A slushie machine pouring a green slushie into a plastic cup.
Boozy Taco Bells are coming to West Loop and Lincoln Park. | Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

How will Taco Bell’s arrival impact the trendy West Loop dining strip?

Randolph Restaurant Row, the strip hailed as one of the top dining destinations in the city, will soon be home to a boozy Taco Bell. It’s the latest chain to find a home along the famous dining strip, joining McDonald’s and Starbucks as companies that can afford the pricey West Loop real estate.

The fast-food behemoth is actually slated to open two new boozy locations in Chicago: one inside the former Porkchop space at 941 W. Randolph Street, the other at 948 W. Armitage Avenue in Lincoln Park. A Taco Bell spokesperson says the company plans on opening both by the end of April.

Porkchop exited the area three years ago. A permit with Taco Bell’s name was affixed to a window at the Randolph space. That drew excitement from West Loop residents. Some fans just can’t wait to sink their teeth into Quesaritos. Others fear the opening signals the nail in the coffin for Randolph, the neighborhood Oprah Winfrey shaped. Harpo Studios, where Winfrey recorded her talkshow, brought worldwide attention to the area and restaurant owners capitalized.

Taco Bell debuted its boozy stores six years ago in Wicker Park. This new urban-sized cantinas were aimed at drawing millennials with alcoholic drinks like spiked slushies. The interiors feature a grittier aesthetic with exposed brick and pipes, and shared plates.

Some Chicago social media users are already celebrating the forthcoming location, already champing at the bit for Crunchwrap Supremes. “Dreams do come true,” a user comments on a post on the True West Loop Facebook page. “Thank you Santa……!!!!,” another writes.

Others see Taco Bell’s expansion into West Loop as a bad omen, fearing the international chain will undermine the area’s credibility as one of Chicago’s premier dining neighborhood. They fear it signals a larger decline on Randolph that will leave the area resembling a strip mall rather than a hotspot for acclaimed chefs and buzzy establishments like Girl & the Goat and Au Cheval. In 2018, McDonald’s moved its corporate headquarters from the suburbs to West Loop.

However one feels about Taco Bell, there is a distinct lack of quick Mexican options in the area. Perez Restaurant, a popular Mexican spot for quick meals, closed in 2017 after more than three decades at 853 W. Randolph Street. The neighborhood then lost De Cero, an upscale Mexican restaurant that closed after 14 years at 816 W. Randolph. Though Rick Bayless sold off his shares, Mexican spots Leña Brava and Cruz Blanca remain, as does La Josie.

The two new Taco Bell Cantinas will bring the total number of city locations to six, with outposts in Wicker Park, the Loop, and River North. A location on Wabash Avenue is temporarily closed.

Taco Bell Cantina, 941 W. Randolph Street; 948 W. Armitage Avenue, planned to open by the end of April.

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