Customers aren’t coming back as quickly as Frede Martinez expected.
“Ever since they started to let people inside, for some reason they aren’t [returning],” he said, sitting in the middle of his nearly empty restaurant as Telemundo Chicago played on two TVs.
Most orders at Taqueria Restaurante Cd. Hidalgo (7104 N. Clark St.) are still pickup and delivery, according to Martinez.
February marked the taqueria’s 10 year anniversary — but there was no one to celebrate with. Apart from one other worker who cooks during the weekends, Martinez is the only one in the kitchen.
Between fewer customers, the rise in meat prices and the ability to “pay salaries right now” being “impossible,” Martinez said it’s been a hard year and a half.
Martinez said he added his restaurant to the Rogers Park Taco Crawl for the first time after years of being too busy to participate.
The 2021 Taco Crawl, held between 3-7 p.m. July 15, featured 17 restaurants spanning more than a mile down Clark Street — each decked out with a red, pink and yellow banner with “CLARK ROGERS PARK” cutout letters. Each served tacos except for three that handed out churros, enchiladas or empanadas.
The Taco Crawl sold out of the 125 pre-registered tickets earlier in the week. But, after fielding numerous calls from residents, the organizers decided to offer an extra 20 day-of passports, according to Rogers Park Business Alliance (RPBA) executive director Sandi Price.
“Frequently, people reach out to us and say, ‘Where can you get the best tacos?’ That spurred this Taco Crawl,” Price, who’s been the RPBA executive director for almost 10 years, said. “This is a great way for people in and around Rogers Park to come try all the different tacos [and] maybe find a new favorite.”
Although Price, 60, wouldn’t disclose which taqueria is her favorite, she said her favorite order is fish tacos.
The event went through a multitude of changes, according to Price. After its initial popularity, restaurants that didn’t serve tacos wanted in, so the Crawl changed to “Taste of Clark Street,” replete with live music and family-friendly activities. The pandemic disrupted plans for 2020 so the RPBA decided to return to the original recipe of a Taco Crawl this summer to minimize crowds.
Taco Crawl guests ranged from casual strollers popping into a few restaurants to a woman who donned a taco costume after receiving her passport. Some Taco Crawl attendees told The Phoenix they didn’t plan to visit all 17 taquerias but many shared excitement to visit as many as possible.
Angel Cruz and Bianca Fernandez, who are both vegans, arrived an hour before the event ended and aimed to hit all the options with a green “V” and orange “D” — icons indicating vegetarian and dessert options — on their passport tickets.
Cruz, who’s lived in Logan Square for most of his life, said he didn’t know about the concentration of taquerias and the Latin community in the area until this event.
“They don’t have this stuff where I’m from,” Fernandez, who’s visiting from Gainesville, Fla., said. “The fact that there are this many taco places close together, I’m already like, ‘I’m in the right place, all right.’”
The exposure was a big draw for Anahi Moso, who owns El Sabor Poblano (7027 N. Clark St.). Moso said the pandemic struck her business hard, sometimes leaving her without salary while trying to pay rent and other bills.
“We’re still here, which is what counts,” Moso, who’s been the owner for nearly three years, said.
The concentration of taquerias between West Devon Avenue and North Rogers Avenue has fostered collaboration rather than competition this past year. A few restaurant owners along Clark Street helped one another find delivery drivers, lent tents for outdoor seating and promoted each other, according to Price.
When asked if being able to participate in the Taco Crawl this year was a point of celebration after a difficult year and a half for her taqueria, Moso had a wide smile: “Si.”