PORTAGE PARK — The former home of La Palapita, 4263 N. Milwaukee Ave., once again became a hub for grab-and-go Mexican cuisine as Simon's Tacos began grilling steak tacos and enchiladas al pastor Monday.
The shack is freshly renovated and back with a new menu and cooking staff, captained by chef Ashor Solayman, in his first independent restaurant gig after more than two decades running banquet service at high-end hotels downtown.
"None of this is strange to me," Solayman said. "All the food expertise I have, I'm trying to use to bring the complete package of quality food and an appealing atmosphere."
Simon's offers a no-frills menu of Mexican staples: tacos, burritos, tostadas and some larger dinner plates. Most meals sell for $10 or less.
But the menu's simplicity allows the chefs to focus squarely on the quality of their food, Solayman said. And in a taqueria, everything revolves around meat.
"We've got to get the best kind of pork, the best cuts of steak," he said. "We have prime skirt steak and only use the outer part, which is more tender, for our dinner plates."
It was enough to impress Ron Miller and Terry Dixon, who stopped in for lunch Thursday on their way home to Old Irving Park.
"The tacos are really excellent," Dixon said. "All the ingredients taste really fresh."
In late 2015 Solayman got a phone call from an old friend, Simon Chluimon, saying he'd buy the property if Solayman agreed to run it.
"I took a second to think about it, and I said, 'Im all in,'" Solayman said.
He gathered a cooking staff and set about giving the restaurant's interior a cleaner look. Chluimon and Solaymon replaced kitchen appliances, re-tiled the floor, painted the walls to look like brick and installed a marble counter to take orders from.
"Everything you see here, it's new" Solaymon said, waving a hand around the glimmering space. "Ambience is important. Your eyes take in the experience before your stomach does."
SImon's Tacos is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.
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