Friday, June 8, 2018

Ghosts of Taco Tico Past


This very taco wrapper is now framed and hanging in my living room. 

If there's one broken chain that comes close to usurping G.D. Ritzy's status as my favorite, it's probably Taco Tico. Thanks in part to its dominance in Central Kentucky during my childhood there, Taco Tico remains my favorite fast food taco chain. I grew up in a time when there were just as many Taco Tico locations nearby as there were Taco Bells. As a kid, who knew little of what was outside of Central Kentucky I thought of them as equals in terms of market share. (I was a weird kid.) In the mid nineties, most of the Taco Ticos in Lexington closed. A few soldiered on for a few years under the name Tacos Too, which I suspect was one franchisee’s strategy for avoiding paying franchise fees while still operating a very Taco Tico like business. Some of the Tacos Too locations were later converted to Popeye's, presumably when the franchisee wanted to try something new, or perhaps when they received a cease and desist letter from Taco Tico corporate.

1483 Boardwalk, Lexington, KY
Lexington's last operating Taco Tico; the 1970s vintage pueblo style building has had a fresh coat of paint since I ate here last.

Interior of the Lexington Taco Tico, a nicely maintained time capsule
5925 Terry Rd, Louisville, KY
Kentucky's other Taco Tico, located in Louisville, opened in 2007, the only operating Taco Tico not in a freestanding structure. It's also the newest operating Taco Tico location anywhere if you don't count the older, previously closed restaurants in Kansas that have reopened in the past couple of years. 

Every time I’m back in Lexington, I make it a point to eat at the one remaining (and thriving!) Taco Tico in town. I did just that on my recent trip to Kentucky. I also ate at the Bluegrass State’s other Taco Tico, located in Louisville. While visiting a few of the other historical fast food sites in Lexington, I noticed that there were still a hell of a lot of old Taco Tico buildings still standing, some repurposed, some empty. With nothing better to do, I drove around the area and photographed every building I remember being a Taco Tico. I thought I’d use those photos to document what’s left of Taco Tico’s presence in and around Lexington, Kentucky. I doubt this is a complete or definitive list. If you know of any other old Taco Tico buildings in the area, or anywhere else for that matter, feel free to make me aware of them. Below, you'll find every building I photographed with a description of what I remember about them. 

771 E New Circle Rd, Lexington, KY
This was the penultimate Taco Tico location in Lexington. My friends and I would frequent this one as well as the Boardwalk location. My best guess is that it closed sometime around 2006. It's had some new paint and awnings, and some decorative flourishes have been removed from the roofline, but the basic shape of the building is the same as it was. I'd guess fewer than half of Taco Tico buildings were the distinctive trapezoidal pueblos. The other buildings were much more conventional by comparison. Wing Hut is a local business and has another location in Lexington in the building that served as the first ever Fazoli's, among other things. 

504 Lexington Road, Versailles, KY
An impressively intact pueblo-style Taco Tico building, much like the one still in operation now houses an authentic Mexican restaurant serving cuisine far removed from Taco Tico's menu, which was  conceived in the sixties by gringos in Kansas. This location is one that turned into Tacos Too and survived well into this century. It was spared the indignity of being converted to a Popeye's.
172 Imperial Way, Nicholasville, Kentucky
Now nearly unrecognizable, this building was originally a Taco Tico. It was an outparcel in a shopping center that contained the nearest Walmart to where my family lived, so we'd often have dinner here before a mid-week Walmart run. I used to beg my parents for quarters so I could play the tabletop Pac Man game here. Like most Taco Ticos in the area, this one closed in the mid 90s, and sat empty for a few years, before turning into a Popeye's.


101 E Tiverton Way, Lexington, KY
This was the first Taco Tico I remember seeing with a Tacos Too sign out front. As you can probably guess, it was eventually turned into an ill-fated Popeye's. I had to take this picture through my windshield while sitting at a red light, as the parking lot is completely fenced off, perhaps to deter trespassers. It's been empty for years. Edit: I've been informed that this building served as a Qdoba until last year when a former manager robbed the place and set it on fire. I completely missed that somehow. 

1445 Village Drive, Lexington, Kentucky
I had no idea there was a former Taco Tico here until I saw it in the background of a picture in an Atlas Obscura article about the piece of mimetic architecture next door, which was originally built as a mortar and pestle shaped pharmacy. Its neighbor is another nicely preserved pueblo style Taco Tico, now serving as an authentic Mexican restaurant. The two story margarita next door seems fitting and probably doesn't hurt business.
1001 Elizabeth St. Nicholasville, KY
This Shell station never housed a Taco Tico, but it's two restaurant slots that are now a liquor store and a barbecue joint were once a Popeye's and a Tacos Too. I therefore felt obliged to include it here given the connection to nearby Taco Tico locations. Not long after the Popeye's closed, its former slot did duty as a makeshift Daewoo showroom for the dealership next door during the brief window of time in which you could buy a new Daewoo car in the US.



