Antique Taco (Chicago): A husband-and-wife team declares its love for antiques and tacos at a Wicker Park storefront

Avid collectors Ashley and Rick Ortiz have made antiques the design focus of their cheerful storefront taquería.   Photo by Jeremy Lawson

Restaurateur Ashley Ortiz is used to the jokes — and doesn’t mind them a bit.  After all, when you name an eatery “Antique Taco,” you should expect some teasing.

“No, we don’t serve old tacos,” she says with a laugh.

Ashley Ortiz and her husband, chef Rick Ortiz, came up with the name for their new Wicker Park taquería while traveling through Mexico and Europe on a three-month “inspiration trip.”  They wrote about their travels on a blog they dubbed “Antique Taco.”

“It just kind of stuck,” Ashley Ortiz says.  And it further inspired the concept.

The chef and the former event planner met while working functions around town; the two were always focused on details and presentation, Ashley Ortiz says.  Photo by Jeremy Lawson

“The name sounds weird.  You don’t forget it. And it combines the two things we love — Mexican food and antiques.”

So the couple is now serving Rick Ortiz’s delicious craft tacos in an adorable, antique-laden corner storefront.

“We definitely knew antiques would be a big part of it,” says Ashley Ortiz, who designed the 45-seat space with help from her husband.

The couple met when Ashley Ortiz was an event planner.  She and the chef often found themselves working functions together, and both had an eye and a passion for presentation, she says.

“We’d both be going for that more rustic approach.  We’d always be looking for props and crates.”

When the two were ready to fulfill Rick Ortiz’s dream of opening his own restaurant, they set off on an antiques-buying spree that took them to Ohio and back.  The couple hit a major antiques show and about 20 stores in two-and-a-half days.

“Every time we found something, we saw the space coming to life,” says Ashley Ortiz, who rounded out their new collection with flea-market purchases and local finds.

The couple filled the restaurant with antiques that have both aesthetic and functional purposes.  Photo by Jeremy Lawson

Working on a limited budget, the couple took over a former pizza-and-burger bar and gave it a going-over.  They brightened up the once-dark space with a fresh coat of white paint that highlights the room’s exposed blond brick walls.  They clad the open kitchen and ordering counter in pale blue barn wood and spiffed up the existing hardwood floors.  They purchased shabby-chic metal bird-cage chandeliers.

Antique pieces were brought in for both aesthetic and functional purposes.  An old cabinet doubles as display shelving for a collection of “for sale” bric-a-brac.  A white dresser works as a serving station.  An old library card catalog holds neatly folded tea towels that guests use as napkins.

Other pieces — the giant green arrow-shaped “restaurant” sign that rests on a ledge above the kitchen, the big bass drum that sits atop the merchandise cabinet — are simply there for fun.

“As we did one thing, a new idea would pop into our heads,” Ashley Ortiz says.

Some elements — such as custom-built barn wood tables — are new, but have an old-fashioned flair.  Photo courtesy of Eater Chicago

Because of space limitations, the Ortizes had wood tables custom built rather than attempting to fill the room with antique tables and chairs.  (The eatery’s communal dining table, however, is an actual antique.)

The Ortizes worked with furniture maker Raun Meyn of Chicago’s FounRe, who also crafted picture frames, trim, and more for the restaurant.  Meyn nailed the old-timey look by lavishly incorporating reclaimed barn wood and other old wooden bits and pieces.

For example, he created table bases from old pillars.  The bases “add another element to the tables, so they don’t all look alike,” Ashley Ortiz says.

Seating is a mix of antique 1950s-style school-room chairs and (new) wood milking stools.  The Ortizes liked both the look and scale of the dining seating.  But they used a selection of larger painted antique chairs at the end of the back hallway where people sit and wait for carryout orders.

“The chairs just have this great aesthetic when you look down the hallway,” Ashley Ortiz says.

The Ortizes considered every design feature, down to the candy-striped paper straws that adorn their drinks.  Photo by Jeremy Lawson

The hallway features an assortment of other treasures as well:  an old blue bench; a stack of well-worn suitcases; random signs, and the like.  It also holds a bar counter fashioned from an antique church pew.  Diners can stand at the counter and sip a margarita or two until a table opens up.

Even the smallest details were considered when creating Antique Taco’s overall look.  Table numbers are painted on old wooden yarn wheels.  Food is served on antique china.  Drinks come with old-fashioned candy-striped paper straws.  And hand-stamped wood skewers identify what’s inside your tacos.

“That’s Rick and me for sure,” Ashley Ortiz says.  “It can be the littlest thing.  But it can also be the thing people remember, or the thing that distinguishes us from everybody else.

“Those straws, skewers and napkins make us who we are, and make us different.”

Antique Taco
1360 North Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, Illinois  60622

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