Big Star

Restaurant / Whiskey Bar
Big Star Just a few steps from the lively Wicker Park intersection of North and Damen Avenues, a large black and red star shines over what looks like a former gas station and that's because it is. Chicago United States 41.909303 -87.677131
3.48 17
Big Star - Restaurant | Whiskey Bar in Chicago.
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Ratings:
Lucas
Adriana
Jonah
Emma

Party Earth Review Just a few steps from the lively Wicker Park intersection of North and Damen Avenues, a large black and red star shines over what looks like a former gas station – and that’s because it is. The funky exterior of Big Star... ... read full review

  • Hours:

    M–F, Su 11:30am–2am, Sa 11:30am–3am

  • Recommended as:

    • Day Spot
    • Night Spot

Party Earth Big Star Review

The Scene

Just a few steps from the lively Wicker Park intersection of North and Damen Avenues, a large black and red star shines over what looks like a former gas station and that's because it is.

Just a few steps from the lively Wicker Park intersection of North and Damen Avenues, a large black and red star shines over what looks like a former gas station – and that’s because it is.

The funky exterior of Big Star, however, belies the lively and energetic vibe within, as loud honky-tonk music blares from the stereo and groups of mustachioed hipsters chat animatedly over authentic tacos and rounds of Lone Star beer.

Large skylights dot the single room’s ceiling, while bare wooden walls and glass-paneled garage doors highlight the venue’s minimalist design.

For many, Big Star is a destination spot throughout the week, a place where young professionals can wash off the day with a few Micheladas (Tecate mixed with house-made hot sauces), and artsy types and groups of boisterous girls can crowd into wooden booths to down pitchers of margaritas.

Friday and Saturday nights draw a little heavier on the party-hopping crowd, as preppy couples take over the bourbon barrel tables around the large central bar, vaporizing a few bacon-wrapped hot dogs before heading to the nearby clubs.

Warmer months draw a mix of fraternity types and easygoing hipsters to the asphalt patio out front, where they rock a block-party feel as they munch on vats of melted cheese with pork belly tacos, all washed down with a few whiskeys or cocktails.

As if precariously straddling the Rio Grande, Big Star brings an authentic Tex-Mex taste to this hipster neighborhood, and it is very bueno.

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Tip from Emma:

On the south side of the building, Big Star has a taco stand that serves its menu in take-out form. If the restaurant is crowded, grab a taco to ease your hunger and see if it’s worth it to wait for a table inside.

  • Crowd

    Mix of flannel-clad hipsters, concertgoers, metrosexuals, party girls, fraternity types, and couples, early 20s to mid-30s.

  • Entertainment / Music

    Playlist of loud honky-tonk, Texas country, rock, and southern blues. Occasional live music sessions.

  • Food / Miscellaneous

    Authentic Mexican tacos and tostadas. Cash only. ATM on site.

  • Prices

    Tacos and tostadas $3–$4. Beer $2–$6, big bottles (22–26oz.) $16–$21, tequila $5–$14, whiskey $3–$16.

  • What to Wear / Dress Code

    Cool casual/club: flannel, untucked button-downs, vintage cool, and some club attire.

  • Hot Nights / When to Go

    Thursday through Saturday nights for a busy and energetic vibe, though table waits up to an hour are common.

  • Close By

    Piece (1927 West North Avenue) goes the Italian route with thin crust pizza and a lengthy beer menu.

