La Pasadita, Family-Run Taco Stand, Closes Original Location After 35 Years

By Alisa Hauser on January 23, 2013 11:08am 

WICKER PARK — For its first six months, the tiny taco booth just south of the Division Street and Ashland Avenue intersection did not have a name.

When people approaching the walk-up window could be heard saying, "The bus is coming!" the owner was inspired to finally christen the small shop.

"Pasadita," according to second-generation owner David Espinoza, "means to come by quickly, like a quick stop. That's where [my father] got the name."

On a chilly winter day, Espinoza, 46, stood outside of La Pasadita's distinctive bright yellow-and-black hut at 1161 N. Ashland Ave., which closed for business on Jan. 5 after more than 35 years.

Since 1976, the Espinoza family has paid rent to a landlord for use of the stand. But since 1984, they've owned two buildings across the street, which also house La Pasadita restaurants, at 1160 N. Ashland Ave. and 1134 N. Ashland Ave.

"I thought, why are we helping someone else pay their mortgage [with our rent] when we have our own to pay across the street?" Espinoza said, explaining his decision to shutter the shop after so many decades.

Nevertheless, the decision to close the popular booth has been a tough one, he said, because of the sentimental attachment he and his four siblings have to the original location and to their father, David Espinoza II, who died in 1994.

"An entity — the same family — all derived out of this little place," he said of the small building, which was mainly a walk-up window that housed only six stools.

David Espinoza was just 10 when his father opened the stand in 1976.

In 1983 or 1984, his father purchased property across the street at 1160 N. Ashland Ave., "just in case anything ever happens [to the original stand]," David Espinoza said his father told him at the time.

David dropped out of college because he figured he could get a better education "running a business hands on," rather than sitting in a classroom. 

 David Espinoza Sr. opened the first La Pasadita restaurant at 1161 N. Ashland Ave. in 1976.  In 1984, the family purchased property across the street, at 1160 and 1135 N. Ashland Ave., and built two other La Pasaditas, which are run by David Espinoza Jr.  This January, the family decided not to renew its lease at the original location.  A source close to the matter told DNAinfo that the property at 1161 N. Ashland has been rented and a new tenant will be moving in soon.
David Espinoza Sr. opened the first La Pasadita restaurant at 1161 N. Ashland Ave. in 1976.  In 1984, the family purchased property across the street, at 1160 and 1135 N. Ashland Ave., and built two other La Pasaditas, which are run by David Espinoza Jr.  This January, the family decided not to renew its lease at the original location.  A source close to the matter told DNAinfo that the property at 1161 N. Ashland has been rented and a new tenant will be moving in soon.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

Around 1991, a developer built out a property at 1132 N. Ashland Ave., just a few doors south of the newer La Pasadita and offered it for sale as a restaurant.

"We figured, why not just buy it, so there would not be anyone competing with us so close?" David Espinoza said. 

The La Pasadita at 1132 N. Ashland Ave. has a slightly different menu than the other two La Pasadita's, offering tortas and tostadas and vegetarian options in addition to tacos and burritos.

Food evidently runs in the family, as all four of his siblings also work in the restaurant business.

Rosa Bucio, his sister, runs Las Asadas at 2045 W. Western Ave. with her husband.

Alicia Espinoza, his other sister, runs La Palapita at 4263 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Portage Park.

Rene Espinoza, David's brother, owns LP Express, an acronym for La Pasadita Express, which has two locations on the North Side.

David Espinoza and his other brother, Danny, operate the family's main hub, now comprised of two Pasaditas on the 1100 block of North Ashland Avenue that employ 30 people.

According to Espinoza, even though one of the locations closed Jan. 5, no one lost their job.

"There were no layoffs, just hours shifting around," he said. 

A spokesman for the realty company that owns the stand said the space has been "rented already" but said the new tenant is not exactly sure what he will bring to the site. It will likely remain a restaurant, the spokesman added, because the new tenant is "a smart local fella who has experience owning restaurants."

The news of the stand's closure quickly spread online.

"They asked my brother on Instagram, is everything OK, is everything OK, did Dave [die]?" David Espinoza said.

La Pasadita customer Adam Morgenstern, 37, has lived around the corner from the stand for the better part of 10 years and told DNAinfo.com Chicago he eats at the restaurants on a weekly basis.

"I usually go to the ones across the street, but when I just want a taco I go [to the one at 1161 N. Ashland Ave.]," Morgenstern said.

The Pasadita restaurants on the west side of Ashland Avenue have tables, whereas the stand was designed more for customers to grab a taco on the go.

Morgenstern said he noticed the La Pasadita stand was closed Monday around 10 p.m., when he walked over in the cold for a late dinner of his usual order of one barbacoa (steamed beef) taco, one steak taco and one chile relleno taco.

As there was no sign indicating the closure, Morgenstern, who also owns nearby Decibel Audio, said he "wasn't sure if it was closing or being remodeled."

Morgenstern rectified the situation by "just going across the street to the open" La Pasadita, but he added that the stand's closure "sucks big time."

As for the future, David Espinoza said that his son plans to follow his family's legacy.

"Hopefully, we last another 25 years," his father said.

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