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THE BEST SPOTS FOR DELICIOUSLY HEALTHY TACOS IN CHICAGO

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NICOLE BRIESE

APR 15, 2019

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IMAGE VIA TALLBOY TACO | FACEBOOK

There are plenty of words that come to mind when one thinks of the word “taco”: “Delicious”is definitely one of them. “Filling”, another. But “healthy”? That probably isn’t the first adjective on your list. So what to do when you’re jonesing for the Mexican treat but not willing to derail your quest for wellness to do?

Not to fret. You don’t have to skip out on Taco Tuesday (or Wednesday… or Thursday… ) just because you’re a conscientious eater — IF you know where to go, that is! Read on to be clued in on all the best spots for a tasty—and healthyish—taco in the Windy City.

Many picks at this May 2018 addition were created with health in mind, and for good reason: Owner and Chef Marci Berner set out to create feel-good takes on the Mexican dishes she grew up with after having her gall bladder removed due to high cholesterol. A quick peek at the menu ensures she managed to achieve her goal and fill a much-needed void in the Chicago market with concoctions like the fresh-water sourced tilapia Tata taco (complete with cabbage and chipotle aioli), plus vegan Beyond Meat offerings besides.

Plant-based foodies, rejoice! Quesadilla La Reina Del Sur has a vegetarian answer for nearly every item that you’re likely to find on, say, Taco Bell’s $1 menu. Exotic offerings like the Xochimilco (soy-based steak with onion, tomato, cactus, and mushroom), the Barbacoa (soy-based roasted lamb), and the Chicharron (soy-based pork skin) allow diners all the taste of their meat-filled originals without any of the animal-based guilt. Score!

Near North Side’s Velvet Taco claims to use their tortillas “as a canvas” to make their art, and we’d be inclined to agree — how else would we describe the vegetarian-based Nashville Tofu taco with house-made buttermilk ranch crema and house-brined pickle? Or better still, the falafel taco, comprised of all the exact fixings you might expect: Tahini? Check. Arugula? Check. Fresno, avocados, pea tendrils, tomatoes, onions, and lettuce wrap? Check, check, check.

Though the much-lauded Southwest Impossible Tacos that inhabited the menu at Tallboy for a limited time in January 2018 have already come and gone (*tear*), other savory, fit-forward choices are still up for grabs. But don’t take our word for it — head over to the River North locale operating out of Nacional 27 for a grilled shrimp and kale taco or a classic veggie taco filled with all yummy grilled “latin vegetables” you can handle to see for yourself!

Big Star has long been heralded as one of the city’s best taco joints—its original Wicker Park locale opened back in 2009—but the restaurant is still finding novel, healthy ways to welcome throngs of new fans (like opening its second Wrigleyville location in March 2018). Big Star supplemented its veggie-friendly menu options, like the Taco de Papas con Rajas, over the holiday season with vegan selections such as the Taco de Yuba Guisado —  a blend of yuba tofu skins (locally sourced from Phoenix Bean Tofu), guajillo salsa, white onion, and cilantro. Also on the light side, the autumn-appropriate Taco de Zanahorias, chock-full of mole spiced carrots, chipotle date yogurt, pumpkin and sesame seeds, almonds, and cilantro.

Fans of the Beyond Burger will no doubt delight in the veggie taco now available at Moonlighter in Wicker Park since it’s made with the same, soy-free, gluten-free, plant-based protein as the OG Beyond Meat beef. While the non-meat substance is admittedly deep-fried, the taco—modeled after the cult-favored finds at the original Jack in the Box (Topsy’s Drive-In)—is otherwise relatively light with iceberg lettuce, vegan American cheese, and yummy taco sauce as toppings.

Handlebar had us at hello — or rather, at the words “fried avocado taco.” Nestled in the heart of Wicker Park, this neighborhood watering hole takes the reigning millennial superfood, fries it up, and places it atop a flour tortilla along with brown rice, refried beans, cabbage, tomatoes, and salsa. What more could anyone ask for, really?

If you’re searching for a place to dine that’s every bit visually stunning in its décor as it is in the food department, look no further. It’s all about atmosphere here — a 1918 vintage skylight, works from local graffiti artists, and handcrafted maple benches all add to the ambiance you’re sure to experience as you nosh on the restaurant’s new Earthly Mushroom Tacos. You won’t be able to put down this vegan-ready spread of pea shoots, cremini, oyster mushrooms, and tomato caper relish, PLUS queso fresco. Fancy, schmancy!

The veggie taco offering at this River North hot spot gets an unexpected twist in the form of a hard-boiled egg. Still, it also manages to live up to its name with plenty of greens besides, including asparagus, green beans, and avocado sauce, plus crisped shallots for flavor. That means more room for after-dinner drinks at the speakeasy-like bar below, La Mez Agave Lounge. And maybe even dessert! Tres leches, anyone?

For seven years, Humboldt Park residents have been privy to Bullhead Cantina, where $3 nets you wondrous tacos like the Grits and Kale taco (the aforementioned ingredients plus white wine, garlic, and a tomato pineapple bourbon reduction) or the grilled sweet potato taco — a mass of pickled cabbage, grilled onion, tomato, and sour cream lime avocado sauce.  With prices like these, you can afford to try one of each — and maybe the spicy avocado option, too!

If you did a little happy dance at the arrival of this LA transplant, you’re not alone — West Coasters in the know were right there with you, celebrating as the food truck’s signature Pink Taco rolled into town and our collective hearts forever. It’s an incredible creation of achiote chicken, black beans, avocado, arbol salsa, cotija cheese, habanero pickled onions wrapped into a corn tortilla. No meat? No problem: try the veggie taco of mushrooms, caramelized onions, cotija cheese, and truffle aioli (mmm!) instead — you won’t be sorry.

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