Big Star User Reviews

Average rating:
Pass the Pescado please
Hannah K. Jul 15, 2013
Quintessentially hipster but in a cool kind of way, Big Star takes Chicago's nostalgic immigrant history and puts a modern twist on it. The atmosphere is part of the experience, slightly cramped quarters makes socializing with half the room inevitable. If people watching is more your thing, than grab a table outside. The wait can be grueling especially if you're starving, but once taco and tasty beverage are in hands, any grievance is forgotten. Fortunately I've been seated immediately on a given weekday around 3pm. Try the Taco de Pescado and order 2 more because one isn't enough. Don't forget the chips and guac with queso fundido when you're with a party of 3 or more. Share, yes you must share a pitcher of Big Star's classic margarita, you're bound to hit the floor if drunk alone. Grab a friend or even a neighbor if you haven't tried Big Star, he or she will keep you company while you wait.
Margaritas That Pay for Themselves
Erin D. May 14, 2013
The wait may be tedious, the quest for a spot at the bar may be daunting, the hipsters may be judging your every move, but the margaritas at Big Star will make you forget all the pain you endured just to order one. While other places may water down their margaritas in order to save a pretty penny, Big Star douses them in in tequila without giving them that "oh-my-god-this-tastes-like-straight-alcohol" feeling. Share a pitcher with a friend and you'll have to leave your car behind, opting for the easily accessibly Blue Line or one of the many cabs sitting out front. Oh they have food too! Delicious tacos - my favorite being the Papas con Rajas, a spicy potato taco. And though I generally avoid pork at all costs, the Taco al Pastor is enough to bring me back. Shredded pork and pineapple? How could you resist? If you're not a taco person (then what is wrong with you?!), I always start with their Queso Fundido- cheese with poblano peppers and enough chorizo to make this former vegetarian's mouth water. Their bacon-wrapped hot dog is also a great option for my non-taco friends. Yes, Big Star is always bumping and you may have the urge to give up and head to another Wicker Park establishment, but never give up! Have a margarita and literally forget all your troubles.
Hunger Games
Joshua M. Apr 29, 2013
I'll summarize a typical experience at Big Star like this: the food is amazing, but the wait is awful. The wait for your order can actually be amplified by the unnerving expectation of incredible but pretty pricey tacos. At $3ish/taco or whisky shot, these aren't the cheapest tacos you can find in the city, but are worth every penny you spend on them. And how do I choose to spend my pennies here? On the Taco al Pastor. Grilled pineapple and pork come together in beautiful, beautiful gourmet harmony that lasts only a few bites, but those bites might as well have been ripped off a pork angel. Taco de Panza, which has crispy braised pork and tomato guajillo sauce, comes at a close second. While I love the food here, being surrounded by what appears to be the Hunger Games for Wicker Park hipsters can throw off your mood while waiting for a seat or your order. If you're not willing to wait for a seat inside the restaurant or on their patio (there's a ton of space, but this invites even more customers), you're more than welcome to order from their takeout window. This doesn't guarantee immediate service, but much faster than actually waiting for a place to sit and eat any of their amazing tacos. During the summer, the weather and wonderful company of friends can distract you from the smoke and noise and dog barks. In the winter, however, incoming and outgoing customers forget that the warm air escapes through open doors, and things get a somewhat claustrophobic when you start getting smacked in the face with bypassing purses and winter coats. Case in point: warnings to ye who dare enter this Wicker Park icon, but great treasures await those who venture here!
A Wicker Park Staple
Andrew D. Apr 25, 2013
If you haven't at least heard of Big Star by now, you either don't live in city proper, have no taste, live on another planet, or possess all of the above qualities. This converted automotive clinic has adorned Damen for the past three or four years and will probably stay here for decades to come. The tacos aren't cheap, but they are delicious. The al pastor, carnitas, and pescado are all excellent! There is even a spicy potato vegetarian option. Further, the beer and whiskeys are also reasonably priced. You simply cannot beat a different $3 whiskey shot every day. However, let me retract, as "cheapness" brings an unwanted element to this joint. (See below) TOO. MANY. HIPSTERS. Not only are there bona fide weirdos in here, but there are also younger wannabe hipsters. a.k.a college students or recent college grads using daddy's credit card to buy jeans that are too tight, unnecessary scarves, lensless thick-framed glasses, hideous suede boots, one-speed bikes, and other abhorrent merchandise. Since I find this hysterical, I often find my drunk self outright laughing at some of these clowns in Big Star. All in all, by all means make your way in here at an off-time. i.e. work lunch, late night, or early happy hour. Let's say when there is only a twenty minute wait. Otherwise, the place is just a bit overrated - especially given Bullhead Cantina does essentially the same thing for cheaper in Humboldt Park, and High Noon Saloon does the same thing down the street without the hipster congregation.
Mexican street food in the City of Big Shoulders: best tacos this side of the river.
Thomas J. Apr 5, 2013
