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Carniceria Leon's Chicharrón - Al Pastor

Carniceria Leon's Chicharrón - Al Pastor
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  • Carniceria Leon's Chicharrón - Al Pastor

    Post #1 - May 6th, 2006, 8:51 am
    Post #1 - May 6th, 2006, 8:51 am Post #1 - May 6th, 2006, 8:51 am
    LTH,

    It seems to be my week for JeffB suggestions, Thursday I had the cherry bar from D'Amato's and Friday I stopped at Carniceria Leon on Ashland.

    Carniceria Leon is an old style Mexican grocery, slightly crowded aisles packed with everything from Borax to Frosted Flakes, nice looking fresh meats, and see-through warming boxes for carnitas which, as I walked in, they were filling with freshly made chicharrón from a grease stained cardboard box, not just skin, but with attached chunks of juicy, crispy, fatty meat. When I got close, drawn like a moth to a flame, I realized the chicharrón were still hot from the fryer, capable of simultaneously warming and stopping my heart.

    Chicharrón resting comfortably at my side, I had a couple of near perfect tacos al pastor at Carniceria Leon's in-house taqueria. The Al Pastor cone was, obviously, housemade, so wide and chubby they needed an extension bracket to keep it off the flame. Speaking of flame, from my vantage point at the counter, I could actually hear the meat sputtering with a clear view of multiple layers of crisp, charred points of al pastor pork.

    I did, however, manage to resist the 3-lb container of silky looking, made in house, fresh piggy lard. Though I had to leave before thoughts of double fried french fries and farm fresh eggs slowly poached in lard overtook.

    Thanks for mentioning Carniceria Leon Jeff, you owe me a new heart valve. :)

    Enjoy,
    Gary

    Carniceria Leon
    1402 N Ashland Ave
    Chicago, IL 60622
    773-772-9804

    Carniceria Leon II
    4301 W Armitage Ave
    Chicago, IL 60639
    773-276-9935
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #2 - May 6th, 2006, 11:13 am
    Post #2 - May 6th, 2006, 11:13 am Post #2 - May 6th, 2006, 11:13 am
    A post from Gary without any pics just seems so wrong.
  • Post #3 - May 6th, 2006, 12:41 pm
    Post #3 - May 6th, 2006, 12:41 pm Post #3 - May 6th, 2006, 12:41 pm
    I'm really happy Carniceria Leon is around, and I wish there were more al pastor spits around town, however I have a few gripes:
    (1) their spit does not have enough onions mixed in with the pork,
    (2) their cutting is very irregular: sometimes they make thin cuts, of just the carmelized pork portion, while other times it's too thick, and you get more greasy, non-crispy portions, and
    (3) sometimes, often when they are busy, they will not wait until the pork is sufficiently browned and crispy on the outside before cutting it, and you end up with warm, marinated pork, without the carmelization or crsipiness.

    I've been more successful when it's not crowded, and I try to custom order a well done portion by asking for a taco al pastor "bien hecho" (well done). This worked one time, and was ignored another time. I'm not trying to be too critical of them, I realize they're not set up for custom orders, and I feel lucky to get one at all, but it would be nice if they could be more attentive to the quality of each taco rather than push 'em out like an assembly line.

    Sitting at the counter and watching that spit turn and brown the pork is a thing of beauty.
    there's food, and then there's food
  • Post #4 - May 8th, 2006, 9:02 am
    Post #4 - May 8th, 2006, 9:02 am Post #4 - May 8th, 2006, 9:02 am
    Rich, I have not had the problems you describe, but the guy in charge of the al Pastor spit seems like one tough dude. He does go his own way. In terms of the spicing, the marinade and the meat to onion ratio, I think he's a genius. But few dishes vary as much as al pastor, and reasonable people can disagree about the details.

    (Which reminds me, anyone ever try the "tan tan" noodles at Matsuya? Is the Japanese version of dan dan mien at all like the original dish? How so/not? Anyone know why this particular noodle dish has made its way around East Asia so completely?)

    With tacos al pastor, as with most such foods, I'm opportunistic. If the cone isn't nicely caramelized yet (or, on the opposite end of the spectrum if it is looking old) I take as pass. I've had my best luck either before the lunch "rush" (11:30ish) or early afternoon.

