Ta Co. Mexican restaurant closes in downtown Lawrence and heads to Topeka; plans for Italian restaurant to take its place

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The signs are down and tear-down work is underway in the former space that housed Ta Co. at 801 Massachusetts St. in downtown Lawrence. The restaurant plans to reopen in Topeka in 2023.

Massachusetts Street, it appears, is about to get a new Italian restaurant, but it will come at the expense of a local Mexican restaurant. (That’s as close to international business reporting as I get.)

Ta Co., the Mexican restaurant at the corner of Eighth and Massachusetts, has closed, but the owner of Ta Co. has published on the eatery’s website that the Italian restaurant Basil Leaf Café will be moving into the spot next month.

Basil Leaf, if you have forgotten, is a longtime Italian restaurant at 616 W. Ninth St., just a few blocks west of Massachusetts Street. The restaurant hasn’t yet announced the move on its Facebook page or website. I’ll reach out to the Basil Leaf owners and try to get confirmation and other details to pass along.

Ta Co., however, is definitely done in downtown Lawrence, but apparently not done as a restaurant. Its website says it plans to relocate to Topeka for a 2023 launch. It did not provide any further details of where it plans to locate in Topeka. However, the website does provide some instructions for how to redeem gift certificates you may be holding for Ta Co. It also said on its website that if those arrangements don’t work for gift-card holders, they can call 785-501-9298 for a refund. The restaurant has struck a deal for those gift certificates to be used at The Iron Rail Brewing Co. and The Pennant, which are both in downtown Topeka.

I wonder if that is a clue about where Ta Co. may locate. Has downtown Topeka recruited a Lawrence restaurant to be part of its evolving scene?

I don’t know, but there certainly are other factors to consider in the world of Mexican food in Lawrence. Tacos are kind of built for open-ended questions, and the latest one in Lawrence is whether you can have too many of them.

In recent months I have written about a new taco stand at 19th and Massachusetts, a new one at 31st and Iowa and the major expansion of La Estrella and its taco stand. All that is in addition to the three new Mexican restaurants that have opened on Massachusetts Street in recent months. Those include Rusty Taco at 10th and Massachusetts, Molcajete’s, which is just a couple of doors down from Rusty Taco, and Casa Grande at 1011 Massachusetts St. If you are trying to picture it all, that is three new Mexican restaurants all on the same side of the street and basically within one block.

Italian restaurants, though, are a different story. When Genovese left its space on Massachusetts Street — that is where Molcajete’s is now — the availability of Italian food on Massachusetts declined considerably.

The old Ta Co. space — some of you may remember that it once housed Round Corner Drug — will be a significant expansion for Basil Leaf, if that move indeed happens. One of the defining characteristics of Basil Leaf is that it has a very small dining room at its West Ninth Street location. The Ta Co. space has both a large indoor dining room and an extensive sidewalk dining area.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Casa Grande is a new Mexican restaurant at 1011 Massachusetts St.


While we are on the subject of a Mexican food explosion in Lawrence, I’ll pass along basic info about Casa Grande. It is the newest of the Mexican restaurants to locate in downtown.

Co-owner Alejandra Martinez told me the restaurant is trying to fuse a couple of different styles of Mexican cooking and to steer clear of the Americanized Tex-Mex offerings. Martinez’s family is from the “frontier region” of Mexico near the Texas border, while co-owner Fausto Picazo’s family is from the Mexico City area.

“It is really kind of a combination of those flavors,” Martinez said.

Describing what that means is a little difficult, Martinez said, because the differences are mainly in the spices.

As far as the menu goes, there are plenty of recognizable dishes, whether they are Tex-Mex or not. Martinez said handmade tamales are among the most popular items on the menu. The menu also includes a variety of tacos and burritos, plus Mexican sandwiches called tortas. If you are fan of ham and cheese sandwiches, you might try a Mexican version of that. Amy’s Torta includes ham, cheese and mayo but also combines it with avocado, jalapeños and onions. The restaurant also does several things with quesadillas, including stuffing them with beef, pork, chicken and beans, then smothering them with your choice of cheese sauce.

One thing you shouldn’t expect right away, though, is a margarita or other such drink. Martinez said the restaurant is still in the process of getting a liquor license.


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