BUCKTOWN — A beloved Mexican vegetarian restaurant is opening a second location in Pilsen while owners wait for city approval to open a renovated location next door to its original Bucktown store.
Quesadilla La Reina Del Sur has operated at Western Avenue and Lyndale Street for more than a decade, serving up meat-free enchiladas, burritos and tortas.
Earlier this year, owners bought the building next door, 2237 N. Western Ave., and began renovating the ground floor to become Quesadilla’s next home.
The restaurant planned to close for only a few weeks this spring while it transitioned to the new building, but that plan has been repeatedly delayed by the city moving back inspection dates, general manager Miguel Alvarado said.
“We gutted the whole place down, and we renovated everything. So the renovation is done and complete and finished. We’re just waiting for inspections,” he said.
In the meantime, Quesadilla opened a second location in Pilsen, the first step in a larger expansion plan Alvarado hopes to put into action over the next few years, he said.
The Pilsen restaurant is at 1519 W. 18th St., the former home to the Pi18en and Pl-zen restaurants and downstairs from Evans St. Liquors.
The location will feature the classic Quesadilla menu, plus a full bar. The Bucktown location is BYOB. The restaurant held a soft opening this weekend and will be open Wednesday-Sunday until Alvarado hires more staff.
Quesadilla La Reina Del Sur was started by Alvarado’s brother, Bolivar Gomez, who began cooking as a kid while growing up in Mexico, where he had trouble finding vegetarian options, Alvarado said.
After coming to Chicago, Gomez worked in restaurants across the city before opening Quesadilla in Gage Park. It’s named partly after Mexican telenovela La Reina del Sur because Gomez had a crush on one of the actresses, Alvarado said.
The restaurant moved to Bucktown 11 years ago after a fire.
A few years ago, Bolivar Gomez was killed Mexico, Alvarado said. Their sister, Celia Gomez, has taken over the business, and Alvarado joined recently after working for a logistics company.
Alvarado had plans to expand the business, but he wasn’t expecting to do so this quickly. But when the Bucktown renovation was delayed and the Pilsen space became available, Gomez and Alvarado jumped on it.
“Honestly, as a family, we were bleeding money. Like, you have a closed business but the bills don’t stop coming,” he said. “So I was looking into alternatives, we were thinking about doing some catering jobs and stuff like that to bring some in revenue, when I came across the opportunity to open the business.”
Alvarado said the restaurant is also developing menu items, although he isn’t ready to share details yet. His family’s investment in the business has been a “labor of love,” which he hopes will continue for years to come, Alvarado said.
“We’d like to keep my brother’s legacy alive. And honestly, we do it with love and care, and we care about our customers,” Alvarado said. “So expect great things in the future because we are working diligently and together as a family to develop better recipes to come up with healthier alternatives to [traditional Mexican] food.”
Quesadilla La Reina Del Sur’s Pilsen location is open 5-11 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 10 a.m.-10 p.m. weekends.
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