'A Sunday Afternoon at Maxwell Street Market' by Chef Kyleigh Beach
Looking for some used Karate Kid VHS tapes? How about a 6-pack of white tube socks or a Comcast remote for $1.25? You can find those items and thousands of other trinkets and knickknacks for sale every Sunday at Maxwell Street Market on Randolph and Des Plains streets. You can also find some killer authentic Mexican food.
My husband, Chris, and I set out on a Mexican food mission last Sunday, despite freezing temps and a nasty wind. We passed right on by the vendors selling various types of junk, but took our time checking out the food tents. Each one was manned by several cooks, usually with an order taker/cashier/translator working in the front. The stall we ordered from had a tiny woman standing in the front rolling logs of masa between her palms and squishing them flat, but not too thin, in a tortilla press. Larger ones she pressed into an oval and smaller ones a 5 inch circle. She threw these fresh tortillas onto a griddle and flipped them over and moved them around with her bare hands. Impressive.
Onto the fillings! Chris, who is proving to be quite an adventurous eater, ordered lengua (tongue) tacos. I ordered al pasto which is pork that has been marinated and roasted on a vertical spit like gyro meat, then thinly sliced. Our tacos were topped with freshly chopped pico de gallo and cilantro. The menu offered a choice of red or green tamales. We briefly debated, then went with red. Add a couple of Mexican sodas and we had a feast for $11!
Most of the food stands set up picnic tables so you can chow down as quickly as possible. Plastic jugs of (awesome) salsa were secured to the table with ropes. These were unbelievable tacos with a perfect balance of sweet, spicy, fatty, and fresh flavors. The corn flavor of the tortillas and the tamales was very strong, but not overpowering. A far cry from the dried out, stiff ones you find in the refrigerated section at the grocery store. Our nice order taker/cashier/translator came over while we were eating and brought us a green tamale to try for comparison. Chris and I were split over which we liked better.
While we were eating we remarked how great it would be if we never got full and could keep sampling from each taco stand. I know that’s an incredibly piggish attitude, but there were so many other types of tacos as well as soups, enchiladas, and quesadillas, and everything looked and smelled amazing! We did manage to squeeze in a few churros, warm and just sweet enough, to munch on while we wound our way back through the cassette and underwear vendors of Maxwell Street Market and planned which taco stand we will visit next time.