I had a hard time finding Eva’s Taco Shack (3401 N. Main St.), until I saw the derelict catering truck in the parking lot that hinted at the place’s humble beginnings. A friend and fellow chef recommended the Northside taqueria. I knew I was in the ‘hood when I heard the blast of what sounded like a fog horn coming out of a beat up Chevy Berretta in the adjacent parking lot. My teeth started to clank and chatter along to the same frequency of the bass, so I hurried inside. I didn’t want to have to fight through dental issues as I ate.
The place is shabby but clean. It has a divey charm that screams “authentico.” I could tell immediately Eva’s is not the kind of place where gringos go for queso and frozen margaritas. My fellow diners were blue-collar, salt of the earth type people who lived and worked nearby. All seemingly friendly, but I stood out a bit.
A shy woman who didn’t speak English nervously greeted me at the counter. As I scanned the hand-written menu, I was comforted by the blaring sound of a Spanish language television. If it wasn’t already abundantly clear, I was in for Mexican food endorsed by Mexican people.
I ordered a trio of taco meats: cabesa de torro (cow head) ($1.50), tripas de puerco (pig tripe) ($1.50) and, lengua de baca (cow tongue) ($1.50), and flung open the sliding door refrigerator to grab a Mexican Coke. After a short wait, my tacos arrived topped with the customary cilantro and diced white onions, with two small plastic bottles of both the house salsa verde and salsa roja.
I started with the tender lengua, perfectly seasoned with right amount of salt and pepper, but slightly dry thanks to what I deduced was a little too much time on the flat top griddle. The cabesa had a pungent gamey aroma and oily sheen as all good head meat does. It was an enjoyable, tender stew-like meat. My favorite player of the trio was the thick-cut tripas that resembled calamari rings. Tripas, when they’re cooked properly are a textural marvel. The intestine meat was nice and crispy on its outer edges, almost like fried chicken skin. And the ring’s center stuck to my teeth, but remained tender and more pleasant than it sounds. Both salsas were vibrant in color had a great balance of bitter dried spice, with sweet acidity from the tomatillo, and a good amount of heat from the red chilies.
One thing about the fare struck me as odd: The tacos tasted more like Tex-Mex rather than Mex-Mex. Typical Mexican cuisine tends to be spicy and uses less dried spices and seasoning, whereas Tex-Mex dishes have more seasoning and are heavy handed with the spice blends. If I had one gripe about the food, it would be that I didn’t care for the corn tortillas. The place used a larger style of tortilla that was too thick to be double-layer street taco style. On the other hand, if I was burning hard labor carbs I may appreciate the boost. They also could have used a nice greasy swipe on the flat top to soften them up and give them a bit more moisture.
By my last taco, the heat was setting in and my face was tingling. I downed the last of my cold Mexican Coke and headed for the door. I thanked the woman at the register and asked for a receipt. Perhaps owing to my broken kitchen Spanish, she misunderstood and tried to give me her whole recipe book. I will return to Eva’s for food, but the vibe is what I’ll remember most.