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Tamale Spaceship Food Truck Co-Owner Dishes on Wicker Park Eatery Menu

By Alisa Hauser | June 23, 2014 4:25pm
 Tamale Spaceship is hoping to open in Wicker Park in July at 1341 N. Damen Ave.
Tamale Spaceship Gears Up for Wicker Park Opening
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WICKER PARK — Watch out Big Star: tacos will be on Tamale Spaceship's menu when the popular food truck sets up permanent roots next month along Damen Avenue just two blocks south of the busy neighborhood joint.

Along with nine varieties of tamales well known among followers of Tamale Spaceship, the food truck's Tamale Station restaurant at 1341 N. Damen Ave. in Wicker Park will offer three tacos, salads, soup and a chicken wrap. 

Though the restaurant's menu is not yet released, Tamale Spaceship's co-founder Manny Hernandez said the tacos will be beef barbacoa or braised beef short rib, cochinita pibil or roasted pork and portobello mushroom.

The beef taco will be topped with salsa, onion and cilantro, while the pork taco will offer purple pickled onions and habanero sauce dressing. Black beans and corn relish will round out the mushroom taco.

Tacos will be sold in orders of two minimum, with two tacos for $6.75 and three tacos costing $9. Orders of tamales — also sold in pairs — will be $8 for two tamales.

Initially having hoped to open by January and then June, a series of setbacks — including broken pipes and a seven-month wait to get a construction permit from the city — were among the pre-opening challenges.

As of Monday, Tamale Spaceship is planning to open in Wicker Park no later than the second week of July, with soft opening festivities planned for next week, Hernandez said.

"It's great. We can't be more excited...  We are super excited," Hernandez said of the small eatery that can seat ten people inside and up to 30 more on a patio adjacent to the restaurant.

The city's longest running food truck, Tamale Spaceship began Jan. 18, 2011, the brainchild of Hernandez and business partner Pepe Balanzar. Hernandez and Balanzar met in 2002 while working at Frontera Grill.

Balanzar drives the truck and is often known as the man behind the Luche libre mask while Hernandez works on the back office side of the business.

After a permanent location in Pilsen did not work out due to delays, Wicker Park became the next best choice for a stand alone spot.

 Tamale Spaceship's Mango and Jicama salad.
Tamale Spaceship's Mango and Jicama salad.
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Tamale Spaceship

"Wicker Park has not just a lot of food but people who appreciate food. It's a very diverse area and the location near park has potential," Hernandez said.

In addition to tacos and tamales, Tamale Spaceship's Wicker Park station will offer two salads, an Ensalada Mutande with mango and jicama, a root vegetable popular in Mexico.

Hernandez described jicama as "crunchy and slightly sweet" and said the vegetable will be served over romaine lettuce with pumpkin seed dressing and cost $5.

Also on tap for salad lovers is a Mexican chop salad with romaine and iceberg lettuce, corn, black beans, tomato and onions with lemon jalapeno dressing. The chop salad will cost $6; meat can be added for an additional $2.

For dessert, Tamale Spaceship is partnering with a local artisanal ice cream maker to offer lemon cilantro, mango chile sorbet and coconut horchata sorbet.  The sorbet, served in scoops, will cost $5 for three scoops.

To wash everything down, Tamale Station will serve Mexican bottled sodas, Coca Cola, Jarritos, Diet Coke and bottled water.

While serving liquor was considered early on,  Hernandez and Balanzar decided to make Tamale Spaceship BYOB after the process to obtain a liquor license seemed like it could delay the opening further.

The interior of the restaurant features several Luche libre-inspired murals by artist Aline Romero, who captures the energy of professional Mexican wrestlers, whom Hernandez said he and Balanzar grew up worshipping.

"I grew up idolizing Mexican wrestlers; Americans grew up idolizing Batman and Superman and Spider man," said the 40-year-old Hernandez, who said his favorite wrestler is Mil Mascaras, now retired.

Hernandez said he and Balanzar will be keeping it a secret until the opening as to whether the nine newly hired workers at the restaurant will be wearing Luche libre masks as Balanzar does on the food truck. 

"Don't be surprised [if you see a mask]," Hernandez said.

Tamale Spaceship, 1341 N. Damen Ave.  Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekends.  Ph: 312-909-7009.

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