    Gary, not sure if you noticed the chorizos. C. Leon lets several lengths of their house-made sausages air-dry above the meat counter. The carnicero the other day told me that the stuff hanging is the same as the stuff in the refrigerator case. (I.e., not smoked or otherwise cooked.) I'm not sure I'm ready to take a chance on it, yet. The refrigerated sausage is my go-to Mexican chorizo. C. Leon also, for whatever reason, has consistently perfect cilantro, which is kept root-down in water. Not always true.
  • Post #5 - May 18th, 2006, 6:20 am
    Post #5 - May 18th, 2006, 6:20 am Post #5 - May 18th, 2006, 6:20 am
    JeffB wrote:Gary, not sure if you noticed the chorizos. C. Leon lets several lengths of their house-made sausages air-dry above the meat counter. The carnicero the other day told me that the stuff hanging is the same as the stuff in the refrigerator case. (I.e., not smoked or otherwise cooked.) I'm not sure I'm ready to take a chance on it, yet.

    Jeff,

    I did notice the hanging chorizo and, frankly, I'm not quite up to being first to try. I've also noticed the same, what I'm assuming is fresh chorizo air drying, at Carnitas Don Pedro. I'm guessing it's not uncommon.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #6 - May 21st, 2006, 6:13 pm
    Post #6 - May 21st, 2006, 6:13 pm Post #6 - May 21st, 2006, 6:13 pm
    LTH,

    Went to Carniceria Leon for lunch earlier in the week and learned a valuable taqueria lesson, al pastor is best when traffic is slow, carne asada when they are getting slammed, at least as it applies to Carniceria Leon.

    Carniceria Leon (12:30 pm)
    Image

    First visit was just after 11am, al pastor cone scarred with deep rich marks of beautiful caramelization, carne asada, dipped out of a smallish steel warming tub, mildly uninteresting.

    Fast forward to 12:30pm and three deep at the order counter, the reverse is true, al pastor being rapidly cut from the cone, great flavor, but missing the wonderfully interesting crisp, charred textural elements that bring al pastor to life. On the other hand, layers of steak are pilled up high on the grill, flames shooting in the air, fat in the fire flavors, crisp edges and all the goodness fire, smoke and caramelization bring.

    Carniceria Leon Carne Asada (12:30pm)
    Image

    We also had Mexican coke, from the cooler in the grocery, and really nice chile rellenos. The batter was the noticeably eggy variety, of which I prefer.

    Carniceria Leon Chile Relleno
    Image

    My suggestion, in the mood for al pastor, go at a slightly off hour, in the mood for carne asada, lunch rush is for you.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #7 - June 3rd, 2006, 4:30 pm
    Post #7 - June 3rd, 2006, 4:30 pm Post #7 - June 3rd, 2006, 4:30 pm
    stopped by this place during lunch today and it was pretty busy with people. they were all ordering al pastor and carne asada. i went ahead and order my carne asada tacos and munched on that for a bit till the lunch crowd died down. I saw the al pastor was getting crisp on the outside and order one of those and told him I wanted the charred stuff. he listened and I was in heaven with both the al pastor and carne asada. i was sketchy going inside, but once i saw all the customers lined up to order food, i knew i was in the right place. Good find in my book!!!
  • Post #8 - June 3rd, 2006, 6:37 pm
    Post #8 - June 3rd, 2006, 6:37 pm Post #8 - June 3rd, 2006, 6:37 pm
    When I lived catty-corner cross Ashland I popped into Carniceria Leon all the time. That's a period of 6 or so years. Sometimes the carne asada flare-ups perfumed the entire intersection with charred-beef goodness. As I've opined in the past when they're on their game the carne asada's great...otherwise it's fat and gristle all the way. Unfortunately, they suffered from wild mood swings in the taco dept. On previous threads I've consistently championed their al pastor and salsa verde. Good to see them getting some love instead of...urgh...La Pasadita. I sure miss those tacos(seeing as how I don't get over to WP as much since the conversion).
    Being gauche rocks, stun the bourgeoisie
  • Post #9 - June 18th, 2006, 2:39 pm
    Post #9 - June 18th, 2006, 2:39 pm Post #9 - June 18th, 2006, 2:39 pm
    I stopped by Leon today at about 2PM.

    Had a great pastor gordita, containing some tomatoes, lettuce, and a very generous portion of their pastor. 3/4 of the meat on the spit was already sliced away. I got slices from the bottom of the spit, which had benefited from the drippings of all the other pieces that came before it. The edges were charred and bubbling on the spit and delicious in my mouth.

    I also enjoyed a salted-up char-grilled jalapeno, which had just come off the grill and was sitting in a tray for general consumption among the patrons.

