I’ve lived in the Lakeview neighborhood for a few years now, and I’ve seen a couple of places come and go at 1034 W. Belmont Ave. For a while, Indie Burger occupied that corner space, but suddenly it closed and there was a bright, new blue and yellow paint job on the brick wall outside that read, “BIG & little’s.

Last Friday night I planned to see a good friend of mine for dinner. We live within a couple of blocks of each other, and are both relatively lazy, so I was brainstorming restaurants within walking distance. When she mentioned BIG & little’s, I was excited because I had always been curious about the little spot around the corner.

After drooling over the menu for a couple of minutes, I was raring to go. Until I realized there was no alcohol on the menu. Roadblock. No worries though, I was soon reassured that it was BYOB. Score.

So we grabbed a six-pack of some beer with a zombie on it – duh – and walked over.

It was obvious when we were getting close, because there was a line out of the door bending around the corner of Kenmore Avenue. That line was consistent from the time we got into it, to the time we ordered, to the time we received and ate our food to the time that we left. Needless to say, BIG & little’s is one hell of a popular place!

Pro to the long line: I had more time to figure out what I was going to order. And boy did I need it. BIG & little’s menu focuses on pretty much the four greatest foods ever: tacos, burritos, po’boys and burgers. It took all of my might not to order one of everything, because every item on the menu sounds scrumptiously life-changing.

Let’s talk tacos. They run the gamut when it comes to our favorite handhelds. From your out-of-the-box banh mi taco to your more classic carnitas and everything in between: Japanese beef short rib, tilapia, spicy pork, steamed blue crab, the list goes on.

Like I said, I wanted everything. But as I stood in line, I kept hearing over and over again, “Oh, I’m going to get the samurai.” And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, definitely order what everyone else is ordering, because they know. And let me tell you, they were right.

The samurai taco starts with fried whitefish. Then add jalapeño, lettuce, special sauce (chili aioli), samurai sauce (soy-based sweet sauce), lime juice and sesame seeds. The fish is battered perfectly – not too thick, just the right amount. It’s not greasy, and greets you with the perfect crunch. The sweetness of the samurai sauce contrasts with the spiciness of the jalapeños and the savory note of the chili aioli to make the perfect marriage of flavors in your mouth.

From there I wanted to mix it up a little bit, so I got the lamb taco. The guy taking my order described it to the girl in front of me like this: “Have you ever had a gyro? Well it’s exactly like that, but just a mini version.” And he was dead on. The taco shell was actually a warm, soft pita. Yum. Then stuff that with perfectly seasoned gyro meat topped with fresh tomatoes, onions and a generous glob of tzatziki. A little too much sauce for my liking, but that didn’t stop me from eating every bite.

Another BIG & little’s star is their raw Ahi tuna poke taco. They take sashimi grade tuna and toss it in ginger, chili paste, sesame seed oil, special sauce, samurai sauce and sesame seeds. Then it’s all jam packed into a hard taco shell. And when I say jam packed, I mean it. They do not skimp you on the tuna. Speaking of the tuna, it is insanely fresh and literally melts in your mouth. To make it even better, that silkiness pairs perfectly with the crunch of the tortilla shell.

Moving on to other showstoppers, specifically BIG & little’s soft-shell crab po’boy. They take soft-shell crab, deep-fry it, throw it on a toasted baguette and top it with lettuce, pickles, lime juice and special sauce. The presentation alone is reason enough to order this sandwich – with the full, fried crab staring up at you atop its toasty throne.

In case you haven’t noticed, BIG & little’s food is neither lacking in flavor nor creativity. And those same traits are mirrored throughout the menu from their burritos like The Honkey – fried pork belly, fries, cabbage, pickles, special sauce, BBQ sauce – to their burgers like the al pastor: fried pork belly, American and Swiss cheeses, jalapeño, pineapple and special sauce.

And don’t skip out on the sides here. BIG & little’s is serving up piping hot fries with flavors like Cajun and truffle. And occasionally they’ll feature kimchi fries – one of my personal faves.

All in all, you can’t go wrong at BIG & little’s. So grab a buddy, your favorite booze and head on over to the little joint on the corner of Belmont and Kenmore (there’s one in River North, too). If you want to miss the line, go early. Otherwise, be prepared to wait. I promise it’s worth it though. 

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