Tacl Loco hits the spot

Tacl Loco hits the spot

By Mike Leifheit

By Mike Leifheit

Restaurant Critic

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Norte (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit, reviews locally-owned restaurants who make it “from scratch.”

Being single is a blast. You can go where you want, when you want. I have my favorite haunts, and generally my week follows a pattern. Tuesdays and Thursdays are dominated by the market trips to Chicago. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I cook at Norte, my restaurant in Rockton, so my life is somewhat structured. Sunday, I don’t open either restaurant to get a break both from the business and from people. When you are around people as much as I am, you need a break.

This Sunday it’s different. I’m kind of lonely. It is still beautiful out, for November in Illinois, so I decide to go for a motorcycle ride. I ride all over town. Finally, I stop at the Great Wall and have a couple of cocktails and some chicken wings. I am not hungry enough, however, to have dinner yet, and so I ride the Goldwing a little more.

I go back to the Irish Rose (I live upstairs), and I take a nap. Or rather, I start to watch some television, and I fall asleep on the couch. I awake famished. It’s Sunday. I can eat anything (that’s my rule, on Sunday I don’t have to watch my diet). CHICKEN MOLE!

I fire up the trusty Wing and head for South Main. There is only one place in the city on a night like this (on a night where you can eat anything you want), and it is Taco Loco. Taco Loco reminds me of when we were in high school, and after the football games we used to go to Maria’s. We used to have the pasta with Maria’s Special Sauce, and we thought we were being so adventurous going to this part of town and having such exotic food. The place would always be busy, and they served later than other restaurants in those days.

The South Main area was basically an Italian community. There was Len’s Supper Club that is now the Guadalajara. Over on Fifteenth Avenue there were the Grotto and the Anchor Tap. There was another Italian place that I can’t remember the name of, that is now the Main Island, a black nightclub. What is now the Stadium Lounge was owned by my former mother-in-law’s father, and their name was Mafia, but they pronounced it Maffie.

Anyway, so you get the idea. The neighborhood was predominantly Italian; now it is mostly Mexican. The similarities far outweigh the differences. Both are Catholic; they have big families; they are good business people. I love to go there late after the bars close, and the place is packed with young Mexican people. This is where you can come when you are hungry, and you don’t want to eat the commercial crap on East State. This Sunday at Taco Loco, the joint is jumping. I know what I want, and they bring me chips and salsa. The chips are the good, crunchy kind. I think they fry them in vegetable oil. They would be even better if they cooked them in lard. The greatest chefs in the world use lard to make their pastries. There is no substitute.

Lard is actually better for you than hydrogenated vegetable oil. We have been eating lard for eons. Our machine has had time to adapt. Somebody only came along with the vegetable oil idea in the ’60s and ’70s. Then they had the bright idea of bubbling hydrogen through it to make it exactly like lard. Nobody bothered to ask whether this process changed it in relation to the human body. It took another 20 years to find out it was a total nutrition disaster. More heart attacks, strokes, etc. McDonald’s still hasn’t switched back. Seems they are more interested in the appearance of aiding good health than the reality. But what’s new?

The salsa at the Guadalajara is a dream, Salsa de Guajillo (pronounced wah-he-oh). Chile Guajillo is made from the same pepper that you get when you order Chiles Rellenos, the Pablano. As in other cases, the pepper is then processed into a chile sauce. This salsa at the Taco Loco is unique, and in my opinion, the best in town. Only the chips are better at Serrano’s, but that is because Joyce fries them fresh for each order.

I order a Carta Blanca, and I have an epiphany. The reason I like so many Mexican beers is the same reason I like Japanese beers. They are made from rice, and they are finished bone dry. The Carta Blanca is positively dusty in my mouth, and at the same time so thirst quenching. I also like Cabernets that taste like dirty socks. It is an acquired thing, but then most great flavors are.

The Mole comes, and it is homemade. It has the wonderful taste of bitter chocolate and garlic. A friend of mine used to say that if you have good Mole, you don’t even need the chicken, just the sauce and tortillas will do. In this case, with Mole like this, it is true. The beans and rice are outstanding, too. I order another Carta Blanca. It is Sunday. I can eat anything I want.

What a wonderful place this is. As with most good restaurants, it is run by a family. Blanca Campos is the owner. She is assisted by her son, Oscar, and her daughter-in-law, Ester. I once asked Blanca why, when she is not from Guadalajara, she cooks in the Guadalajaran style. She answered that the woman who taught her the restaurant business was from Guadalajara. Since then, however, they have added dishes that reflect their origin. If you really want to taste real Mexican food, this is probably the best place in town.

One more thought on the subject. If a restaurant has the word “authentic” before “Mexican”, as in “authentic Mexican food,” it rarely or never is. They don’t have to claim anything for their food at the Taco Loco. It speaks for itself.

Taco Loco is located at 1122 S. Main St. Open Monday through Thursday: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday: 9 a.m. to 3 a.m.; Sunday: 9 a.m. to midnight. Telephone: 969-9313.

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