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Cochinita Taco Co. to Open in Former Portage Restaurant on March 17

Cochinita Taco Co.

PORTAGE PARK — Cochinita Taco Co. will take over the restaurant formerly known as the Portage on March 17, St. Patrick's Day, owner Quay Tao said Thursday.

The Portage, which put the Far Northwest Side on the map as a destination for fine dining, closed Dec. 31, much to the dismay of foodies throughout the Far Northwest Side, who relished Tao and Chef Joey Beato's take on elevated comfort food.

"It was time for a change," Tao said of the restaurant at 3938 N. Central Ave. "We needed to refresh that space."

Cochinita Taco Co.

Cochinita, which means a little female pig in Spanish, is designed to be a casual taqueria hangout that features a modern twist on classic Mexican street food, Tao said.

Tao in 2014 opened Community Tavern, a steakhouse named the best new restaurant of 2015 by Chicago Magazine, at 4038 N. Milwaukee Ave. in the Six Corners Shopping District. The Portage and Community found themselves in competition, which created conflicts.

At Cochinita, Beato will work with Danny Tolentino, a long-time line cook at The Portage, whose Mexican heritage and family recipes will provide inspiration for the menu, Tao said.

Cochinita Taco Co.

The concept behind Cochinita Taco Co. was spurred by the success of Big Star in Wicker Park, known for its patio, which is always packed on warm nights with food lovers chowing down on fast — but gourmet — tacos, Tao said.

Cochinita Taco Co. isn't the only restaurant Tao plans to open this year in Portage Park.

Tao leased the storefront next to Community at 4042 N. Milwaukee Ave., and is "still finalizing" his plans there, he said Thursday.

"We believe in Six Corners," said Tao, who lives in Old Irving Park, just a few blocks away from the shopping district. "You could say we're doubling down on the area."

The new restaurant might feature Portage and Community Tavern pastry chef Elissa Narow, Tao said.

"One thing I'm committed to is allowing employees to grow and stay with us," Tao said. "We're excited."

Community was the sixth restaurant to open near Irving Park Road and Milwaukee and Cicero avenues in 2014, part of a years-long effort to breathe new life into what was once the city's premier shopping destination outside the Loop.

Two major retail developments at Six Corners are also slated to begin construction this year, which Ald. John Arena (45th) has said would significantly boost the redevelopment efforts.

A massive shopping center at Irving Park Road and Cicero and Milwaukee avenues will be anchored by Ross Dress for Less and Aldi, while a Binny's Beverage Depot and Culver's are set to open at Irving Park Road and Lamon, on the shopping district's western edge.

The interior of Cochinita Taco Co., which is more rustic than the Portage. [Cochinita Taco Co.]

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