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Chicago Restaurants' Southern Influence

The Southern's take on Poutine, in Chicago.

Photo: Cedric Angeles

Wicker Park: Big Star

Another smash hit from Blackbird Restaurant Group, which brought us Chicago Avec, Blackbird, and the Publican, Big Star is a self-billed honky-tonk taqueria that’s been a neighborhood favorite since the day it opened. Chef Justin Large, an advocate of old food traditions, draws on Chicago’s strong Mexican community to find the experienced crews that tag team from open to close, fashioning tortillas with masa made from ground local corn. No matter how busy the kitchen may get, Big Star’s tortillas always exhibit the hallmark of freshness: supple enough to roll without cracking yet durable enough to withstand Large’s take on authentic tacos, such as tinga de pollo (wood-grilled chicken thigh with house-made chorizo and chipotle salsa) and tacos de panza (crispy braised pork belly in tomato-guajillo sauce). The former 1940’s service station/garage/car wash that Big Star calls home is anchored by a 50-foot-long, U-shaped Douglas fir bar abutting plenty of outdoor seating. There’s also a well-used walk-up window next to a bright yellow sign on the concrete wall: 20 taco maximum order. It may sound like a lot, but you’ll want more. Bring a big appetite. You’ve been forewarned. 1531 N. Damen Ave.; 773/235-4039; dinner for two $15.

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