3750 Palomar Centre Dr. Lexington, Kentucky
I saved my favorite conversion for last. That's right, this bank used to be a Taco Tico. We'd also visit this location frequently when I was a kid. I have distinct memories of mixing Coke and orange soda from the self-serve drink fountain here. This building never did time as a Tacos Too or Popeye's as I recall. I believe it's only been a Taco Tico and a bank, weirdly enough.  
So that's my attempt at documenting an extremely esoteric bit of history. I'm going to check my bank balance to see how much interest has accrued on those enchiladas I deposited.

21 comments:

  1. Special request:taco johns. There was one in Frankfort in the 70s.

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    1. I remember there being a couple Taco John's locations in Frankfort well into this century. They still have hundreds of locations all over the mountain west and midwest, and I heard recently they're attempting to break into the Lexington market.

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  2. There was a taco tico in Danville. Building is still there on south fourth street.

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    1. I'll have to check that out the next time I'm in Kentucky, plus it'll give me a chance to pick up my favorite donuts from Burke's Bakery. Thanks for the tip.

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  3. As another who remembers that Nicholasville Walmart and Taco Tico, thanks for that rip down memory lane.

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    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one. The Nicholasville Taco Tico and the old Nicholasville McDonald’s that’s now occupied by The Nicholasville’s Department of Public Utilities are among my earliest fast food memories.

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  4. There was a Taco Tico on Richmond Road, past Idle Hour Shopping Center, near Lexington Mall. Once it closed, I think it became a Bagel Bay (another dead gem of Lex cuisine)

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    1. I didn’t know about that one, but Bagel Bay sounds familiar. I think the Tiverton Taco Tico was a Bagel Bay for about 5 minutes in the ‘90s.

      Looking at Google Maps, I don’t see any evidence of the Richmond Road Taco Tico building still standing, unless I’m overlooking it.

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    2. Yes, it was a Taco Tico. It's now a laundromat. Sad.

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  5. I was in school at Morehead in the last 70's. There was a Taco Tico off I-64 (on the left, if you're headed towards WV) in a shopping plaza. My friends and I, all Ky kids, had never eaten Mexican before.....we thought it was fantastic

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    1. to clarify....the I-64 Morehead exit, and it was the 'late' 70's, not 'last'....although it might be the same. :-)

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    2. Hi, thanks for reading!

      Looking at that area on Google Maps, it appears the building is either long gone or renovated beyond recognition. There’s a Dairy Queen at that exit that looks like it could be an old Druther’s, though.

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  6. There are still a handful of Taco Ticos in Kansas. There is a special place in my heart for the one in my hometown of Derby, Kansas. I go there every time I visit my parents. And it still tastes exactly the same. It closed for a while several years ago, but it's been back for a while and I think it still does pretty good business.

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    1. The Taco Ticos in Kansas have been on my list to visit for a long time. I've often fantasized about going on the road for two weeks to visit every operating Taco Tico. I'll do it one of these days.

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    2. Sounds like a great road trip

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  7. The Tiverton Taco Tico was either a Bagel Bay or a Manhattan Bagel Company. (The Richmond Road building was definitely a Manhattan Bagel Company, if we are talking about the building in front of The Chophouse. I believe it is currently a picture framing store of some kind...)

    Back to he Tiverton location....after the bagel spot it was a Popeyes and then most recently a Qdoba, which a disgruntled employee set fire to April of 2017, which is why it is fenced off.

    http://amp.kentucky.com/news/local/crime/article149947197.html

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    1. I remember the Tiverton Taco Tico being Bagel Bay for a while. I totally missed the Qdoba era and the ensuing arson incident, but it's nice to know the backstory of why it's fenced off. I forgot there was one on Richmond Road. I'll have to scope out that area the next time I'm in town.

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  8. Here's an old Taco Tico building on Preston in Louisville:
    https://goo.gl/maps/TfrDu44Eeom


    This one actually opened up a only a few years back (and has since closed up already). No points awarded for guessing what kind of fast food outfit it was before (they didn't even replace the exit sign!).
    https://goo.gl/maps/JPsmfGtntzD2

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    1. Thanks for the links. Looking at retail spaces on Streetview is one of my favorite ways to waste time. I'm loving the converted Wendy's. It's the opposite of this Wendy's near me, which started out life as a Zantigo.
      https://tinyurl.com/y8nej5ug

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  9. Omg i really enjoyed this as i was feeling nostalgic and looked up tico online to c whers closest one to me is after growing up in iowa and having tico as the best taco place in mason city i really miss the taste of there tacos i wish there was a place i could order online and have them over nighted i bet a day old taco tico taco burger is better than anything that rochester mn has to offer

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    1. Ask and you shall receive. It looks like you can order 8 lbs of frozen taco meat from the Kansas Taco Ticos, plus gallong jugs of sauces.

      https://tacotico.us/shop?olsPage=products

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