LAKEVIEW — A new taqueria inspired by the owners’ time living in Mexico is now open in Lakeview.
La Biznaga, 3555 N. Broadway, opened in November after the family behind the restaurant closed its original location at 3552 N. Pulaski Road in Irving Park. The business, which started in 2016, is owned by Maria “Chayo” Gonzalez and her husband, Jose Gonzalez.
Maria Gonzalez said the couple realized they were onto something special when her husband hired a second cook to help out in the kitchen and customers noticed a difference in the food.
“They’d come in and say ‘Jose didn’t make my food,’ and we were so surprised they noticed,” Gonzalez said. “And anytime I’d step out to do laundry or run an errand, they’d notice and ask where I was. That was something new to us, and it let us know that we’re doing something right.”
Gonzalez always dreamed of opening a second La Biznaga location, but the couple ultimately had to close their first restaurant in Irving Park because they couldn’t find enough staff to keep it open, she said.
“We just didn’t have the employees,” Gonzalez said. “And the customers were like, ‘Maria, if you’re not here and Jose’s not here, we’re not coming.’ But they promised to follow us wherever we went, and our regulars continue to eat at our new restaurant, which means the world.”
The restaurant offers traditional Mexican dishes like tacos, burritos, tortas and enchiladas with a focus on using only fresh ingredients, Gonzalez said.
“We’re from a rancho in Mexico, which is like a farm, so we like everything fresh because that’s how we enjoyed food in Mexico,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, but moved to Lincoln Park with her family when she was 2 years old, she said. She grew up mostly in Chicago, except for five years when she moved back to Mexico as a child.
Her father is a businessman who owns four plots of land for farming, she said. One of the plots is named “La Biznaga,” after a type of cactus, which inspired the name for her restaurant.
“The land had so many cactuses when he got it, so that’s what they named it,” Gonzalez said. “And naming our restaurant after his land just fit perfectly. My father was so proud that we put it as the name.”
The food is also inspired by Gonzalez’ time in Mexico, she said.
“I know how to cook a lot of my mom’s food, so I bring it to the kitchen so Jose can get some ideas,” she said.
Jose Gonzalez, who leads as the restaurant’s chef, has more than 20 years of experience cooking in kitchens for Aramark, DePaul University, the Marriott Downtown and the Plaza Club, according to La Biznaga’s website.
“Jose worked so many years Downtown and he can cook anything,” Maria Gonzalez said. “He knows Italian food, Chinese food, all-American food and more, but the Mexican food is delicious. Everything is based on our families.”
Inside, the restaurant is decorated with portraits of Mexican heroes like Emiliano Zapata, who was a leader in the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.
Gonzalez said she originally hired an artist to paint a large mural, but the design was too “stereotypical,” featuring images of chili peppers, sombreros and guitars.
“I wanted something more educativo, or educational,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of restaurants define Mexico by the same images, and we wanted to show a different narrative that people can learn from.”
Gonzalez said she and her husband relate to the kinds of Mexican revolutionaries displayed in the restaurant because of their can-do attitude that helped them launch their restaurant.
“We’re rebeldes, or rebellious, like them,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve been together 20 years and we always just go for it, chasing our dreams even if we don’t know where they’ll take us or how far we go, and that’s what’s brought this restaurant so far.”
La Biznaga is open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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