Housemade tortillas are the thing at El Comalito

A friend was talking up some tacos on Twitter; another, Titus, turned out to have written about them on his taco blog two years ago. I asked for the name and coordinates of the taqueria in question and was astonished to find that the place, El Comalito, was on a stretch of Western (think basically the old Honey 1, but on the other side of the street) I drive down all the time. How had I never seen it?

Because it was a Thai restaurant forever, and it appears that I have a Thai-restaurant-size blind spot for that stretch of Western, especially when the new name is in relatively small letters on the awning. Given that this area is not far from Hipster Taco Central and has flashier competition even among Mexican-run spots nearby, El Comalito is indeed easy to overlook. But it shouldn’t be—it’s a nice family-run taco spot with very accommodating owners and a secret weapon, house-made tortillas.

Going here starts out two steps ahead of a typical sit-down taco lunch: in addition to the usual chips and squeeze bottles of red and green salsa, there’s a third bottle of bright orange habanero salsa, plus a little crock of warm, soupy beans to put on the chips. The menu ranges over a fair territory beyond tacos, including breakfast dishes and birria on the weekends, but for a first venture I ordered three tacos—steak, pastor, and carnitas—and made sure (this is important) to order the handmade tortillas, for which there’s a small upcharge.

Make a great crust for a pizza, cut a couple of slices of some great crusty bread, and what you put on it becomes at least secondary, if not unimportant. That was true too of these tortillas, floppy and warm as a childhood blanket. That’s not to dis what went inside; I liked that the steak was cut into bigger chunks a la L’Patron (though a little tougher than that meat), and though the pastor obviously didn’t come from a pastor cone, it was at least flavorfully seasoned meat, griddled to some nice crispness. My favorite, though, was the carnitas; the comfy toothsomeness (a cliched food-writing word I only allow myself to use regarding handmade tortillas) of the disks of masa and the tender porkiness of the carnitas were a natural match. And thankfully, where Titus got gringoed two years ago with lettuce and tomato, to judge by his photo, I was asked up front by the owner-dad if I wanted “onions y cilantro,” as he put it bilingually. All in all, El Comalito took me straight back to the carnitas place by the side of the highway I ate at in Oaxaca last winter, and that’s a heck of a deal for about $9 (I got a platter with fairly unnecessary rice and beans, but you could shave a couple of bucks off that just by ordering the tacos individually).

So it’s a nice place that holds out promise for more discoveries on its menu. Don’t overlook it like I did, for three too many years.

El Comalito, 2234 N. Western, Chicago, 773-666-5558.