Best Corner for Rowdy Latino Seafood

Ashland and Cortez

Critics' Picks

I begin with a disclaimer: I do not know where to find the best mariscos in the city. I only know that there's one corner in Chicago with two west Mexican mariscos places competing like hookers in the red-light district. On the east side of Ashland there's the flashier of the two, El Barco, the crazy one, Laura San Giacomo if we're talking Pretty Woman. Its menu has a section called "chingaderias," which translates roughly to "fuckeries" (but apparently in a good way). There's lots to snack on, lots of big plates meant to share, and lots of different variations on the staple seafood-onion-tomato combo, whether in tacos, soups, salads, or entrees. It's a bit pricier than the homey joint across the street, El Veneno. Here there are simpler plates in a smaller, cuter restaurant with a friendlier feel—when I went, the two parties near us each recommended what to order, with the red snapper winning wide praise. The dish was so popular it had sold out, so we settled for peeling off the skin of succulent "cucaracha" while we chatted with our neighbors. Both restaurants are popular with Noble Square locals, and the wait at Veneno on a weekend is at least an hour. I'll also end with a disclaimer: El Veneno's name means "the poison," a nod to the fiendishly spicy hot sauce the waiter leaves next to your chips without a warning when you sit down. I ignored the protestations from my neighbors and spent the subsequent 20 minutes swigging life-saving beer.