The carne asada taco dinner comes with Abuelita’s refried beans and rice. | Melissa Elsmo

Tacos 76, 838 Madison St. in Oak Park, opened quietly on Oct. 7. First time restaurant owner and Oak Park resident, Karla Linarez preferred to open without fanfare in hopes of being able to gradually work up to meet increasing demand.

“We’ve been quite busy since we opened,” said Linarez, “But we want to see what works best for us first and adjust to the demands of our new business.”

Linarez graduated with a degree in entrepreneurship from DePaul University and holds both culinary and baking and pastry certificates from Kendall College in Chicago. Tacos 76 is the first restaurant for the ambitious wife and mother to four children.

Tacos 76 is now open and located at 838 Madison St. in Oak Park. | Melissa Elsmo

She grew up in Little Village and spent her summers in Guadalajara. The time she spent in Mexico connected her to her family roots and deepened her love of Mexican culture. Every decision Linarez made when conceptualizing Tacos 76 was designed to honor her family heritage.

“I grew up admiring all the entrepreneurs living and working in Little Village,” said Linarez. “I met my husband there when I was just 16 and he came from a large family of taqueria and market owners.”

Her brother in-law, Alfredo Linares, runs eight Supermercado La Chiquita locations with his wife, Julie, and daughter, Irene. The taco shops tucked inside grocery stores in Chicago and the suburbs provided a much-needed training ground for the aspiring restaurateur. Linarez spent significant time cooking and learning the ins and outs of the restaurant business at La Chiquita in advance of opening Tacos 76.

“I am part of a family of entrepreneurs, and they are my mentors,” said Linarez. “They are all rooting for me to succeed, showed me the ropes and even shared some of their amazing employees to help get me started.”

The cooks at Tacos 76 are affectionately referred to as “taqueros” which roughly translates to “master taco chefs.” Taquero Carlos Jimenez who works the grill at the new eatery has been cooking tacos for more than 20 years. The experienced cook relies on Linarez’s arsenal of recipes at Tacos 76.

Carlos Jimenez grills skirt steak at Tacos 76; he is a Taquero or “master taco chef” with 20 years of experience. | Melissa Elsmo

“The food we serve is simple and authentic,” said Linarez. “I use my mother-in-law’s recipe for beans and cook everything else just as our family would want to eat it.”

The carne asada, available daily, is made from seasoned skirt steak and grilled over open flames and will feature their trompo Al Pastor on weekends — the pineapple spiked pork is a house specialty. Tacos 76 caters to vegetarians by offering a custom blend of sautéed vegetables including zucchini and peppers. All salsas are made in house at Tacos 76 and can be used to enhance tacos, burritos, quesadillas and bowls.  Plans to expand the menu are already in the works; Linarez teased the arrival of margaritas, palomas and craft beer in the coming weeks.

The Madison Street restaurant has a vintage vibe inspired by the taquerias and mercados Linarez frequented in Guadalajara. The red, white and green color palate is evocative of the Mexican flag and the casual design features metal folding chairs, wooden tables and clean tile walls. Thoughtful branding brings a sense of fun to the space.

Lotería is a traditional Mexican game similar to bingo but makes use of artistic images on a deck of cards rather than numbered balls. Linarez played the game frequently as a child with her grandmother and created custom artwork for Tacos 76 inspired by Lotería and her own personal life. The colorful cards, hanging in the second dining room, feature vibrant renderings of fictional characters from books her four children love, photos of her parents, and images of Ernest Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright. The largest card on display features a line drawing of the terracotta arch welcoming people into Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood.

“When you walk into Tacos 76 it feels exactly like you are in an authentic taqueria in Mexico,” said Linarez. “I think it is a place that reflects all the things that are important to me.”

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