    It was a delicious and dirt cheap lunch. I also got to see them putting together a new pastor spit. I will surely be back when I want an al pastor fix and don't feel like going too far.
  • Post #10 - June 19th, 2006, 7:54 am
    Post #10 - June 19th, 2006, 7:54 am Post #10 - June 19th, 2006, 7:54 am
    Some of the best al pastor I've tried
    has had some pineapple layered between
    the meat; giving great little bits of
    carmelized surprises in addition to
    the meat and onions. Has anyone
    come across such al pastor with pineapple
    around town?
  • Post #11 - June 19th, 2006, 8:06 am
    Post #11 - June 19th, 2006, 8:06 am Post #11 - June 19th, 2006, 8:06 am
    SCUBAchef wrote:Some of the best al pastor I've tried
    has had some pineapple layered between
    the meat; giving great little bits of
    carmelized surprises in addition to
    the meat and onions. Has anyone
    come across such al pastor with pineapple
    around town?


    There are quite a few pastor cones around Chicago with pineapple, but more often than not, the pineapple is found on top of the spit, dripping juices as it cooks. A couple of threads that outline tacos al pastor in Chicago are:

    Tacos Al Pastor

    The Lawrence/Montrose Taqueria Project: Ongoing index of links to taqueria reviews.

    The 47th-a-thon

    and others....

    Best,
    Michael
  • Post #12 - July 22nd, 2007, 9:07 am
    Post #12 - July 22nd, 2007, 9:07 am Post #12 - July 22nd, 2007, 9:07 am
    LTH,

    11am Saturday Carniceria Leon's Al Pastor wheel was plump, juicy, crisp, glistening.

    Carniceria Leon (7.21.07)
    Image
    Image

    Gratis platters of still warm lightly salted jalapenos graced the small counter.

    Fresh grilled Jalapenos
    Image

    My lunch mate wanted to pick up a few bottles of Goya Mojo Criollo, which Carniceria Leon does not stock, so we walked a scant half block North to Carnicerias Guanajuanto.

    Anyone loose a pair of shoes? (mid 1400 block of N Ashland)
    Image

    It's been mentioned that Carniceria Leon has a somewhat unprepossessing facade. True, but if you allow that to deter you will miss some of the best, if not the best, Al Pastor and Carne Asada tacos in the city of Chicago.

    Carniceria Leon
    Image

    Enjoy,
    Gary

    Carniceria Leon
    1402 N Ashland Ave
    Chicago, IL 60622
    773-772-9804

    Carnicerias Guanajuato
    1436 N Ashland
    Chicago, IL
    773-7725266
    Last edited by G Wiv on July 22nd, 2007, 10:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #13 - July 22nd, 2007, 10:32 am
    Post #13 - July 22nd, 2007, 10:32 am Post #13 - July 22nd, 2007, 10:32 am
    I cannot, for the life of me, understand how you looked at that spit and didn't order at least one taco.
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #14 - July 22nd, 2007, 10:40 am
    Post #14 - July 22nd, 2007, 10:40 am Post #14 - July 22nd, 2007, 10:40 am
    gleam wrote:I cannot, for the life of me, understand how you looked at that spit and didn't order at least one taco.

    Ed,

    One? I had three. Two al pastor, couple of charred jalapenos and a Mexican coke. Was so damn good I had one more al pastor and a charred jalapeno.

    As the taco pics were just so-so I only posted the Al Pastor wheel.

    Carniceria Leon (7.21.07)
    Image

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #15 - July 22nd, 2007, 11:08 am
    Post #15 - July 22nd, 2007, 11:08 am Post #15 - July 22nd, 2007, 11:08 am
    Oh, thank god. I thought the universe was going to implode.

    Mmmmmm leon's pastor. Pork crack.
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #16 - July 22nd, 2007, 3:23 pm
    Post #16 - July 22nd, 2007, 3:23 pm Post #16 - July 22nd, 2007, 3:23 pm
    takes me back, thank you

    I lived for several years(as my earlier posts denote) in the two buildings exactly across and to the side(um...not the Stevie B's parking lot) of Carneceria Leon.

    ...can't get that al pastor goodness in Indianapolis...perhaps most anywhere...
    Being gauche rocks, stun the bourgeoisie
  • Post #17 - February 23rd, 2008, 10:00 pm
    Post #17 - February 23rd, 2008, 10:00 pm Post #17 - February 23rd, 2008, 10:00 pm
    Monica Eng let the proverbial cat out this past week (http://leisureblogs.chicagotribune.com/thestew/2008/02/tasting-tacos-o.html), reminding me I needed to get back to CL ASAP. Gary's time-sensitive theory appeared to be correct at 1:30PM on a Thursday: with the end of the rush, the al pastor was getting the least TLC in the place, and the carne asada tacos were ON. Just awesome.

