On a business trip in 2012, the Chicago native Gerardo Santiago headed down a desolate Tijuana street. “My colleagues knew I was a big taco fan,” he says. “They took me to lunch and drove me down a street that had no other businesses on it. [Where we stopped] was more of a flatbed truck with a makeshift shed, built creatively. Colorful. I started with two tacos and ended up eating about ten.”
Now Santiago and those Tijuana taco-truck guys are teaming up to open Kokopelli (1324 N. Milwaukee Ave., no phone yet), named for the Hopi deity whose befeathered silhouette you see playing the flute in Southwestern art. Joining the second-generation truck (they burned the first one in a celebratory bonfire when they traded up) and two storefronts in Tijuana, the Wicker Park Kokopelli will be the first one outside Mexico.
Kokopelli’s menu showcases seafood and vegetable tacos. “A pork taco isn’t at top of the list,” Santiago says. A typical taco is the Kraken, which combines grilled octopus in a cilantro marinade with avocado and cheese. Chef Guillermo “Oso” (“Bear”) Campos Moreno’s menu suggests pairings of tacos with one of four salsas, which include an habanero salsa called Lágrimas de Lucifer.
Other menu options include three guacamoles, tostadas, and seviches, such as the Black Harder, flounder with squid ink, pickled onion, and cilantro. Mexican beers and a margarita list will share drink-menu space with custom cocktails. “Wicker Park is into whiskey and bourbons, and we will also cater to that part of the neighborhood,” Santiago says.
Santiago spent more than a year waiting for the right location to turn up for Kokopelli. But he talks big talk for expansion. “I can already imagine, once people try the food, it won’t matter where we plant the next one,” he says.