by Mike Sula
In Mexico tripa doesn't refer to the lining from the first three chambers of a ruminant's stomach but its small intestine, which, when washed and cleaned, serves as one of the preferred fillings for tacos de fritangas. For this specialty of Mexico City, muscles and organs are "fried" on the periphery of a circular grill with a dome in the middle for warming tortillas. This charola accommodates typical fillings like the pork sausage longaniza; the lean suadero, cut from the brisket; and the tripa. Their juices commingle with the cooking oil, creating a kind of braise, which flavors them and prevents them from drying out, and reminds me a lot of carnitas.
There aren't too many charolas in town, but there is at least one charola master. In May 2011 LTHers discovered Cesar Castillo, the taquero at La Chaparrita #1, and haven't stopped singing his praises since. But Castillo, a native of Veracruz, has been working the charola for six years at this grocery/taqueria on a quiet residential corner in Little Village.
Suadero is generally the more popular taco de fritanga filling, but Castillo's tripa is really something special. Not the snappy, rubbery slimy stuff you'd imagine, it's clean and rich, and crisps up on the edges, creating a textural dichotomy with its inherent squishiness. You can order it extra crispy, or not crispy at all if you're gutsy. Castillo will accommodate, selecting choice bits, deftly cleavering them into tiny pieces, bedding them it on a warm tortilla, and dressing them with a sprinkle of chopped onion and cilantro.
La Chaparrita's miracles aren't all born on the charola. Owner Angelina Mendez stuffs the sausages and seasons the meats according to a recipe she won't divulge that was brought to Chicago more than two decades ago by her mother (who owns the more family-style La Chaparrita #2 in Chicago Lawn.) Castillo also steams cabeza, lengua, sesos, and mollejas, grills carne asada over charcoal, and shaves a pineapple-y al pastor (though thanks to an unfortunate and perhaps incorrect interpretation of the health code he's no longer permitted to use a trompo, which is a shame, because that's how he cut his teeth as a taquero). Each one of these is a paragon of the taco arts.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of taquerias in town, and any that does even one thing really well is special. With excellent handmade huaraches, grilled cebollitas, Mendez's creamy proprietary salsas, and her fresh-fruit licuados, aguas frescas, and icy milk shakes (aka eskimos), La Chaparrita is exceptional.
La Chaparrita Taqueria #1, 2500 S. Whipple, 773-254-0975