I almost didn’t publish this post. Generally, I like to limit my blogs to the food spots where I’ve gushed and drooled. Given the consistently glowing buzz about Big Star during the last few years, I feel I must weight in…despite my disappointment. So, I’ll begin with the positive, cool stuff.
Big Star is a tacqueria located in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. It sits directly across the street from the Damen ‘L’ stop, along the CTA Blue Line. In addition to this super convenient location, the building itself used to be a a 1940’s gas station. Awesome! Who doesn’t love a bit of history with their meal?
The star logo that over looks this super popular spot is a tribute to a local Chicago artist and the many different working class immigrants who made up this neighborhood.
There is a bourbon and beer focused libations program, as well as a carefully selected mix of country and rock music which the staff plays for its customers. Both elements pay homage to the rough and wild honky tonks which popped up in California, after many depression-era folks living in the southern Plain states moved out west in search of work.
I arrived at Big Star for lunch at 1pm. As usual, the place was hoppin’! The door and windows were thrown open, revealing the cool interior of the main space. Since it was a stellar, sunny day, I joined the rest of the crowd on the bustling and vibey patio. I was able to snag a table under an umbrella which made me even happier. This place is great for people-watching, which only gets better well into late night 😉
The staff here is very friendly and attentive. I was seated within 2 minutes. However, this is where my accolades end 🙁
I really did have high hopes. In fact, I came for the fish tacos because I have heard only great things about them. I ordered 2 fish tacos and one vegetarian taco (Frijoles Charros). Both fell flat.
The fish taco consisted of beer-battered tilapia with a chipotle mayo, red cabbage, red onion, lime and cilantro. Here’s the nitty gritty. While the beer batter was crispy, there was virtually no real flavor to these tacos. I could not detect the chipotle in the mayo. The red onions had no zing. While I could certainly see the cilantro, it had no flavor. A touch of lime may have been added to my tacos in the kitchen. Sadly, I will never know for sure. Regardless, a true fish taco experience should include wedges of fresh lime on the side. Sigh!
The Frijoles Charros consisted of a small dish of stewed pinto beans, poblano peppers, tomato, onion, cilantro and queso fresco. Small tortillas were served on the side. Again, I was disappointed by the lack of flavor. These beans should have had a very obvious smoky flavor, given the name Frijoles Charros. They did not.
There’s more. The ingredients in the fish taco and the Frijoles Charros, as well as the tortillas were all cold (gasp!)
Another thing which puzzled me was the hot sauce situation. Now, I admit that I did not readily see that Big Star offers a house hot sauce for $1, as indicated at the very bottom of the menu. I noticed that fact, after I got home. While each table has 2 different types of popular, branded hot sauce bottles, I believe joints specializing in tacos, should have their own house hot sauce complimentary and in plain sight.
I realize that not everyone likes or needs big, bold, spicy flavors. I also understand that not everyone wants or needs their tacos to be hotter than room temperature. If you fit these profiles, then Big Star might be your place! While it won’t make my “Best Tacos 2015” list, Big Star is certainly a fun and conveniently located place to hang out with friends, especially over drinks.
Big Star is located at 1531 N. Damen. It is open Sun – Friday from 11:30am – 2am and Saturdays from 11am – 3am. Click here for more information.
In keeping with the spirit of Feeding Off The Rails, I encourage you to leave your car at home and take the CTA Blue Line to Big Star. Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!