For years, New Trier High School students looking to grab a quick taco lunch had to rush back and forth to La Taquiza Mexican Restaurant in Northbrook.
The restaurant at the time had two locations: one on Shermer Road in Northbrook and one in Glenview.
“[The students] were always in such a hurry, so we found a way for them to preorder for their lunch break,” restaurant owner Marlene Benitez said. “A couple years back, a student would ask us all the time why we wouldn’t go open another location in downtown Winnetka.”
Benitez admits she wasn’t familiar with Winnetka’s downtown, but after she was rerouted through the area during a summer Black Lives Matter protest, she stumbled upon a vacant space in The Laundry Shopping Mall at the intersection of Chestnut and Spruce streets.
“The police detoured me and I came out by The Laundry,” Benitez said. “There was a vacant space that was already a restaurant so there wasn’t a need for a complete build-out. Everything just flowed.”
The space was vacated by longtime Winnetka restaurant Cafe Buongiorno, which stayed in The Laundry and reinvented into a new eatery called Soupicurean.
The transition from the cafe to the new La Taquiza location was almost “turnkey,” Benitez said.
La Taquiza officially opened for business last October, claiming its spot as the first taqueria in town, and Benitez runs the restaurant with her daughter, Alex.
Business has been steady so far, Benitez said, even though it is a “weird time,” she added, to open a new location due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our concept is counter-serve, so the whole dine-in restrictions haven’t affected us,” Benitez said. “Winnetkans have welcomed us impressively and they are happy to have us here.”
La Taquiza’s menu is built a little differently; customers pick their meat or veggie filling for tacos, burritos, tortas, burrito bowls and quesadillas.
According to Benitez, the tinga de pollo and barbacoa fillings are her family recipes, and the bomba is the restaurant’s speciality.
“[The bomba] is our trademark,” Benitez said of the filling made from pork, ham, chorizo, pineapple and salsa rosa. “It’s our version of el pastor. We have our own spin.”
Other popular dishes include: the low-carb Po “Quito” Bowl with romaine lettuce, grilled chicken or steak (shrimp is extra), cheese, guacamole and pico de gallo, and the Baja shrimp taco.
They also sell margaritas — made from a family recipe — and Mexican beer, plus a make-your-own Michelada kit to take home.
Benitez has been in the industry for decades after opening her first restaurants in Andersonville and Wrigleyville in Chicago. She later reinvented her business, downsized and opened taquerias in Northbrook (nine years ago) and Glenview (five years ago). Each location is operated by a family member.
La Taquiza Winnetka is located at 566 Chestnut St. It is open from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; and for Sunday brunch from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. A full menu is available online.
For more information, call (847) 386-7926.
Megan Bernard is a co-founder and the managing editor who directs day-to-day journalism of The Record. Megan enjoys writing about restaurants, entertainment and education and is an established human-interest reporter.