Tacos in the parking lot: how we do street food in Chicago

Last fall it was our 25th anniversary and HOB asked me how I wanted to celebrate, and I was like, “Hmmmm…I think I want to eat something in a parking lot while standing over a trash can.”

We ended up eating dumplings from the food court in this ginormous grocery store.

Due to various annoying life circumstances, we still haven’t been able to travel and one of the things I miss the most is street food. We don’t exactly do street food in Chicago, at least not like other cities around the world. Partly it is due to some exceptionally stupid zoning laws, and also because of the weather, which much of the year is unsuitable to loitering outdoors while snacking. That doesn’t mean we don’t have cheap, tasty, and portable food, however.

Earlier today we stopped into Don Pablo’s for empanadas.

Everyone takes these to go, but we ate them inside because it is still wintery in Chicago. Unlike most of the street food we eat, which is delicious but not made for Instagram, these empanadas taste as good as they look. Go ahead, zoom in in that flaky crust. Jealous, aren’t you?

When we visited Beijing, we found Jianbing on the street almost immediately on arrival. Turns out you can get these in Chicago too, in a weirdly empty building outside Chinatown.

(Do you see HOB walking away from the entrance to the Jianbing shop, peeking around the corner? This is known as “Getting the lay of the land.” He always does that.)

A Jianbing is kind of a crepe, but then when it is almost finished, they put in this big cracker-like wonton thing and fold it up.

This is 100% my preferred way of eating—food so messy it comes with its own pair of disposable gloves. And when you bite it, a deeply satisfying crunch from the wonton. Again, people take this food to go but we found a table in the hallway and ate there because of the chilly weather.

But do we ever get to eat outside? Yes! A gift of a warm spring day sent us to the most romantic of dining destinations: the Autozone parking lot.

Here we ordered quesabirria tacos, and an absolute rarity: quesabirria lasagna. We consumed these delicacies in a nearby park, a fortunate thing because if there is any sloppier food than a pile fried tortillas topped with marinated meat and oozy cheese all with dripping with sauce and consommé I don’t know about it.

Yes, HOB is drinking the consommé.


  1. It sounds just brilliant!
    I think I would need to take a plastic poncho given the possibility of dropping and dripping stuff down myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha! There’s an ice cream place we went to last summer that has a hose to wash your kids down with post ice cream. We could use that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. With some of the kids whose behaviour I have experienced in eating establishments in gentrified London I would reckon that even a hose administered out of doors during a Chicago winter would do nothing to cool their ardour…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Another wonderful Chicago posting. TAKE ME TO LUNCH!
    I love traveling with you, even if it is home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You bring the napkins 🙂


  4. I love the hip new trash can school of cuisine. But seriously, tourism at home is a new travel genre, isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Seriously, my new rule is always live in an interesting place in case you get stuck there for two years.

      Liked by 1 person

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