There's something to be said about a thriving cash only restaurant in a credit card world, especially when this restaurant is consistently packed to the walls with hungry patrons (many who have been waiting for a seat for some time) regardless of the season. With the smell of carnitas and bourbon a plenty in the air, Big Star continues to grow it's fan base since it's opening. While their website would suggest their main concern is beer, cocktails, and whiskey, Chef Paul Kahan and Chef Justin Large would beg to differ. Drawing inspiration from California style Mexican street food, their menu is simple and elegant, with super reasonably priced tacos that warrant a more than deserving second serving (or third). Despite being crowded nearly all of the time, the less than $10 per most items (shots and beers included) is well worth the wait if you find yourself standing on the sidewalk outside of Damen and Milwaukee. Once seated, you're almost certainly in for a treat, the likes of which have yet to be seen anywhere else in the greater Wicker Park neighborhood.
A Honky-Tonk Taqueria Specializing in a Trifecta of Tex-Mex, Beer, and Bourbon
Lauren K. Mar 1, 2013
Whether it’s 11:30 on a Wednesday morning or 11:30 on a Saturday night, Big Star draws a crowd. The honky-tonk taqueria is another sibling in the One Off Hospitality Group family (The Publican, Blackbird, avec, etc.), headed by Executive Chef Paul Kahan. Located across the street from the Damen-O'Hare Blue Line stop and just a hop from the popular six corners intersection in Wicker Park, you can’t miss it. The restaurant is housed in a refurbished gas station with its taco truck parked outside and namesake star shining over Damen Avenue. On any given warm weather evening, Big Star’s patio is sure to be packed with patrons. Inside, the central bar provides great views of their bourbon selection and booths offer convenient seating options for bigger parties. The ambience is lively and loud, a mix of booze-fueled conversation and the country music blasting from the record player behind the bar. Big Star specializes in a glorious trifecta of Tex-Mex, beer, and bourbon. The big winner is their taco menu, with the Taco Al Pastor taking first prize. The $3 tacos are nicely paired with $3 whiskey shots and there are several gluten free and vegetarian options, as well. Service is always friendly and typically speedy. But, if you’re in a rush, consider stopping by the take out window for a taco to go. Just remember, Big Star is a cash only establishment. With an ever-changing ingredient list that focuses on foods in season and a regular rotation of the beers on tap, Big Star gives good reason to be a repeat visitor.
Amazing gourmet tacos for a reasonable price
Tracey Z. Feb 21, 2013
Chicago certainly has no shortage of Hispanic cuisine, so it's nice to see someone put a gourmet spin on authentic tacos but keeps it affordable. The tacos are typically $3-$4 each, and well worth it. My favorites are the tacos al pastor and the tacos al panza, which are the delicious pork belly tacos that people usually use rave about when Big Star is mentioned. The food alone is worth the trip to Wicker Park, but the drinks are also excellent, particularly the margaritas. The converted gas station atmosphere is pretty unique, and during the summer months, the patio is open, but it tends to be unbearably crowded. The interior is always packed, even at off times like 3 pm on a weekday, and it is not uncommon to see every seat in the place filled. Because of this, the service can be a little slow, and it's quite loud. However, if you're only interested in the food and want to avoid the hipster crowd and the long wait during the warmer months, the walk-up window is a great option.
Style over Substance
Sara S. Feb 19, 2013
Like any other city with a large Hispanic population, Chicago boasts it's fair share of Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants. Unlike other cities however, we have Big Star. It's popularity with the local hipster crowd is obvious from the sea of plaid shirts and wide-framed glasses that envelopes the restaurant itself along with a good portion of the surrounding sidewalk. This, along with the nostalgia-laced atmosphere of retro accents and neon signs, gives the unmistakable feeling of being in an independent film. There is often a considerable wait before being seated and unfortunately often an even longer wait before being served. The food itself is just as hip as most of it's consumers, taking classic Tex-Mex favorites and, apart from a few questionable flavor combinations, transforms them into inspired takes on favorite combinations – and all at a very reasonable price. There is no doubt that the food at Big Star is good and that the atmosphere is a delightfully playful amalgam of retro-kitsch and border-town flare, but this restaurant definitely favors style over substance and expectations far surpassed reality and the food was not what the hip and trendy exterior would lead one to believe. Based on the long wait to enter and the even longer wait to eat along with the overall quality of the food, the restaurant as a whole leaves something to be desired and does not live up to the standards that it has set for itself. In Chicago, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine and with so many options we can afford to be picky. Big Star doesn't have much to offer customers other than it's one-of-a-kind atmosphere and agreeable prices. The food, though inspired, fails to deliver what it promised after being so long in coming. Big Star is certainly worth trying once, but only if you have the time.
Hipster hotspot
Nicole H. Dec 14, 2012