    That being said, I just moved back Chicago in the past month, and though I got the last al pastor taco of the cone, it was still the greatest thing I've experienced since getting back here. Unbelievably good. Is there any taqueria with pastor at this level? The guy next to me wolfed--and I really wasn't sure if he breathed between any of them--six tacos, and I had to restrain myself from doing the same.
  • Post #18 - February 23rd, 2008, 11:09 pm
    Post #18 - February 23rd, 2008, 11:09 pm Post #18 - February 23rd, 2008, 11:09 pm
    It's like scratching that unreachable itch; rehabbing "foodies" off their trendoid La Pasadita fixation. At least I had CL "all to myself" for several years. Open the foodie floodgates, Monica.
    Being gauche rocks, stun the bourgeoisie
  • Post #19 - February 24th, 2008, 8:58 am
    Post #19 - February 24th, 2008, 8:58 am Post #19 - February 24th, 2008, 8:58 am
    TL is a true "foodie" test. Not as daunting for the Trib readership as a trip to Uncle John's, but, I'll bet, far too rustic for most. Someone who's willing to read "Yelp!" let me know how this turns out.
  • Post #20 - February 24th, 2008, 3:59 pm
    Post #20 - February 24th, 2008, 3:59 pm Post #20 - February 24th, 2008, 3:59 pm
    Just a couple more observations via rustic :) li'l CL(...now what is it?...the s/o nearly had a seizure when we drove past it last month and he saw the name had changed...wherein I had the opportunity to drop a bit of LTH knowledge, yo)---

    When I lived across the street from CL I'd regularly walk up to get my fix at Dusty Groove, bypassing La Pasadita's 3, amazed at what gringos were missing right under their noses(CL). I mean...it's just a jaunt down the street. If one could(back in the day) hustle past the homeless, the Polish vinyl-wrapped ceramic black panther furniture stores, and discount trainer outlets on Milwaukee...surely, one could detour off to CL instead of LP.

    I've just never seen the "sketchy" in CL. I remember first exploring that cramped, tiny market to check out their (good) produce selection...in fact it was quite awhile before I branched out to Supermercado Guanajuato nearly next door. Once, inside(omg...the only white guy) I was ensorcelled by incantations of meats grilled upon the dais; benedictions of bottled lime juice, smoke rings read from beneath foil tents, and those innocuous plastic tubs of psychoactive, sacramental salsa verde.

    yum-o

    I was in there all the time. Had my favorite workers; where I knew so n so's would make me a great taco or give me the best stuff and this other guy would just throw some shit on a tortilla, sqwunch it up in leaky aluminum, and grunt..."here."

    And, the longhaired (matriarch?) of the market manning the cash register upfront...she was always friendly...always seemed happy to see me.

    My only complaint(if complaint it is) was that if you hit them at peak time you'd get stuck behind milling workers buying tacos and tortas in bulk...ay yi yi..."I just want...dos tacos, por favor!"

    ---

    My point is...I never found it threatening...maybe because I lived in that part of the neighborhood. I knew first hand there was nothing to be afraid of.

    I also miss the (long gone)supermercado pretty much across the street from CL...just before the laundry(that laundry is squirrely...thankfully we had laundry in our first building...then in our unit when we moved next door)

    When I first visited, that was the supermercado where you'd go for your selection of tequilas and/or half-pints. They had a long since shuttered taqueria of their own. It was in half of the store that became overstock. Run by Puerto Ricans(this jovial, mustachioed guy and his -daughter?-) they carried locally-made tubs of mole's, chicharron, canned goods all kinds. And, an okay produce section. Also...pulque!

    Again, you'd have to know it was there unless you lived in the neighborhood.

    So, many neat places and culinary adventures and sweet people. I bristle when I hear them described as "grubby."
    Being gauche rocks, stun the bourgeoisie
  • Post #21 - April 1st, 2008, 10:38 am
    Post #21 - April 1st, 2008, 10:38 am Post #21 - April 1st, 2008, 10:38 am
    Has anyone tried Carniceria Leon II (on Armitage)? Is it as good as the original on Ashland?
    "My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people."

    -Orson Welles-
  • Post #22 - April 3rd, 2008, 9:34 pm
    Post #22 - April 3rd, 2008, 9:34 pm Post #22 - April 3rd, 2008, 9:34 pm
    chezbrad wrote:That being said, I just moved back Chicago in the past month, and though I got the last al pastor taco of the cone, it was still the greatest thing I've experienced since getting back here. Unbelievably good. Is there any taqueria with pastor at this level? The guy next to me wolfed--and I really wasn't sure if he breathed between any of them--six tacos, and I had to restrain myself from doing the same.


    A few years back, while visiting in-laws in Mexico City, we stopped at a reputable local al pastor place. While dining on the delectable goodies available, my mother in law told me of a neighbor, who while in labor with her fifth child, stopped at the very place we were in to get 30 tacos al pastor to bring with her to the hospital for her and the accompanying family to help them all through the labor. I have always thought that to be a really real Mexican story. Six tacos by some standards is nothing.
    trpt2345

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