When FP Me decided to take the windy city of Chicago, we ended the night with a beautiful dinner at Antique Taco, Wicker Park’s famous taco destination. The restaurant recently opened an upstairs event venue called The Guest Room where we were able to enjoy an open kitchen format, eclectic décor, and delicious mouth-watering Mexican cuisine. What the owners, Ashley Ortiz (Creative Director) and Rick Ortiz (Chef/Owner), have created is a truly special spot. It’s cozy, it’s bright, and the kind of place you want to return again and again. We sat down with the power couple to find out more about their love of Mexican cuisine and how they’ve created such a coveted environment.
I’m pretty sure we all LOVE Mexican food. Why do you think it’s so popular?
Ashley Ortiz: Mexican food is colorful and playful; it lends itself to be eaten in group settings. It always conjures up happy memories in my mind and I think it has that effect on many people. Sharing laughs and telling stories over a pitcher of Margaritas. What’s not to LOVE?
What is your favorite thing about cooking Mexican food? Do you have a favorite dish to serve?
Rick Ortiz: We use dried Mexican chiles to create bold and bright flavors. My favorite dish to serve is our Smoked Beef Barbacoa that we run as a special taco at the restaurant.
What is one menu item that you recommend people try when they come to Antique Taco?
AO: People want tacos when they come to Antique Taco, but the Antique Taco’s kale salad is something everyone should try. It has so many flavors, but the spicy Mexican peanuts and pomegranate vinaigrette give you a sweet & spicy mix that keeps you from putting down your fork. The salad is served in a farmers market blueberry basket and is the perfect side to any taco.
You guys have a great vibe going on in the space. Who’s idea was the aesthetic and how did you put it together?
AO: Rick and I both love design, I am lucky to have a husband that wants to shop flea markets instead of playing golf or watching sports on TV. We wanted to create an atmosphere that was unique to Mexican food. Serving great food is essential, but the atmosphere you create is equally as important. We styled the restaurant around playing oldies and offering a small menu. As we continue to grow the business, we know spreadsheets and scheduling will fill our days, but it’s the design (menus and décor) that we crave.
What inspires you in your work?
AO: Travel and design inspire us most. We travel as often as we can and no matter where we go, we always take some inspiration back with us. The smallest thing sparks an idea that often explodes into lengthy conversation about food and design.
Why Chicago? What do you love about the local scene and clientele?
AO: Chicago is HOME. We love to travel, but there is nothing like being home. We feel Antique Taco found a perfect little corner in Wicker Park. The people and neighborhood of Wicker Park is as unique as it gets. Creativity is overflowing in the streets and we are lucky to call many of them our customers.
Do you have any chefs that you look up to personally?
RO: In Chicago we are surrounded by many great chefs, but April Bloomfield from The Spotted Pig is one of my favorites. She has the ability to blend simple ingredients and create flavors that highlight all of their characteristics.
What is one ingredient that you could never live without?
RO: Tomatillos, I use them daily in different ways.
Lastly, what does it mean to be free?
AO: To me, being free is taking an unplanned adventure with my husband and daughter, Scout. Life gets so full of appointments and celebrations that we forget we choose most of this to happen and it fills our days. To free your mind and make the choice to have a completely different day than you expected is unbelievably exciting.
A big thank you to The Guest Room & Antique Taco for serving us a delicious meal and sharing their beautiful creativity with us!
Images: By Danielle Gruley and Antique Taco