By Kelly Pollock, feature writer for The Buzz Cafe
As a child growing up in Indiana, Ron Aleman loved watching his mother and grandmothers in their own kitchens. After college at Purdue University, Ron worked in sales. But he had always really enjoyed cooking and was considering culinary school. It was the events of September 11, however, that gave him the push he needed. “Life is too short,”Ron told himself, eventually graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago. Now twenty years later, Ron is the owner of his own restaurant, Taco Mucho, at 220 Harrison Street in the Oak Park Arts District.
Taco Mucho’s first incarnation was at Fulton Galley in Chicago in 2019. “I had heard about a food hall that was accepting applications for restaurant pop-ups and I submitted my idea to them. They received over 100 applications and ultimately chose five vendors,” said Ron. Unfortunately, the food hall closed after only five months, but, “It was a very positive experience and I got a chance to test my recipes and flavors.”
After the success of the pop-up, Ron felt ready to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant. He lives in Oak Park with his family and wanted something close to home, so after looking at surrounding cities, he landed on the former District Kitchen & Tap space on Harrison. Ron felt fortunate that the space needed a minimal build-out. Most of the work was cosmetic and included a redesigned flow and updated bathrooms.
One major addition is a custom mural created by Chicago artist Alecks Cruz who already has several mini-murals in Oak Park along the retaining wall that runs between North and South Boulevards. “Alecks was referred to me by a friend. We met and discussed Taco Mucho—the food, the culture, and the family vibe that I wanted. He took our conversation and combined it with his incredible talent to create the mural,” said Ron.
Currently, the restaurant is operating with counter service, but Ron plans to offer full service soon. “We want to be a casual, neighborhood taqueria—a place parents can bring their kids and a casual date-night spot with great food and cocktails. We see Taco Mucho as an extension of our home and want you to feel like a guest when you come in to eat.”
All the food is freshly-made and locally-sourced when possible. The current menu is focused on tacos and the most popular item is the carne asada. “I wanted to give our customers a steak taco like they’ve never had. I bring in whole ribeye roasts and break them down before marinating and tenderizing the meat. I sear the meat on the grill before serving and I serve it fresh on handmade corn tortillas with a simple onion and cilantro garnish.” Other menu items include chips and guacamole, churros with a dark chocolate dipping sauce, and margaritas.
The biggest obstacle facing the restaurant right now is the staffing shortage affecting the entire industry. “I’m staying positive about the whole situation and running a limited menu and hours until we are fully staffed. We plan to open for brunch soon and delivery service will be starting up shortly,” said Ron.
The return of a Mexican restaurant to the Arts District has garnered an enthusiastic response from the community. “Our grand opening was on August 21 and I was completely overcome with emotion that day. It was basically an hours-long party that included a mariachi band, food and beverage tastings, and live mural painting. We sold over a thousand tacos and were out of everything by 7pm.”
For Ron, the best part of the new venture is being able to work with his wife Zintia and sons Aidan and Eddie. “My wife is a frontline hero working as a full-time nurse. Most days after her shift, she heads to Taco Mucho to help out along with my sons. We’ve also been blessed to receive so much support from our extended families.”
“The Arts District is such a warm, welcoming community,” said Ron, “And I’m just excited to bring the great flavors of Mexican street food to Oak Park.”
Visit Taco Mucho at 220 Harrison Street or online at www.tacomucho.net. Current hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 5pm-9pm, Friday from 4pm-9pm, and Saturday from 12pm-9pm. They are closed Sunday and Monday.