Picante's Authentaco offers late-night, handmade tortillas

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The tacos and the quesadillas at Picante's Authentaco in Wicker Park clearly set this tiny operation apart from its neighbors. (WLS)

Late-night taco crawls are easy to do in Chicago, since there are so many options.

But a new spot near the nexus of Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village offers a few extras you won't find in your run-of-the-mill joint.

Not only is there a window up-front, providing transparency, but what you'll see is still, oddly, rare in Chicago. A seasoned cook, making every tortilla by hand from a large mound of masa. The tacos and the quesadillas at Picante's Authentaco in Wicker Park clearly set this tiny operation apart from its neighbors.

"Takes a little more time, but it's definitely worth it. People come in and they complement us on the quesadillas and the tortillas because of that," said Felipe Caro, owner of Picante's Authentaco.

As for those tacos, they come in about a half-dozen different varieties: from pineapple and guajillo-laced pork in the al pastor to the steamed barbacoa beef. There's even a vegetarian option with the nopales - or cactus strips dressed with sauteed onions. It's part of Caro's plan to become more mindful in the kitchen, from the fillings to the simple toppings of onion and cilantro.

"When I say chef-driven, the route everyone is going now, from farm to taco," Caro said.

So not only the salsas, but also some of the more interesting items like huitlacoche quesadillas. The inky black corn mushroom is schmeared over chihuahua cheese for an earthy hit of umami. Guac is appropriately chunky; even the elotes - or corn with chiles and mayo - is cut off the cob for easy eating. And don't pass up a chance to try one of their agua frescas.

"We do one it's called a limechata; fresh lime and if you want a little cayenne to heat it up, yeah it's pretty simple and basic but a little different from what everyone else offers," he said.

Now the crowds go pretty late here near the intersection of Division and Ashland, so you can bet that those weekend hours will be expanding past midnight pretty soon.

Since the kitchen relies on local farms, some things, like squash blossoms, won't be available all year long, so expect frequent menu changes.

Authentaco
1141 N. Ashland Ave.
(773) 360-7345
http://www.authentaco.com

Related Topics:
foodfoodhungry houndChicago - Wicker Park
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