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Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010

Mexican Street Food at Milwaukee’s Taquerias

South Side street vendors offer authentic fare

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Nowadays, “taqueria” often refers to restaurants that serve authentic Mexican cuisine, but the term originally applied to street vendors. In Milwaukee, Taqueria trucks parked throughout the South Side are continuing that tradition by serving Mexican food on the go. Tacos, burritos, tostadas, tortas and quesadillas are all affordably priced because of the low overhead of street vending. The menus may offer many of the same options, but regional differences of preparation and spicing are apparent at each taqueria.

Corn tortillas are used for tacos, which are most commonly ordered in quantities of two or three, while flour tortillas are reserved for burritos (school-lunch taco shells never even enter the picture). Menus are posted next to the order window, although they may not always be current. If meat options are not listed, chicken, tripe, asada, al pastor and lengua (beef tongue) will likely be your choices, though it’s best just to ask. Be sure to speak loudly, however, as the passing cars and humming generator may drown out your inquiry.

Cielito Lindo Taqueria is parked directly next to Pete’s Fruit Marketon 17th Street and Greenfield Avenue. Cielito Lindo tacos are topped with chopped white onions, cilantro, shredded lettuce and tomato slices ($1.50). Orders are wrapped in foil and accompanied by lime wedges and a few small cups of salsa. In addition to choosing from asada, lengua, chicken, al pastor and tripe, barbacoa (slowly cooked goat meat or cow cheeks) is also on the menu. Cielito Lindo also has two restaurant locations on the South Side.

Taqueria Damiani on Ninth Street and Lincoln Avenue is another great taco spot. Tender and flavorful meats are covered with onions, cilantro, melted queso fresco and crema Mexicana ($1.50). Tostadas are made with the addition of pinto beans, shredded lettuce and a crispy corn tortilla. Two different salsas are offered—a thick red chili salsa and a tasty green chili variety. Depending on your tolerance for spiciness, the “a little bit goes a long way” philosophy could be applied to the green chili salsa.

At El Cabrito (20th Street and Mitchell Street; and Greenfield Avenue between 29th and 39th streets), the tostadas can only be described as hearty. Mounds of meat are piled on a thick layer of pinto beans and topped with shredded lettuce and avocado slices ($3.25). And at “The Little Goat” (English for “El Cabrito”), you can order goat, along with the usual selection of meats. Each order comes with salsa and a small baggie of spicy pickled carrots, cauliflower and jalapeños. If the jalapeños have your nose running and your tongue burning, El Cabrito serves horchata, a sweet Mexican drink made with rice milk and flavored with lime and cinnamon. The drink, served over ice, is considered by some to be a hangover cure.

An icy beverage like horchata is not as desirable when the weather is cold enough to freeze your car door shut, but a good sandwich is always appreciated. A tortais a Mexican sandwich served on a bolillo (a soft white roll).

At Freddy’s (13th & Burnham), tortas are packed with lightly seasoned asada, chicken, lengua or tripe ($3.25). Shredded lettuce, queso fresco, avocado and tomato fill out the messy sandwich and a simple salsa of cilantro, onions and chilies is provided. Primos Tacos, parked on 40th Street and Lincoln Avenue, replaces the bolillo with two fried corn tortillas and adds a layer of pinto beans ($4.50).

A good burrito can be found at Taqueria Zacatecas (Greenfield Avenue between 35th and 36thstreets). The al pastor is marinated and cooked slowly, allowing the annatto, cumin and coriander to seep into the pork, which is then wrapped in a thick, homemade flour tortilla ($3). Taqueria Zacatecas also serves “gringas”—tacos al pastor served in flour tortillas instead of corn, which, gringa to gringa, is funny because it’s true.

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