RIP Taco Cafe? (Hello, Irazu?)

I moved to Wicker Park on the 1st of July. Ever since then, the corridor of North Avenue that hosts Taco Cafe has been a boulevard of burrito broken dreams. Taco Cafe, you see, has been closed.

Teased by promises of "philly tacos" and veggie chili at 5 in the morning, I assumed that was a temporary state of affairs. My pet theory was that the owner lived in Pilsen and celebrated a little too much on the Fourth of July. Having been in the neighborhood for the occasion to witness fireworks displays intense enough to scare Michael Ware, I could understand if he needed a couple of days off.

But alas, it's a month later, and Taco Cafe remains closed, the only sign of its existence a hastily-written sign that reads: "We Will Be Closed ~ Thank's Taco Cafe" [sic].

There were other clues, too, that something wasn't quite right with Taco Cafe. The storefront isn't blighted exactly, but the windows are dirty and the interior is dusty. Moreover, there are a conspicuous lack of recent reviews on the foodie sites that I frequent. The most recent Yelp review is from July, 2006. No Metromix reviews since May 2006. There is a CitySearch review dated 11/23/2006, but that's still more than eight months out of date, and for all I know the reviewer could been writing up an experience that she'd had months earlier. This was all very strange; this is a relatively gringo-ized and well-regarded Mexican restaurant located at a major intersection, and one that stays open until 5 AM. You'd expect to see more than, oh -- zero reviews since last Thanksgiving.

Finally, I came across this: The Re-Open Taco Cafe Petition, which noted that "The Taco Cafe located @ 1608 W North Ave has been closed for several weeks". (There were some hints in the petition that its closure was due to health code violations). Based on some detective work I did on AltaVista, I determined that this petition had first been posted no later than July, 2006, which is right about when the reviews slowed to a halt. Therefore, I think we can conclude that Taco Cafe has been closed for at least a year, and probably closer to 13 or 14 months.

It looks like we need a replacement for Taco Cafe's #6 seed in our bracket. My friend Jessi, who may be writing some guest entries on veggie burritos later on, insisted on Irazu, which is well within our boundaries on Milwaukee Avenue. I resisted at first. I have nothing against Irazu; on the contrary, I regard it as one of the better "cheap eats" restaurants in the entire city (hell, one of the better restaurants PERIOD). But it primarily bills itself as Costa Rican rather than Mexican.

Jessi pointed out that Irazu does have burritos on its menu. It also has tacos, and sandwiches like the Pepito that aren't called tortas, but serve as the functional equivalent. So there is a sufficient variety of "Mexican" fare to qualify it for our competition. Moreover, Jessi pointed out, if my sole criterion was places that were authentically "Mexican", I'd have to wipe out at least two-thirds of my bracket before the first burrito was consumed.

And so, Irazu is in, but with the following qualification: I will only consider its "Mexican" items (burritos, tacos, and sandwiches/tortas) for the purposes of this competition, but not its variety of Costa Rican fare. As such, a #6 seed seems about right for Irazu. It would surely be seeded within the top three overall, and perhaps as high as #1, if it had its whole menu at its disposal, but we're forcing it to operate with one hand tied behind its back. Still, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if the best cheap "Mexican" restaurant in Wicker Park turns out not to be a Mexican restaurant at all.

Oh, and if Taco Cafe rises from the dead before the first round concludes, we will find some way to include it, probably by means of a play-in game.


Jessi said...

yeah!!! Irazu is IN. Man, I have such good ideas.

robert said...

take some new pictures!!