Here’s hoping for some equitable transit-and-burrito-oriented development in West Town
Here at Streetsblog Chicago, our passion for the intersection of urban planning and Mexican cuisine in our city, the Mexican Food Capital of the Northern U.S., is well-documented. See SBC cofounder Steven Vance’s Burrito Tracker website here, and my Chicago Transit and Tacos Map, below.
So I was saddened to read that West Town’s La Pasadita taqueria, probably Chicago’s most beloved destination for steak burritos, is facing an existential threat due to the economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. As reported by Block Club’s Hannah Alani, the family that owns the restaurant is putting the building at 1130-1144 N. Ashland Ave. up for sale, at an asking price of $10 million. The property is in a highly desirable location just over the border from the fashionable Wicker Park neighborhood, and directly south of the CTA Blue Line’s Division Street station. It’s also served by the Ashland, Division Street, and Milwaukee Avenue buses, and Milwaukee is the city’s busiest cycling street.
La Pasadita’s origins date back to 1976, and it has been in its current location since the mid-1980s, Block Club reported. The restaurant is renowned for its burritos and tacos stuffed with generous portions of toothsome carne asada, grilled marinated steak.
For example, singer Kelly Hogan, known for her work with The Decembrists and Neko Case, once praised La Pasadita as her favorite local Mexican restaurant in an interview — if I recall correctly her quote was something like, “The meat is kind of boing-y, but it tastes good as hell.” The restaurant’s smokey black salsa, a rarity among Chicago taquerias, is also renowned. The spot is a citywide destination for burrito lovers that has saved many a late-night reveler from a hangover the next day.
Co-owner David Espinoza blamed La Pasadita’s financial troubles on rising property taxes in the continuously gentrifying area, coronavirus-related safety expenditures, and declining revenue during a time when dine-in service is banned in Illinois, according to Block Club. He said selling the building is the only way to salvage the family’s finances after this brutal year. “This virus is killing us,” he said. “We’re down 50 percent in revenues, working with a skeleton crew. We’re in survival mode. … A lot of our Hispanic community, we’re in the restaurant industry. … We’re all just surviving.”
It’s likely that the property buyer would build high-rise housing, taking advantage of the hot location and excellent transit access. A Fulton Grace listing notes that, due to the proximity of the Blue Line, the 18,500-square-foot lot would be eligible for additional density with essentially no onsite car parking requirements, thanks to the city’s transit-oriented development ordinance. The property is located two storefronts south of the city’s first TOD, a tower at 16011 W. Division St. that has 11 stories and 99 units, but zero parking spots for residents, built in 2013.
As Block Club notes, since then there has been a TOD gold rush along Milwaukee near Blue Line stations in Wicker Park and Logan Square, with most of the developments being upscale apartments or condos, typically with ten percent of the units classified as affordable. The city has since acknowledged the role this trend has likely played in the displacement of longtime low-income and working class residents by raising nearby property values, property taxes, and rents.
There’s currently a movement to create more equitable TOD, with more affordable units, at lower rents, including family-friendly apartments with multiple bedrooms. The upcoming all-affordable development next to the Logan Square ‘L’ station is the poster child for this approach.
No matter what is built on the La Pasadita lot, Espinoza is crossing his fingers that the property owner will allow his taqueria to move back in on the ground floor with affordable rent, he told Block Club. “We’ll be here as long as we can be here,” he said. “This is a bump in the road. Hopefully we can be in this neighborhood. … We don’t have the noose that tight yet, but the property taxes are here. If you don’t pay, they will take it from you.” The sale will also affect his family’s tenants Garden Gourmet grocery store, and Mariscos la Costa 2, a Mexican seafood restaurant, which will also have to make deals with the new landlord.
The property is in the 1st Ward, whose alderman is Daniel LaSpata, a Democratic Socialist who previously worked for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, an organization that advocates for affordable house. Hopefully LaSpata and neighborhood residents will be able to successfully prevail upon the new owner of the La Pasadita site to welcome back these independent businesses at reasonable rents, as well as to incorporate a significant number of truly affordable housing units in the new building.
In the meantime, you can support La Pasadita by ordering carryout at the restaurant or calling 773-278-2130 to order curbside pickup, preferably using cash to pay and calling directly, rather than using a third-party app, to cut out the middle person. In addition to their excellent steak burritos, I recommend the “chachos.”