Late-night tacos: More than a simple taco joint, Restaurant and Taqueria Puebla is a 24-hour, full-service restaurant with several large and lively dining rooms. That means you'll pay sit-down taco prices ($1.75-$1.90) if you're just stopping by for a late-night grab-and-go snack, but super-friendly, eager-to-please service and an almost freakish cleanliness more than compensate. Don't miss the moist, flavorful chicken tacos ($1.75 each), served the traditional way with fresh lime wedges and a zippy red sauce.
Tastiest tacos: It's hard to stand out from the crowd in Logan Square, but tiny storefront spot San Luis distinguishes itself with top-notch carne asada and chicken tacos ($1.75 each), and a taste bud-tingling, spicy-sweet green sauce. Despite a somewhat dreary location west of the expressway, the interior of San Luis is a cheery surprise, with bright, egg-yolk yellow walls and shelves full of Mexican knick-knacks.
Sit-down tacos: Everything about Playa Azul 2 is bright, from the sunny yellow and orange interior to the super-fresh taco fixings. This sister spot to Playa Azul 1 fills its tacos ($1.90 each) with quality slices of meat and the crispest lettuce and juiciest tomatoes we found on any Uptown taco. The secret, though, is in the sauce. It's a departure from traditional red or green varieties, but this slightly sweet, tangy salsa perks up your taco like nothing else.
Late-night tacos: Should you stumble into 24-hour taco joint Taqueria el Ranchito in the wee hours, just try to remember these three words: tacos de pollo. The chicken tacos ($1.47 each) are bursting with seasoned, shredded meat and topped with sweet onions, cilantro, and your choice of red or green sauce (we like the smoky chipotle undertones of the red sauce). Taqueria el Ranchito doesn't offer much in the way of ambiance, but there's plenty of seating and the kitchen is ultra-speedy.
Tastiest tacos: Carmela's has a foolproof recipe for success: Stick with what you do best. Tacos--including a standout al pastor--occupy nearly half of the tightly edited menu at this charming Uptown taqueria. Why do we love the al pastor? The meat is spit-roasted for perfect smoky flavor, and the $1.25 pricetag makes it one of the best values we've seen. Hint: If you're headed to a show at the Aragon, Green Mill or Riv, don't wait till afterward to grab a taco--Carmela's closes at 10 p.m.
Sit-down tacos: OK, taco-philes. Take a deep breath. We know that La Pasadita Restaurant serves darn good carne asada tacos ($1.85 each). But we're not prepared to proclaim them the tastiest tacos in Ukie Village. (In fact, we wonder if perhaps they're resting on their laurels since a 2006 Chicago Tribune story proclaimed their steak tacos second-best in Chicago.) However, we do love the energy of their multiple Ashland Avenue locations, particularly the more upscale, restaurant-style outpost. Oh, and about those famous tacos: They're packed with meat, and the perky salsa verde is in a class of its own.
Late-night tacos: Three words to describe Taqueria Traspasada No. 2: lightening fast service. And when you're craving a taco past midnight, speed is sometimes all that matters. But this itty-bitty taco joint (think counter seating for 12, with only a narrow aisle separating back-to-back rows of stools) also turns out an impressive variety of tacos ($1.68-$2.25 each), all stuffed with a mess of fixings. Just don't put off your late-night taco run too long--Traspasada closes at 3:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (1 a.m. weekdays).
Tastiest tacos: We don't know what we like more about the tacos ($1.36 each) at El Taco Veloz: the mouthwatering char on the chicken, the chipotle kick of the red sauce or the soft, strong tortillas that hold it all together. When it comes to fixings, this traditional taqueria plays it straight: chopped onions and fresh cilantro only. Grab a $1 bebida from the cooler in front, take a seat alongside the many Mexican-American families who frequent this spot, and sink your teeth into one of the top tacos in town.
M. Kathleen Pratt is the metromix print editor.