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Drink Tue Jun 08 2010

The Happy Margarita Summer Project 2010, Round 2: Big Star

If you still haven't made it to Big Star -- Paul Kahan's tacos-and-whiskey joint in the revamped Pontiac Cafe space on Damen near Wicker Park (the park) in Wicker Park (the neighborhood) -- the vast, sun-drenched outdoor patio is beckoning you this summer.

People-watching here is guaranteed to put you in a good mood, thanks to the wonderfully eclectic mix of adorable hipster families, sexy singles on the prowl, and puppy-toting dudes just happening by. Chef Kahan's tacos look like modest portions but the rich fillings will get ya, so go easy -- if for no other reason than to save plenty of room for the guacamole, which is arguably the best dish on the menu.

Now, I didn't come for tacos or whiskey. My friend Claire and I gathered some girlfriends together last Friday for one reason: Round Two of the Happy Margarita Summer Project.

While whiskey is the big star at Big Star, any respectable taco joint-bar has to serve margaritas. At Big Star, they make 'em pretty and strong. And at $30 for a pitcher that serves five, they're very reasonable. We appreciated the potent portion of tequila and the smoky kick provided by the mezcal, but both Claire and I agreed -- in almost eerily similar notes, which, per the rules of our project, we each jot down silently after our first couple of sips, before sharing our opinions out loud -- they need more lime.

What they lack in balance, they make up by blending in with the beautiful surroundings. The drinks come to the table looking sophisticated and stylish in clear glass double-old fashioneds; you won't find a cheesy margarita glass here. They're chilled with perfectly square ice cubes. I don't know why, but I covet the ice trays that make these gorgeous cubes. Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention we had fantastic service that night.

In sum, Big Star wins points for style and for adding interest with the smoky mezcal. But we agree we're still on the hunt for the perfectly balanced margarita. Where to next?


TexasT / June 8, 2010 9:04 AM

Mezcal margaritas? That sounds dangerous! At least Mezcal was dangerous for us when we visited Oaxaca.

graham / June 8, 2010 10:18 AM

Those ice cubes come courtesy of a Kold-Draft ice maker. Big Star is one of a few Chicago places that has one - I believe Sable, Longman & Eagle, and The Violet Hour are the others.

Mandy / June 8, 2010 11:27 AM

Hmmm ... now if only I could find space in my one-bedroom apartment for a commercial ice maker. I guess we could get rid of the bed.

that_girl / June 9, 2010 11:58 AM

I don't know how far you're willing to drive (or you could take the train), but Bien Trucha in Geneva has amazing food AND fresh, fantastic margaritas. No blenders or mixes there. Great stuff. :)

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