If you're familiar with the hipster hood of Wicker Park, you'll know the crowd that frequents Big Star. The restaurant/bar is fairly large and could be considered a landmark in the neighborhood. In the summertime, there's patio seating, which I think is hard to come by in the Windy City. Big Star is also draped with small white lights, giving it some glow. I've never had the food so I can't vouch for it, but the drinks are good and the atmosphere lively. The real gem is Violet Hour across the street. But if you're interested in a no-wait low-key night, Big Star is a better choice. I imagine it's a great brunch spot on a sunny afternoon.
A hotspot for sure, just not for me
Craig B. Dec 9, 2012
Big Star is pretty good. It's not great, but it's not bad either. My biggest complaint has got to be the crowd. It's all aging frat dudes and sorority girls, they're all drunk, and they're all very loud. But on the plus side, Big Star is cheap, it's easy, and it is right across the street from The Violet Hour, so if you're on the waiting list there you can easily pop over for a couple of tacos and drinks before you get called. If you're looking for an interesting drink but don't have the stomach for tequila, try the micheladas. They're delicious.
Seriously delicious tacos.
Christina W. Nov 14, 2012
Big Star is a hit or miss for me. A weeknight in winter can result in a really great time, but weekends and summer months are just dreadful here. It's loud and crowded, and even if you do get a table after waiting an hour, the service isn't great and you'll hardly be able to hear your friends over the din and LOUD rockabilly music. BUT. (Big BUT.) The tacos make it totally worth it. At least for a little while. I don't know what kind of ingredients they use, but these tacos are really out of this world. The fish taco is my favorite, and the pork belly taco is really incredible as well. Also their salsa is house-made or something. Maybe not, but it's delicious. The drinks are actually really great too, to be fair, but that means you need to spend a long time sitting in the ever-so-loud room. But after a few craft cocktails or house-made margaritas, or even their killer Micheladas, you probably won't mind the noise as much. BIG HINT: If you hate noise/bars but love tacos, they serve tacos from a little hole-in-the-wall right outside the bar during the daytime! Lunch or early dinner, it's a solid bet for a delicious and easy meal.
Pork Belly Tacos, Strong Margaritas, and one of Chicago's Best Patios
Kit G. Oct 1, 2012
Big Star has it all. The food is top notch, the drinks are carefully composed, and you can't beat the lively atmosphere. I have been to Big Star on Tuesday nights in the dead of winter and it is filled with people, Big Star is always a party. It is a really fun scene - it's a casual but fashionable taco joint that blasts the Johnny Cash and has a crowd of singles at the bar. The large bar takes up about half the space, but with good reason. This is Violet Hour's sister restaurant and they take their drinks seriously. Unlike Violet Hour, most people come to Big Star to eat. The food here is some of the best cheap food Chicago has to offer. The Panza Taco is one of my favorite meals in Chicago. These tacos are only $3, but they are so good people would pay twice that. The pork belly is perfectly crisp and juicy. The sauce has just enough kick, and it is paired with just the right amount of queso fresco. The guacamole has a generous amount of lime giving it a really fresh taste. The menu at Big Star changes frequently enough that there is always something new to try. The most popular items, like the Taco de Panza seem to be on the menu for good. The seasonal items are always fun to try. The bar at Big Star is known for their margaritas that are available by the glass or pitcher, but they have several more tequila and whiskey based cocktails. If you aren't a fan of mixed drinks there is a solid selection of beer and whiskey. Beers range from $1 drafts of Schlitz to Mexican brews. The bourbon and whiskey list is very comprehensive - it is 6 pages long. On weekend's the large patio is always packed with a mix of Wicker Park Hipsters, the stroller crowd, young professionals, and friends recovering from the night before. It is a great place for people watching. On week nights it is a popular place for happy hour. Big Star does not take reservations and there is usually a wait. You do have two options - there is a walk up window and picnic tables to the right of the restaurant if you are ok with keeping your meal alcohol free, otherwise the hostess will take your number and call you when a table is ready. Often the best way to get a table quickly is to show up with a group of 7 people. Big Star gives larger groups the booths inside the restaurant and the wait for those is much shorter.
Good tacos and crowded day or night
kate o. Sep 19, 2012
I have been to Big Star both at night and during the day and the vibe is generally laid-back for both even if you are surrounded by too many hipsters. At night it was crowded and a little hard to move around and getting drinks was slower, but generally a fun time. During the day was nice because I was able to bring my dog, sit outside, and have enough people-watching to entertain myself while I waited for friends to join. I had a margarita and tacos. The tacos were very good but the margarita was not great - just tasted like lime and tequila without much flavor. The staff is friendly and attentive and brought water for my dog, which was appreciated on a hot day. Even for the middle of a workday it was still relatively crowded, but more relaxed than at night. I'd go if I was in the neighborhood, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it.
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