The Dish: Tacos El Norte


Carter Horan

The Dish is a multimedia food review segment co-produced by Will Davis and Carter Horan. Each week, they will travel to a North Shore restaurant to try, discuss, and evaluate the eats on in and around Lake Forest.

Located in Downtown Highwood, Tacos El Norte is typically overshadowed by the very popular Mean Wiener that Lake Forest High School students love. Even though the aforementioned fact is certainly true, many Lake Foresters and Lake Bluffers alike also swear on the tacos and burritos that are served at Tacos El Norte. El Norte is very well-known for their variety of different tacos (chicken, steak, al pastor, beef, veggie, etc.) as well as their filling burritos and enchilada plates. It strays away from the traditional, fast-casual restaurant that most are used to in the northern suburbs. Tacos El Norte is known as a quick, sit-down spot that people can stop by for a guaranteed solid meal. On their website they highly promote their use of natural ingredients picked for freshness and quality. After many recommendations from countless readers, we decided to visit the Mexican place one Tuesday night in order to give it a review

Affordability: 9/10

We decided to order three tacos (two al pastor and one chicken) as well as a burrito (steak), and we both upgraded our meals to a dinner, which meant that rice, refried beans, and sour cream were all included. On top of that, our server gave us free chips and salsa before our meal and consistently refilled our chip basket whenever we ran out. All of this came out to just under $20, which was a wonderful surprise. It is difficult to find a meal that cheap and filling almost anywhere else. In comparison, the Mean Wiener’s taco plate costs about $11.50 and a burrito costs about $8, so with tax the entire meal would probably cost around $21; not to mention, this would not include the complimentary chips and salsa that El Norte provided. Another thing that is important when it comes to affordability and value is the serving size. Tacos El Norte’s serving sizes were very sufficient and we were extremely pleased with the serving to cost ratio that we received.

Environment: 8/10

The authentic Mexican cuisine restaurant is located west of Sheridan Road in the busy lands of Highwood. In the small strip mall, Tacos El Norte is most definitely the most exciting restaurant present. With TV’s playing college basketball, the sit-down restaurant is as casual as it gets. Soft Mexican music filled our ears as families and sets of friends lined their comfortable booths. The atmosphere of Tacos El Norte was extremely family friendly and appealing to first timers looking for a new Mexican joint. But, the restaurant lacked that pop and flare that you look for in well-renowned places that bring personality in their decor to accompany the meal. It was satisfactory, sure, but we would’ve loved to see exceptionally nice workers, or an electronic sign to reach a 9 or 10.

Food Quality: 9/10

A lot of times, the most telling factor about whether a restaurant is reputable or not is the quality of the food  served. Tacos El Norte did not disappoint when it came to the caliber of the food. The al pastor (mexican pork) tacos were juicy, tender and perfectly complemented with a nice marination, as well as being topped with cilantro, lettuce and onions. In addition, the chicken was shredded nicely and went great with the spicy green salsa provided. The soft flour tortillas for the tacos and burrito were soft, but also crispy at the same time. The steak burrito packed a succulent steak–with sour cream, beans, tomato, lettuce, cheese, guacamole and cilantro–to create a classic burrito. In addition, the chips provided were salted exquisitely and the red salsa had a very nice kick that went pleasantly with the chips. Overall, the only knock we would have when it comes to food quality would be that the meals were a little bit messy. However, most Mexican meals that include tacos and burritos tend to be a little bit messy, so that did not have a huge impact on our rating. In conclusion, the food that we received was exceptional and we were very impressed with taste and serving sizes.

Service: 8.5/10

We were greeted quickly and, upon our entrance, were immediately referred to sit wherever we wanted. Chips and salsa were delivered right away along with their beautiful, multi-page menu with an array different choices. Our waiter was nice, but nothing like the service we received Sauced Pizza. One small detail that we appreciate was a second bowl of chips that was delivered before we finished the first one. It was, of course, a minor touch but caught our attention as detailed food connoisseurs.  Even though the restaurant was mildly busy at 7:30 on a Tuesday night, our food arrived in record timing of 4 minutes. This could be because of the fact that they house nearly a dozen workers, but also could be the diligence they worked with.

Spear Rating: 3.5 SPEARS (out of 4)