tonight and I had a great time, given that it's Day 4 of a really hotly anticipated opening week. I agree with everyone on the tacos- the al pastor and the pork belly were delicious and really, well, cheap. I also really liked the rajas de poblano - nicely creamy, not suffocatingly so, and delicately spicy. I also loved the convivial conversation at the bar - my friend and I had good exchanges about the food with at least three of our seatmates throughout the night. They looked like they really came for the food, instead of for the "hipster" Wicker Park cocktail scene.
  • Post #30 - November 15th, 2009, 8:38 pm
    Post #30 - November 15th, 2009, 8:38 pm Post #30 - November 15th, 2009, 8:38 pm
    LTH,

    Hit Big Star after the Mixology finals at the Landmark and the joint was jumping with a lively crowd. 10-minute wait for three of us to snag one seat at the bar, part of which was spent chatting with Germuska and friends seated at a spacious booth, table groaning with what appeared to be multiples of every menu item. Joe's smiling salsa smeared face, and enthusiastic recommendations, spoke of good things to come. Seat went to my bride who, with scant consultation, ordered the first round, which is how we ened up with Tostada de Pollo in the mix, not my typical taqueria repertoire.

    Surprise, surprise, as Gomer of Mayberry is wont to say, crispy edged aggressively seasoned thigh meat piled atop a crispy tostada a bed of rich refried black beans, lightly dressed with poblano cream, radish, red onion and a sprinkling of cilantro. With the exception of Taqueria El Milagro, which serves a whole slow simmered bone-in leg on two tortillas, the best chicken taco or tostada in my experience. I should let my wife order for me more often.

    Comparisons have been made between Big Star's chivo and Zaragoza, which I feel is apples and oranges as little in the culinary relm will stack up to Zaragoza's amazing birria tatemada. On its own, or in comparison to local taqueria goat tacos, Big Star fares well. Tender flavorful kid flesh nicely accented with roasted scallion and thin sliced crunchy radish.

    Pork belly a stand out, luscious belly with tomato guajillo sauce on fresh corn tortilla, a beautiful combination. I liked queso fundido chorizo lending a tasty red tinged oil slick though for $7, the most expensive item on the menu, I would suggest serving with more than 3 small tortillas. Chunky guacamole was a hit, serrano pepper, as opposed to the usual jalapeno, offering a slight edge, sharpness, complementary counterpoint to creamy avocado. $4, a generous serving of fresh from the fryer tortilla chips offset the fundidos paucity of tortillas.

    Big Star was out of al pastor, though I understand they will soon ramp up the number of wheels per day, and we did not try the fish tacos, which have received praise up thread, an oversight on our part. Service was knowledgeable and efficient, prices hyper reasonable, in particular for the neighborhood.

    While Blackbird and Avec are long time favorites, I've not been a fan of the Publican. Fourth in the lineup, Big Star's assertive flavors, reasonable food and drink prices and lively atmosphere have the Blackbird group batting .750.

    Tip of the hat to Donnie Madia a partner in Big Star, as well as numerous successful ventures, he is a hands-on man who I've seen run out in the snow and flag down a passing Randolf St. cab for Blackbird customers, simultaneously bus a table and charm dining guests and on Wednesday at Big Star bust his hump as a Big Star server, the man was a blur. A polite efficient blur, but a blur nonetheless.

    Big Star Taqueria Bar, count me a fan.

    Enjoy,
    Gary

    Big Star
    1531 N. Damen Ave
    Chicago, IL
    773-252-7767

    Taqueria El Milagro
    1923 S Blue Island Ave
    Chicago, IL 60608
    312-433-7620
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow

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