Whoa-ah-oh-a-oh. Sweet thiiing!
Go ahead. Try to take a bite of the Sweet Thang taco from Bronzeville’s Love Taco, featuring roast chicken, grilled pineapple, red onion, queso fresco, jalapeno and pico de gallo slathered in the house secret sweet sauce, without the chorus of Chaka Khan and Rufus’s 1975 single clanging around inside your brain. In my case it was the Mary J. Blige-version (when I think of Chaka, I’m more likely to sing “I’m Every Woman), but you know what I mean.
I hum, because the juicy meat, the smoky pineapple, the tang and acid of the onion and the fire of chili perfumed with wafts of corn blasting from the freshly griddled El Milagro tortilla, is making me blissful. It’s like a honey-kissed al pastor taco without the pork.
The Sweet Thang is not the only great thing at this new Bronzeville taco shack. I love the Bob Marley taco, juicy ground beef dripping with romano and cheddar cheese – a killer cheeseburger taco. And even if the sriracha-mayo-drizzled, ground beef and nacho cheese-topped Mexican-poutine-like “I Believe I Can Fries” didn’t taste good, which they do, I’d forgive that, because the name rules.
Owner Raymond Jones, once an MC for the hip-hop group HotStylz, and also a former writer for Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, grew up in the area. A student of tacos he said, “There’s this breakfast taco at Velvet Taco I love. I don’t just eat it for breakfast. I’m usually eating at 1 a.m. after going to the club.”
So far the success of Love Taco has surpassed Jones’ expectations. “I talked to a lot of restaurant people before doing this, and they said how many places fail in the first year or don’t make money for at least a year. So, you can imagine how surprised I am that we’re already making money so quickly. There’s been a lot more traffic than I expected.” Though he still works in comedy and splits time between Chicago and Atlanta and Los Angeles, opening the taco spot was the fulfillment of a dream. “I grew up in Bronzeville. This community had a bad reputation for violence, but mom always said, all the neighborhood needed was a little love. I wanted to do something meaningful here, and so that’s what I’m doing, bringing the love,” said Jones.
Worth the trip: Sweet Thang taco from Love Taco ($3.00)
109 E. 51st St.; 312.650.9635
This article first appeared in Redeye Chicago in a different form.