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Hungry Magazine - All Things Tasty
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10.02.08

Think Outside the Bell

Restaurant Reviews


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tamal

Before we talk about the new Printers Row taco joint, Flaco’s, let’s start with a brush-up Spanish lesson. “Guey, tienes guacamole en la barba,” translates to “dude, there’s guacamole on your chin.”, the utterance of which is a greatly appreciated act of common courtesy. Then there’s “tu vas a acabar ese burrito? Si? Oye Mira, alli esta Angelina Jolie!” This, of course means “are you going to finish that burrito? You are? Hey look, there’s Angelina Jolie!” This phrase will aid as a handy distraction while you swipe the burrito remnants off your companion’s plate. Finally, be sure and study the phrase “es legal comer un taco, si estoy usando leiderhosen?” Because you never know when you might have to ask “is it legal to eat a taco if I’m wearing leiderhosen?”

At least that’s what the folks at Flaco’s think, as these three phrases make up the Spanish engravings along the back of the paper menu at Printer’s Row new-kid-on-the-block Flaco’s Tacos. One things for sure, quick-service Mexican has finally surpassed the irksome “yo quiero Taco Bell,” stage. Though in sharing such useful (useless?) phrases, the one thing Flaco’s owners (also the dudes behind Hackney’s next door) Jim and Ed Hebson failed to divulge, however, is the meaning of the restaurant’s name. Who was this Senor Flaco, I wondered, and what has he done to merit a quick-service restaurant such as this? After a terse reprimand for mispronouncing the name (the “a” is soft, duh!), I was informed that the name is nothing more than a Spanish slang term for “slim.”

Despite this minor confusion, almost everything else about this spick-and-span walk-in closet of a Mexican dining room left me impressed. Every square-inch, from the palatial hardwood front door to the furniture fashioned out of recycled car parts and polished household knick knacks, shimmers in obsessive neatness. The walls are bedecked with antique-looking wooden doors, plastered every which way. You can thank the owners’ sister-in-law for the design concept, who, according to them, solicited old doors from friends and family to create a cozy cottage atmosphere. The cleanliness of the room is so meticulous, the ten-second rule, established upon dropping one’s food on the floor, is rendered entirely unnecessary. In fact, I would venture to say that this place is glossier than the abode of a neat-freak health inspector.

This being said, whereas one might question the sanitariness of a ground beef and potato picadillo burrito at your average fast food taco joint, here there’s no question of the quality of the “meat n’ potato” feast, wrapped in flour tortilla here. Ed Hebson says, “We’ve all seen those Greek diner menus; page after page of everything imaginable. You know that they aren’t prepping all that stuff fresh every day,” Ed says, going on to take digs at the competition, “Chipotle isn’t bringing in fresh chicken daily, or skirt steak.” This “fresh factor” is what sets Flaco’s apart from the Chipotles and the Qdobas of the world. And if you have any questions about the good eats to come, the giant round of juicy pork al pastor meat glistening as it spins on vertical rotisserie on the counter should put you at ease.

The tacos are the stars of this fiesta. For something a tad Southern California, get the tacos de pescado, succulent fish tacos made from grilled and chopped halibut. A squeeze of lime rounds out the pile of flame-cooked fish, sour cream, and crisp vegetables. The same praise can not be allotted for the pollo taco. The too-generous serving of diced chicken would have been forgivable had the chicken not been burnt and chewy, with almost no accompaniments to ease the flavor. A nice choice for balancing out the meat-heavy options, taco and otherwise (pork and skirt steak proudly dominate the menu), is the vegetariano. The heaviest and most overstuffed of the tacos, I appreciated, with giddy surprise, the ample inclusion of poblano chilies, kick starting each bite with an ashy and freshly-flamed spice. On each taco, there comes a tender and barely-detectable dribble of some kind or another of flavoring- think guacamole, sour cream, and barely-melted cheese. Don’t forget to utilize and dabble in the two sauces served with every order. The kitchen hands out so much tomatillo and red-chili salsa, you’d think they’ve got a quota to shrink.

Now, the same ingredients that comprise the signature taco lineup can be found stuffed inside burritos and squashed between Mexican bread in a torta. Unlike just about every other anonymous Mexi-joint around town, the burritos here are not gut-achingly huge. Unless I’m ambling in on a late-night drunken stupor, I really don’t care if the burritos are as big as my head! Flaco’s manages to serve sensibly-sized flour tortillas with a befitting amount of filling ingredients. The tortas, on the other hand, are lacking in their portions. When my partner ordered a grilled skirt steak arrachera, it was an unsatisfying let down. Although the quality of the steak was successfully reminiscent of a memorable summer cookout, nicely seasoned and tender, it was masked by a laughably large mound of shredded lettuce. I could have sworn we asked for a steak sandwich, not a lettuce sandwich with a side of steak.

Finally, the menu is rounded out by a couple quesadillas and tamales. The small poblano and Chihuahua cheese quesadilla, sliced into four almost bite-size triangles, makes for a nice appetizer or side dish alongside the main event. It’s also nice to see some authentic tamales, presented bitingly hot with either a tangy, spicy Puerco, or a mild and cheesy vegetarian. Seeing as the place screams freshness, it’s no surprise that just-fried chips make up half the side dishes; served in baskets with salsa, guacamole, or melted into a nacho mess.

If you need a little something to wash down all the poblano, pescado, and arrachera, your best bet is an ice cold horchata. Poured into massive Styrofoam cups, it’s a sweetly smooth rice water drink, reminiscent of drinkable rice pudding, with a whole cinnamon stick or two drowning in the bottom. The couple of rice drinks my friend and I ordered with lunch earned praise for their balanced body of sugar and spice. We then subsequently sucked the drinks down before actually being served.

Although the Hebsons are content with their current Printer’s Row digs, and currently have no aims for expansion, the idea should not be forgotten. “College students thrive on our business,” Ed says, “and our hope for if we were ever to expand would be to build ourselves up in college areas.” After all, with their fresh, simple, and super-tasty menu of authentic south-of-the-border munchies, not to mention their late-night hours aimed squarely at the drinking masses, it’s no surprise the younger crowds will be flocking to Flaco’s like moths to fluorescent light. Hyde Park and Lincoln Park, homes to a bulk of the city’s collegiate populace, be on the lookout for a Flaco’s near you.

While there were a few missteps, the cleaner-than-thou interior evocative of Grandma’s antique home, and the scant-yet-authentic menu serving comparatively to the regional tastes of Pilsen and Little Village, make this a great quick-service taco joint. Flaco’s Tacos might just have the legs to become a neighborhood tradition like its older sibling Hackney’s. One thing’s for sure, Flaco’s surpasses the other fast food competition by leaps and bounds. “Yo quiero Taco Bell?” I think not.

Flaco’s Tacos
725 S. Dearborn
(312)922-8226
FlacosTacosOnline.com

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