Velvet Taco, an urban taco shop located at 1110 N. State Street, is now open in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. Velvet Taco offers thoughtful, globally inspired tacos crafted with local ingredients, served in an industrial loft setting. This location used to be a Subway and home to an upstairs psychic. You have to wonder if she predicted her business having to move.
At the heart of Chef John Franke’s counter-service menu are from-scratch tacos that feature slow-roasted chicken, flank steak, pork, seafood and vegetarian options. The chicken and corn are continuously roasted in-house on a vertical rotisserie. Velvet Taco’s tortillas include hand-made classic white corn and locally sourced soft flour tortillas. Every hand-held meal is designed to provide a study of flavors, textures, spices and tastes that take tacos to an unprecedented level.
The taco menu features chicken (buffalo; rotisserie; crisp tikka), veg (fried paneer; falafel), pork (Cuban pig; annatto shredded pork; crisp pork belly), beef (bacon burger; grilled flank steak), fish (Mediterranean calamari; fish n‘ chips; raw ahi poke) and egg (bacon and egg frittata; roast pork and egg frittata). As a nod to Chicago’s affinity for hot dogs, Chef Franke has created a “Chicago Haute Dog” taco with crisp pork belly, house pickles, pickled fresnos, grain mustard, tomato, red onion, poppy seed and celery salt. Side dishes include elote-style rotisserie corn (queso fresco, asadero cheese, Valentina, crema, lime), and crisp tots (local egg, herbed goat cheese, smoked cheddar, avocado crema, bacon). Velvet Taco’s signature sweet treat is a house-made red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. Each week, look for the “WTF” taco (weekly taco feature).
For a unique twist on takeout, skip the front entrance and head to the back door for a perfectly packaged meal to go. Velvet Taco’s “Back Door Chicken” features a whole rotisserie chicken, two sides of elote-style corn, six corn tortillas, pico de gallo, and Velvet Taco’s own heat sauce for $20. Simply knock, and you shall receive.
The menu is extremely vegetarian friendly as any dish can be altered to include Paneer or Falafel. Take a look at the menu and if you see something you like (but you want it with falafel, they will be very flexible to your requests).
#3 Crisp tikka chicken, spicy pepper sauce, buttered cilantro basmati rice, raita crema, thai basil, flour tortilla $3.95
-OMG! WOW! Yes, it’s that good. They add a significant amount of breaded chicken with a hot and spicy pepper sauce. The rice and crema are all a really nice compliment. I suggest ordering this with a corn tortilla. Be careful with Velvet Taco’s homemade hot sauce as the taco is hot enough.
#5 Fried paneer, tomato chutney, thai basil, tikka sauce, raita crema, flour tortilla $3.50
-While not a big fan of vegetarian dishes, this one takes the cake as one I’d order over and over again. The chutney and thai flavors were delicious. The paneer is very soft and the taco is very light so I’d suggest ordering 2 or 3 others.
#9 Crisp pork belly, house pickles, pickled fresnos, grain mustard, tomato, red onion, poppy seed, celery salt, flour tortilla $3.75
-A Chicago Hot Dog of sorts! It could have used a touch more celery salt, maybe even some tomato to really hook me. I highly recommend this one.
#11 Grilled flank steak, portobello, white queso, grilled red onion, mex – oregano, corn tortilla $4.75
-This was the overall best Taco on the menu. In each exquisite bite, you can taste the mushroom, oregano, onion and soft pieces of high quality steak. The steak marinates for 48 hours before they serve it and comes on a toasted corn tortilla (or so it seems). It reminded me of a Philly cheese steak!
#14 Mediterranean calamari, feta, light Greek salad, tzatziki sauce, Kalamata olive tapenade, flour tortilla $4.25
-While being a huge fan of calamari, I was underwhelmed with the flavoring of the fish. The green salad however was to die for. Have you ever had a greek salad taco? That’s what this dish should be called. The flavor and kalamata olives are intense. Just remember to get it without the calamari.
#17 Ahi poke (raw), ginger-soy vinaigrette, avocado, seaweed salad, pickled fresnos, sesame seeds, himalayan sea salt, micro greens, lettuce wrap $6.75
-I loved that this was served inside a lettuce wrap, reminding me a lot like the wraps at P.F. Chang’s. The tuna was really refreshing and nice. The seaweed salad below was plentiful and sweet. Nice job.
Special Taco: WTF Roll: Lobster Taco with Arugula, diced tomato and creole mustard. It tasted like a lobster sandwich, however you could argue that there may have been too much arugula. I personally didn’t taste any mustard sauce. If they have this on the menu again, order it with a grilled corn tortilla and ask for less arugula.
Rotisserie corn, ‘elote-style‘, queso fresco, asadero cheese, Valentina, crema, lime $3.75
-The menu should say “World Famous” for this item. It’s that amazing! You get the queso taste immediately but it isn’t smokey at all. There are wonderful hints of lime and the corn is very crunchy and delicous.
Crisp tots & local egg, herbed goat cheese, smoked cheddar, avocado crema, bacon $5.25
-Don’t bother investing in this one unless you’ve had one too many beers and you’re starving. While the egg yolk living on top is a nice touch, looks can be deceiving. The tots are subpar and the egg doesn’t mix well. I did enjoy the greasy bits of bacon throughout though.
Red Velvet $3.25
-Nothing special, very dry. I liked that they added caramel sauce on top but it’s not worth it, even for $3.25.
Scratch Margarita made with sorbet $6.50
-Very good, tasted very fresh. It had strong notes of tequila and lime juice but otherwise absolutely perfect. This will be a popular summer drink at Velvet Taco.
You can see the entire menu HERE. I give it 4 out of 5 stars for an order-at-the-counter establishment.