With Danny Meyer’s backing, it’s not hard to call Tacombi the “Shake Shack of Mexican food.” Well, Fulton Market welcomed Shake Shack in 2017, and as Tacombi seeks aggressive expansion, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the chain that began humbly from a Volkswagen van (called a “combi” in Mexico) in the Yucatan has arrived nearby.
In recent years, the West Loop has somewhat lost its edge with real estate prices pushing out independent restaurants. Randolph Street still has juice, but sometimes the signage has that upscale lifestyle center feel (that’s developer speak for a toney suburban-centric outdoor shopping mall mixed with apartments or condos).
There’s been an interest in more Mexican spots, specifically chains like Taco Bell and Velvet Taco. And those chains dutifully looked at demographics and opened locations along Randolph Street. Who needs a tasting menu when you can grab a fistful of Taco Bell Fire Sauce packets? This satisfies the needs of the scores of office lorkers wearing white sneakers and short-sleeved collared shirts swarming the neighborhood in the afternoon looking for lunch.
And so Tacombi has arrived featuring a host stand and a trompo with a hulking mass of marinated pork for al pastor tacos and quesadillas. There’s a Baja-style fried fish option, quesabirria, a black bean and sweet potato, and more. The flexibility may remind some of a fast-casual assembly line chain, but that’s not the intention here. Designers put a lot of thought into the space with signs with hand-painted lettering and scores of plants. Customers can see the containers that dispense agua fresca behind the counter. Agave drinks like margaritas are widely available for the crowd who just wants to graze and drink a fruity drink during happy hour and have a few chips and guac. But chips aren’t free here (nor should they be). They’re called totopos, which can be different from tortilla chips — but Tacombi’s bags, in small print, also call the crispy treats tortilla chips. Breakfast tacos, like al pastor with egg, are available all day.
The chain, founded by current CEO Dario Wolos, last year received $27.5 million from Meyer’s Enlightened Hospitality. Wolos wants to bring more attention to regional Mexican foods in America. Earlier this month, Tacombi opened in New York City and the menu differs from the Chicago location. Elsewhere, diners can make reservations for the diner room, while Chicago remains casual, at least for now. Each city’s Mexican restaurant scene is different. The chain realizes a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work. Around the corner from Velvet Taco and another new import, Bodega, Tacombi will see if its tacos can captivate.
Tacombi, 126 N. Peoria Street, open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily