Kokopelli brings addictive tacos (and more) to Wicker Park

Kokopelli is the Hopi god of fertility and mischief and that quirky combination now lends its name to one of the newest restaurants in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood.  What began as a taqueria on wheels is now a full-service restaurant located at 1324 N. Milwaukee offering some of the finest gourmet Mexican street food in the city.

Creative Chef Guillermo “Oso” Campos Moreno – the backbone of the operation – attended Tijuana’s culinary arts school before working in restaurants throughout Mexico. Oso worked as the executive chef at Parque Bicentario in Guanajuato, and spent time at the three time Michelin-starred Oud Sluis in the Netherlands before returning to Tijuana. Doing what he could with his savings, Oso teamed with his brother Pablo Campos and Orlando “Cricket” Miguel del Monte to open Kokopelli there in 2012.

Followers of the food truck began to call the tacos “Crackopelli” and flocked to order them whenever and wherever possible.  Each taco begins with a tortilla made from nixtamal that is crisped on a mesquite grill.  If you’re unfamiliar with nixtamal, check out this informative website.

Every salsa and topping is made from scratch, and no ingredient is too unconventional to be the star of a dish – think portobello, pulpo (octopus), lomo de lenguado (fillet of sole), and marlin pibil (a Yucatan-style adobo marinade).  Kokopelli’s signature taco, Kraken, features octopus marinated in Mexican pesto with freshly sliced avocado and cheese– all wrapped up in a lightly toasted tortilla.

I was invited to stop by for dinner to sample the menu and now I know why fans refer to Oso’s creations as “Crackopelli.”  First, make sure you sample the cocktail menu. On my visit, I tried out three different, intriguing cocktails:

  • Viejo Chingon (Pueble Viejo Anejo, Very Old Barton, Cafe Borghetti, Amaretto, Mole Bitters) – The combination of coffee flavor, amaretto, and mole was amazing! I love a good savory cocktail and this was a perfect combination.
  • El Dandy (Very Old Barton, Maple Syrup, Cherry Heering, Lemon, Cinnamon) This is a bit more on the sweeter side, but the maple syrup was a lovely change from the ‘traditional’ simple syrup at most bars.
  • Smokey Guey (La Puritita Verda Mezcal, Grapefruit, Simple, Lime, Mint, Egg White) Mezcal is such a distinctive flavor, and one that I love. The smoky flavor of the mezcal is offset nicely by the citrus, a bit of sweetness, and the fluffy egg whites.

The food, of course, is what brings most people here. Kokopelli bills itself as a “Gourmet Mexican Taco Bar” but it really is much more.  Diving into the menu, I was able to sample a number of their best offerings:

  • Chicharron Guacamole (ripe avocados with crispy pork rinds, roasted habenero & pineapple, red onion, cilantro, lime juice) OK. I must confess that I love pork rinds. Any menu with authentic chicharrones wins my heart. Combine that with great guacamole and you have one of the best and most inventive guacs that I have ever tasted.
  • Black Harder Ceviche (catch of the day, calamari ink, lemon juice, avocado, pickled onion, Espuma de Mar & Castigo Azteca Salsas) You can check out their online menu for a description of the various salsas. The calamari ink, of course, turns this ceviche jet black for an unusual presentation. This one is a bit on the spicy side, so if you’re a fan of heat then definitely order it.
  • Three tacos including Gringo en Vacaciones (adobo marinated shrimp, grilled pineapple, pickled onions, Castigo Azteca Salsa); Kraken (grilled octopus marinated in a Mexican pesto, pickled onions, Castigo Azteca Salsa); and Baja (beer-battered Mahi-Mahi glazed in a tamarind-pineapple sauce, chipotle coleslaw, chunky tomatillo salsa, citrus cream) My favorite of the group was the Gringo. The shrimp were plump, juicy, and full of flavor. The combination of sweet with savory was also superb. The Kraken, one of their signature dishes, was also excellent and unusual – a must try. Not to be outdone, the Mahi-Mahi was also superb with a savory/sweet tamarind glaze.
  • Steak Sopes (fresh hand-made guajillo sopes, refried bean, sour cream, queso fresco, diced onion) Sopes are very traditional and a favorite ‘street food’ item all over Mexico. Kokopelli offers Portobello, Steak, and Chicken. I had the steak and it was quite tender, flavorful, and delightfully messy. I enjoy digging in to street food and the messier the better. This was excellent.

Kokopelli is located at 1324 N. Milwaukee, just a short walk from the Division stop on the Blue Line. You can get more information on their website or by calling (773) 698-7670. They are open Mon-Wed, 4 p.m. – 12 a.m.; Thu-Fri, 4 p.m. – 2 a.m.; Sat 12 p.m. – 2 a.m.; Sun 12 p.m. – 12 a.m. 






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