The High Noon Saloon wins at churros, fails at everything else | Bleader

The High Noon Saloon wins at churros, fails at everything else

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Afternoon at the High Noon Saloon
Locationwise, the High Noon Saloon is extremely close to Big Star: if you walked out the back door of one and there were no barriers in the way, you'd probably end up in the other restaurant. Foodwise, they're worlds apart. The menus are similar, sure—queso fundido, guacamole, chips and salsa, tacos, margaritas—but the High Noon Saloon's Tex-Mex doesn't come even close to measuring up to the (admittedly high) standard that its wildly popular neighbor has set. It may pick up some customers who don't have the patience to wait for a table at Big Star, but taco competition in the neighborhood is getting fierce, with Antique Taco and now Takito Kitchen close by.

The atmosphere is a cross between old-timey saloon and sports bar: wooden rafters, baroque chandeliers, and old-fashioned wallpaper are accented by enormous flat-screen TVs. The menu is built around tacos, tamales, and fajitas—the type of fare useful for soaking up alcohol late at night—and rounded out with a few soups, salads, and appetizers. Those basics fall uniformly flat: A pork tamale managed to be simultaneously dry (the meat) and soggy (the masa); the veggie tamale (goat cheese, poblano pepper, tomato, onion) was distinguishable from the other only by the fact that it was uniformly soggy and had less flavor. Tacos (al pastor, barbacoa chicken, smoked brisket) were more flavorful, but the meat on all of them was a bit tough—though I did like the chipotle-barbecue sauce on the brisket.

I hate to keep comparing the place to Big Star, but it'd be easier to avoid if the Saloon didn't insist on serving inferior versions of the same menu item. Queso fundido, for example, is one of my favorite dishes at Big Star. That never seemed to me like a big accomplishment: how can you go wrong with melted Chihuahua cheese, crumbled chorizo, and poblano peppers? The High Noon Saloon manages it, though. Bell peppers stand in for poblanos—not that it matters, because they're almost as difficult to find under the congealed mass of cheese as the chorizo. Wrapped in a limp tortilla, it was one of the blandest bites I'd had in a while (though that was before the tamales arrived).

Jicama salad
There were a couple sleepers on the menu, though. A salad of mixed greens with jicama, orange, grapefruit, pineapple, and candied pecans in an apricot vinaigrette was outstanding, simultaneously spicy, sweet, tart, bitter, and nutty. Churros were equally good, though (obviously) in a different way: crunchy outside and so creamy and dense inside that I thought for a second that they were filled with custard, they tasted like vanilla and cinnamon and reminded me a little of an old-fashioned doughnut. The chocolate dipping sauce with pasilla chile was almost unnecessary—not that it stopped me from eating it.

High Noon Saloon, 1560 N. Milwaukee, 773-227-9339

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