There are tacos and then there are tacos. Executive Chef/Partner David Dworshak (formerly of Carnivale, and Spring) of Takito Kitchen has created a delightful menu with a modern-contemporary spin on Latin-American cuisine. Takito Kitchen’s name is a phonetic version of “taquito”, Spanish for little taco. This Wicker Park restaurant is warm and cozy with a modern flair. Chef David’s menu features seasonally inspired shared plates; ceviche, tacos, soups and more with a focus on fresh ingredients and complex flavors, all tucked inside fantastic housemade tortillas. The dishes at Takito Kitchen are seasonal and support local farmers and producers; Chef David is very active at the Green City Market, sourcing as many local ingredients as he can, tailoring his menu to maximize use of the freshest produce available. The plates are intended for sharing and tend toward a more creative, healthier style of Latin-American food. I recently had the opportunity to dine at Takito Kitchen, and talk with Chef Dworshak. When asked about the concept of the restaurant, Chef David said that their goal is to raise the bar of what a taqueria is by turning out contemporary interpretations of traditional Mexican/Latin American dishes. The results are a fresh perspective on taco culture served alongside intriguing, handcrafted cocktails by well-known Chicago mixologist David Weber.
The space is long and narrow, with a row of glowing edison bulbs leading you on like a runway to the skylighted atrium at the rear. The tables you pass along the way, normally filled with diners, are constructed of warm natural wood surfaces, rows of pendant lights and eclectic urban artwork lining the walls. Seating 80 patrons, the exposed brick walls and saloon-style mirrors expand the visual space, and the open bar and kitchen areas and natural lighting set the stage for a fantastic dining experience. The stone counters in the prep area lend a very precise feel to the presentation, and frame your view of the kitchen, which is remarkable in its efficient use of space. To see 4 and 5 chefs working in choreographed rhythm in such a confined area, with nary a bumped elbow, is remarkable.
Further forward is a long bar area where the bartender skillfully prepares drinks, becoming part of the dining experience, then whisked to your table the moment they are ready. Its a nice alternative to the usual hurried rush of shakers behind a bar across the room. For my photography work, I chose a table in the open skylight area because it is bathed in natural light. I watch the kitchen staff while waiting for my meal as one of the cooks prepares hand-made tortillas, the heavy fragrance of maize filling the air as they grill while another cook skillfully fillets a whole fish into delicately sliced ceviche. The intimate space and thoughtful layout provide ample opportunity for the Chef to interact with guests, heightening the dining experience with his insights about the menu.
I first had the pleasure of tasting Chef David’s work at Chicago Gourmet this past September. He had prepared a delicious braised pork topped with charred corn atop a creamy polenta. I don’t often go back for seconds at these events, but the pork was so fantastic I had to tell the Chef how delicious it was.
The first to arrive was a shared plate
Suzuki Bass Ceviche with spiced carrots, black garlic, Urban Till cilantro, and lime
After watching one of the cooks preparing the ceviche from a fresh sea bass, I was eager to try this dish. The fish was fresh and delicately flavored, enhanced by the earthy sweet flavor of black garlic and a little spice from the pickled carrot. Refreshed with lime juice and olive oil, and topped with sliced avocado and fresh turmeric, this was a very nice way to enjoy raw fish, adding to its simple texture and flavor without covering it up. I could eat this dish every day.
Then there were tacos
Pork belly taco with pickled onions, morita salsa, mozzarella, arugula on a sesame tortilla
C’mon, I mean it’s pork belly! What’s not to like? The crispy pork belly was rich and savory, not overly smoky, and not the least bit greasy, and topped with fresh mozzarella, morita salsa, pickled onions and local arugula. Just spicy enough to be interesting and the pickled onions were a surprising touch, adding some acidity, balancing the richness of the pork belly.
Lamb chorizo taco with tomatillo pistachio salsa, jicama escabeche, Brunkow cheese on a corn tortilla
These hand-rolled uncased sausages are prepared with freshly ground lamb seasoned with morita chilis, paprika, and cumin, rolled and grilled then served on a warm corn tortilla topped with jicama escabeche, tomatillo pistachio salsa, and a grilled strip of Scandinavian-style Brun-uusto cheese from Wisconsin’s Brunkow cheesemakers.
Smoked tomato rice with charred carrots, pea shoots, and corn
Charred carrots, dehydrated corn, carmelized onions, nutty micro-greens, and pea shoots add depth and dimension, elevating this common side to something worth writing about.
Roasted winter squash with black beans, smoked belly, corn kimchi, pepitas and cilantro
This meal is ideal with cooler fall temperatures. The squash is hearty and meaty even though there is only a touch of smoked belly in it, the meatiness comes from the thick slices of winter squash. The corn kimchi is a wonderful addition adding a spicy, acidic touch! Arrives topped with black beans, pepitas, and Urban Till cilantro.
Mexican chocolate ganache with coffee creme, brandied cherries and an almond masa crisp.
The coffee creme is light, creamy and not overly sweetened. The Mexican chocolate is flavored with ginger, allspice, and the added punch of the brandied cherries. The sophisticated layers of flavor make this a dessert you shouldn’t pass up.
The Beverage Manager/Partner/Mixologist Adam Weber (of Trenchermen, Mercadito) has certainly made a name for himself in Chicago’s rapidly changing the world of bartending. Weber has crafted the perfect custom cocktails to go with the fresh, sophisticated menu at Takito Kitchen, rounding out a fantastic dining experience.
Caliente Margarita with lime, agave, chipotle, morita, Cointreau, and Corazón Blanco
Amazing. I can assure you, you have never had a margarita like this. It’s a spicy, acidic and wonderfully complex concoction. With the sweetness of lime, agave, and Cointreau, and the smokiness from the chiptole and morita chili-spiked rimming salt, you won’t find a better margarita. I had a hard time resisting the temptation to order up another!
Cucumber Margarita with lime, agave, cucumber, Cointreau, and Corazón Blanco
The cucumber margarita is light, refreshing and smooth, with a surprising richness that I didn’t expect from Cucumbers, and the chili dusted, salted rim makes it easy to empty the glass before your plate is empty. I didn’t know what to expect of a cucumber margarita, but this was a really great drink that soothes the palate while enjoying a spicy meal.
Takito Kitchen answers the question, does Wicker Park really need another taco joint? with a resounding Si! It doesn’t matter if you are a casual taco fan or a true taco aficionado, Takito serves up a fresh variety of flavor combinations you’ve never tasted before, and at a level of sophistication that is hard to find elsewhere in the Chicago taco scene. Chef David and his fantastic staff have taken the taco to places it has never been before, on artisanal tortilla wings.