Wednesday, November 8, 2017

[Suburbia Lost] Success Story/Taco Loco #2

An abandoned fast food restaurant in suburbia is reborn as an exceptional, local taco joint. Great food and a story of success in repurposing.

- Taco Loco #2 interior.

I’ve been photographing abandoned places and writing about their history for over a decade. Oftentimes, those adventures take place in the hearts of cities. Much older than their suburban offspring, urban cores tend to feature the more interesting forgotten and historic locales. Whether it’s found in Cincinnati, Detroit, Dayton, or smaller city centers, you’ll find subjects ranging from old subway tunnels to former sites of industrial might. The quality of architecture often varies wildly, but generally older buildings are built with stronger materials, feature decorative details, or are constructed as symbols with purpose. It’s a stark contrast in the much younger, ever fleeting suburbs. Since the end of the Second World War when there was a mass urban exodus, the areas outside of city cores grew rapidly. These places were propped up by housing made affordable through mass production and cheap materials. Gone were the shops built into old row houses on Main St. Who needs those when you can just quickly crank out a strip mall and then replace it with another in the next bustling burb? There’s abandonment in the suburbs too, but it’s not nearly as pretty or always as interesting. You won’t find any old train stations constructed in the Art Deco Style, rather, you’ll find a decrepit gas station or shuttered fast food joint usually not even dating back more than twenty years.

In 2013, I started a project that complemented my work in urban exploration. Since then, Suburbia Lost has featured locations in what is often touted as a perceived paradise, free of the city’s “shortcomings.” I’ve written about it a few times before in the project, but often, suburban developments are built with branding in mind. This is a tried and true marketing tactic originally pioneered by the McDonald’s corporation. By repeatedly constructing business locations in a similar style, you’re able to identify the brand without even seeing the sign. Consumers become conditioned to know exactly what a McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, etc. looks like. This tactic is cleverly highlighted by the blog “Used to Be a Pizza Hut,” which chronicles businesses across the world that are recognizable as a former franchise of the massive pizza conglomerate despite the ovens and pepperoni being long gone.

- "Used to be a Burger King."

This is what makes suburban abandonment markedly different, unsightly, and its redevelopment challenging. It can be tough to turn a purpose built structure oozing with "brand identity" into something else, but that doesn’t stop people from trying. In one of the recent Suburbia Lost posts, I asked people what an abandoned Texas Roadhouse should become. Even considering some of the best intentioned comments, theres no way that a new business would not have their location still look distinctly like a Texas Roadhouse. Likely, that building will sit their and rot for awhile. It’s not fooling anybody. Despite painting over the company name, even non locals could tell clearly what the structure used to be.

- Decorations.

In this post, though, I want to highlight the occasional success story. A case where a purpose built structure was born into something new in spite of its appearance. With this specific instance, it’s a former Burger King. We’ve documented abandoned BK’s locally, in Pennsylvania, and in Central Ohio before, but this one was located in Forest Park, a suburb North of Cincinnati. After sitting closed for awhile, missing out on any recent brand refreshments or updates, it eventually reopened as “Taco Loco #2.” My parents live down the street and my Dad and I found some time to go check it out. Although clearly looking like it “used to be” a Burger King, the restaurant is entirely different than America’s second-favorite burger chain. Our server informed me that Taco Loco #1 has since closed and although this location uses a “2” in the name, it’s actually the only location in Cincinnati.

You can order from the same counter that Burger King utilized or you can grab a seat and have table service. The interior is a mix of Burger King booths from the late 80’s/early 90’s and newer table/chair combos. A disco ball and lights hang from the rafters, apparently for when the place becomes a dance club on certain evenings.

- Former Burger King booths.

Unlike the plethora of “Mexican restaurants” commonly found in the suburbs, Taco Loco at least seems more authentic. You can find the typical “tex mex” dishes alongside more traditional things such as slow cooked tongue and tortas. A fountain soda machine powered by bags of syrup doesn’t exist, instead you have a selection of Jarritos brand and glass bottled soda. I’m not a food critic, nor do I have the most refined palette (I’ve certainly found myself at Taco Bell from time to time), but I found the tacos here to be just as good, if not better, than some of Cincinnati’s other local taco-centric places in trendier locales. Nevertheless, there’s no flare or bragging at Taco Loco #2, you won’t find any awards given out by local publications adorning the walls. When we praised the food, the friendly staff just gave a reaction that implied “well, yeah, we know it’s good, we made it.”

- Excellent tacos served with Jarritos.

Unlike an abandoned automobile factory, post office, library, or theatre which can feature an abundance of history, suburban fast food restaurants lack almost any and the plot of land they sit on is often more valuable than the building itself. In this case, it’s nice to see the occasional business repurpose a structure and make something useful out of it, an occurrence that is the suburban exception and not the norm. I’d rather have a locally owned and operated taco joint serving up quality food than a Burger King any day.

Taco Loco #2 is located at 610 Northland Blvd. in Forest Park, OH.

View the other entires in the Suburbia Lost series.


  1. Next community over, Greenhills, where I grew up, almost deserves an article here on QCD.

    1. I might be able to get around to Greenhills one day. Love that ice cream stand there. Any particular highlights of the area?