Taquerias are everywhere in Chicago. From authentic, no-frills corner spots to chef-driven locales, the Windy City is arguably one of the country's best when it comes to top-notch Mexican eats. One spot that stands out among the crowd is Antique Taco, a funky taco joint with locations in Wicker Park and Bridgeport, and a soon-to-open “chiquito” location in the highly anticipated Revival Food Hall.
Chef Rick Ortiz melds his Mexican heritage with his Midwest roots in a menu that is full of tacos stuffed with seasonal ingredients from local farmers, including the market mushroom fajita taco and the garlic shrimp taco topped with off-the-cob elote and cotija cheese. The lineup also boasts fun treats like Habanero popcorn, Horchata milkshakes and chorizo chili cheese curds. Ortiz's wife, Ashley, takes the reigns on the design of their restaurant spaces, pulling in her love of antiques wherever possible.
It's evident upon walking into the restaurant that the vintage chic décor did not happen overnight. The vision of the space can be credited fully to Ashley, who loves to scope out unique finds and one-of-a-kind items at antique markets. Although she does some shopping online, she likes to go in person to really be able to touch and feel what she's purchasing. She often "antiques" with a wishlist in hand but discovers hidden gems along the way.
“I go with a mission in mind, but things definitely steer me in other directions and spark different ideas,” she says. “It's hard to pass up on things that are one of a kind."
The couple keeps a few storage units full of the antique items and occasionally swaps decor in and out as needed. Their recently opened event space above their Wicker Park restaurant allows Ashley to showcase different items depending on the occasion. She thrives on the creativity that comes with being able to display her finds in fresh new ways and finding a utilitarian use for most pieces. She recently came across some must-have glass jars that motivated her to want to offer “gas station” snacks (penny candy, gum, jerky) at the counter of the new space.
One noticeable theme among the antiques is vintage, multipurpose Coca-Cola memorabilia scattered throughout the restaurant, from a weathered Coca-Cola crate holding salsas, to a large cooler used as a makeshift bar for events or a table for flowers and other decorative centerpieces.
“We've always been drawn to Coca-Cola in general, and there is lots of Coke stuff at the antique markets,” says Ortiz. “Colors always stand out – love the way it was served in the old days. Besides loving Coke [the drink], we are really drawn to the typography, the visual of the brand. It really fits with our aesthetic.”
Whereas many Coca-Cola collectors like to focus on a specific era or historic moment, Ortiz welcomes pieces from any time period. “For us, it's more about the visual," she explains. "We like the collective feel and look of mixing and matching.”
Ortiz keeps most of her antique finds for use in the restaurants, but there is a small area set up in the Wicker Park restaurant where she sells a few of her finds, along with chic items from local vendors, including bottles of their own habanero hot sauce.
The duo is a huge fan of selling Coca-Cola beverages to accompany their food, as well, with Mexican Coke being the biggest seller. They also serve a variety of Fanta flavors, Diet Coke and Sprite – all in vintage glass bottles, of course.
“There's just something about a taco and a Coke,” she says.
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