Authentic tacos al pastor

The Hungry Hound says few taquerias take the time to make their own tacos al pastor from scratch and he's found some of the best in the city.

Making tacos al pastor is really a labor-intensive endeavor, kind of like making your own gyros. True tacos al pastor have a certain char, an acidic bite and a dose of heat from chilies. Combined with real corn tortillas and just a handful of onions and fresh cilantro, tacos al pastor are an addictive and affordable snack.

In Greece, locals would call the snack a gyro. But at the tiny Tierra Caliente in Wicker Park - which is both grocery store and cafe - it's known as tacos al pastor.

"It's a meat marinated with different hot, hot peppers, you know, Mexican style. They marinate it with've seen onions, pineapple, pepper, lemon. So they're going up and marinating it, stacking it up so it won't go side to side," said Ricardo Camacho of Tierra Caliente.

Pounded pork butt is marinated in fresh lime juice, as well as a blend of chilies, including guajillo and chipotle. The mixture is left overnight, and the next day, the chef starts by combining chopped white onions with canned pineapple and pineapple juice which gives the pastor a bit of a citric edge and a little bite.

The long process of layering then begins. The cook carefully layers the marinated pork with the onion-pineapple mixture, making sure to keep the stack as balanced as possible, working slowly up the giant skewer in the middle.

Once the chef gets to the top, a fresh pineapple is impaled, which will eventually give off its juice to the surrounding protein.

On the vertical spit, the heating element is exactly like that of a gyro: heating the outer edge first. All the staff does is simply slice off the charred exterior with a long, flexible knife. The pork is then finely-chopped, added to a double-layer of corn tortillas, and traditionally, topped with chopped white onion and fresh cilantro.

The store also sells a lot of carne asada tacos - made with grilled skirt steak - but customers come for the tacos al pastor, and like getting them topped with the slightest amount of onions and cilantro, so as not to overwhelm the coveted pork.

"Onion and cilantro and yeah, that's the tradition, but if you want tomato, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, avocado, it's up to you," said Camacho.

A taco al pastor or a carne asada taco will set you back just $2.

Tierra Caliente
1400 N. Ashland Ave.

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