WICKER PARK — A longtime staple of Wicker Park’s late-night dining scene is making an unexpected return.
Picante Taqueria, 2016 W. Division St., closed in early 2022 after 20 years of serving burritos and tacos to neighbors and bar-hoppers.
Owner Felipe Caro decided to shutter the taqueria amid staffing shortages and a diminished post-pandemic late-night bar scene. That included losing longtime chef Isaac Reyes, he said.
Caro has since operated several different concepts in the Picante location on top of subleasing it to other restaurants. Most recently, he was running a burger and hot dog joint there called Mutz.
But nothing quite stuck, and after a year and a half, Caro is reopening Picante Friday with Reyes back in the kitchen.
“Never say never,” Caro said in an interview outside the restaurant Monday. “At one time I said ‘You know what, I’m done.’ But [Picante] is really what got everything going for me. It was really the key to my success, so I’m going back to my roots.”
The reopened Picante will feature many of its original menu items, plus a few upgrades like al pastor on a spit and blue masa tortillas.
Caro is still finalizing hours but said the restaurant will be open until 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Picante is one of several restaurants Caro has operated in the Wicker Park area over the years. He also owned Authentaco, Flip and other now-closed ventures in the neighborhood.
One that’s still in business is El Bagel Cafe, a bagel shop Caro opened in 2022 next to Picante and now operates out of Jack’s Bistro, 2056 W. Division St., one block west. Business has been booming, Caro said.
But his heart always remained with Picante, he said. Reopening the restaurant in its original location feels like being “reborn.”
Caro admits the uncertainty in recent years has been confusing for customers, but stressed that demand for Picante never went away. Even when he was operating Mutz, people were still coming in asking for tacos, Caro said.
“I admit to looking a little crazy with this back-and-forth stuff, but I have to really admit it would be even crazier if I didn’t open up again, with the demand, the requests of people,” he said.
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