“Hell is empty. All the devils are here.”
These fiery red letters can be found proudly stamped behind the bar at Taco Diablo, a taqueria and cantina located on Davis street, down the block from Bennison’s Bakery. It’s been around since May but with the flurry of finals and summer right around the corner, its opening must have flown right under Northwestern students’ radars. Don’t worry though – Taco Diablo is here and, based on how good the food is, we can assume it’s here to stay. While it doesn’t look like much from the outside, once you step inside you’re seamlessly transported straight to a bar in a Mexican village with a cerveza in your hand and some frijoles on your plate. The room is long and sleek, decorated in earthy shades of red, brown, and yellow. The brick walls are covered with traditional Mexican artwork, ornate lamps hang from the ceiling and soft lights are strung along the walls. The atmosphere oozes homey, traditional comfort with reclaimed wooden ceiling beams, music tinkling in the background and a full, friendly staff. Customers can sit by the window on bold red chairs or for a more private dining experience can slide into wooden booths as complimentary chips and salsa appear as if by magic moments after sitting down.
The bar boasts a long list of beers, wines, cocktails, margaritas, tequilas and mezcal, a traditional Mexican alcohol made from the green agave plant. To accompany your drink, start with some botanas, the Spanish word for appetizers served with drinks. We had the queso fundido, a hearty serving of melted cheese topped with corn, Poblano rojas (roasted green pepper strips) and duck chorizo served with fresh, warm tortillas for a makeshift do-it-yourself quesadilla experience. Other options include camarones al mojo de ajo (shrimp sautéed in garlic and lemon) and, of course, homemade guacamole.
Next come the tacos, and the menu lists 11 soft-shell tacos ranging from beef cheeks to crispy almond duck tenders. Order any three tacos for $10.98 and you’ve got yourself a meal. We had the spicy shrimp taco, which would only be considered mildly spicy for experienced spice-eaters but was char-grilled to perfection and served with a blend of Chipotle salsa, peppers, radish, and fresh cabbage slaw. The tacos are served with a side of beans, pickled vegetables and seasoned rice.
We also tried the catfish taco (served with an orange chili salsa that while delicious, may be too sweet for a dinner palate) and the chicken thigh taco, which was slathered in Pueblo mole (a Mexican sauce made from chili peppers and chocolate) and queso fresco, a typical South American cheese.
Another standout from the menu was the $7 torta ahodaga, a typical Mexican-style sandwich served on fresh, warm ciabatta, layered with avocado salsa, arugula, radish, cabbage slaw, pickled onion, sliced jalapeño and jack cheese, and your choice of pork, beef or chicken thighs smeared with Chipotle aioli and a dipping sauce of sopa roja (red soup). Ahogada literally means ‘drowned’ in Spanish, which is a fitting description for a sandwich completely slathered in a sharp, delicious blend of sauces. For just $3 extra dollars, the sandwich is served with Vaquero cheesy french fries, covered in a blend of melted cheese and some fresh chopped tomatoes and jalapeños.
While it may be a trek for students living up north, Taco Diablo is definitely worth the trip. On a rainy day, the restaurant feels like a warm Mexican oasis, and for a reasonable amount of money you can enjoy a truly delicious, authentic meal.
Price range: $$
Address: 1029 Davis St, Evanston IL 60201
Hours of operation: Mon, Sun 11:30 a.m.-9:00 p.m., Tue 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Wed-Sat 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.