WOODSTOCK – Hector Ruiz opened FasTacos by accident.
He wasn’t looking for a new career. The father of four and native of southwestern Mexico was happy with his job as a chef at a restaurant on Navy Pier.
“I really didn’t want to open it,” he said, sitting at one of just a handful of tables at his small restaurant in Woodstock.
About six years ago, Ruiz came to the area for the day.
“I had all my kids and everyone in the van,” Ruiz remembered. “I tell my wife, ‘OK, let’s get something to eat.’ I wanted tacos so we went to a place. That place took 30 minutes to give me two tacos. So I tell my wife, ‘In this place, they need something. Something where they can just order and fly away.’”
Ruiz sold his home in Chicago that month and began working on what eventually became FasTacos, a simplistic Mexican joint that focuses on quick, quality food above all else. They don’t serve glasses of ice water or waste their time with chips and salsa. There are no waiters.
And the restaurant stays open late – 10 p.m. on weekdays, 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. A significant portion of their business comes from the post-bars, 1:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. crowd.
“I put music on. They say you’re coming from the party and you’re still getting to party here,” Ruiz said. “They still have fun over here.”
Ruiz said the late-nighters appreciate a quick meal in an upbeat atmosphere.
“Put in (your order), get your food and fly,” he said. “No water, no chips – that’s a waste of time.
The prices also appeal to what is generally a younger crowd.
The restaurant’s specialties, steak tacos and steak burritos, are $2 and $5.50 respectively. They also sell cans and bottles of soda for between $1 and $2.
“There are people that have only $5,” Ruiz said. “So you come here, you get two tacos, one soda. Boom. Vamanos.”
While FasTacos has brought in the late-night group with price and convenience, others in the area have used slightly different approaches.
Around the Clock in Crystal Lake is open until midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Owner Steve Theofanous said the menu’s variety – offering breakfast and dinner items as well as pie and ice cream – is a draw for people looking to eat a good meal after most sit-down restaurants have closed.
“Not too many places are open at that time where you can get a home-cooked meal,” said Fano Theofanous, Steve’s brother and a co-owner.
Fano Theofanous added the restaurant usually gets a rush around 10 p.m. when the movies are getting out and area shops are closing for the night.
On the contrary, Downtown Dogs ‘N’ More in Algonquin has struggled to get its feet on the ground with the late night food scene.
Co-owner Omar Razvi said the restaurant has “had its nights,” but in general has been slow late on the weekends, when it stays open until 1:30 a.m. The rest of the business, Razvi noted, has grown steadily since it opened about a year ago.
“Maybe the bars aren’t that busy or people go to Taco Bell or McDonald’s late night,” Razvi said. “I don’t know if people know about it late night. ... To be honest, I’m thinking about closing early Friday and Saturday.”