Taco Betty’s has become one of the coolest and trendiest restaurants in downtown Rockford. Learn how the menu has evolved and find out what’s in store for the future.
When people visit Taco Betty’s in downtown Rockford, they usually ask the same question. Who is Betty?
“Betty is your grandmother, Betty is your best friend, Betty is a unicorn that you see running down State Street,” Dann Shallenberger, manager at Taco Betty’s, says with a laugh. “Anyone can have a Betty in their life.”
Taco Betty’s, 212 E. State St., opened last April as one of the coolest, trendiest restaurants in downtown Rockford. Its namesake is the nickname that investor Brent Hughes uses for his wife, Betsy Branca. Hughes and co-investor John Bross came up with the concept for Taco Betty’s in 2014. Chef Paul Sletten is the president of the company and handles daily operations.
The entrance to Taco Betty’s faces State Street, featuring an open design and large windows, which expose the kitchen and bar area. Those windows also bring in lots of natural night, and if you happen to sit next to the window, you can feel warmth, even on a cold winter day.
“Not only is it super bright in here, but at nighttime, you can see everything,” Shallenberger says. “We’re also set up right next to the Rockford City Market in the summer.”
Exposed brick throughout the building gives Taco Betty’s a vintage feel. Music plays over the speakers in the restaurant, which creates a lively atmosphere for dining.
Patrons can dine on the first or second floor of Taco Betty’s. The restaurant’s rooftop is open weather permitting, but guests can only eat snacks on this level.
The menu at Taco Betty’s is loaded with plenty of favorites, obviously including tacos, the heartbeat of the restaurant. The pork and pineapple taco is a top choice, which comes with chile brined pork, roasted pineapple, cilantro and onion. The crispy fish taco is also popular, which comes with roasted corn, dried chile, queso, avocado lime mayo, cilantro and onion.
Tacos come in pairs for lunch and sets of three for dinner. They’re served with smoked black beans and rice, house pickles and salsa. New tacos are created throughout the year.
Other items on the menu include chips and guac, chicken taquitos, chicken verde nachos and taco salad.
The kitchen inside Taco Betty’s is exposed, so your food is made right in front of you. Executive Chef Quinn Lawyer oversees what happens in the kitchen.
In addition to food, there’s also an extensive drink menu, which includes margaritas. You can order it original, or with one of four flavor additions.
“For our cocktails, we make fresh juice and we squeeze the fruit daily,” Shallenberger says.
The restaurant has evolved in the months since it’s been open. At first, guests had to place their order on a sheet of paper.
“You came in and filled out a sheet and placed your order that way, kind of like a sushi bar,” Shallenberger says. “We don’t do that anymore. We take orders normally now and it’s easier.”
There are also more fresh, made-from-scratch items on the menu these days.
“When we first opened, we were buying our corn tortilla shells,” Shallenberger says. “We did that up until three months ago. Now, we make them in house by hand. Pretty much everything we serve is made in-house.”
The restaurant also has various activities happening during the week. Every Tuesday, for example, is Taco Tuesday, which includes taco specials and trivia.
Shallenberger is always looking to enhance the customer experience. In fact, he’s looking at working with local breweries in the future.
“They’ll come in and we’d cook with their beer,” Shallenberger says. “Breweries could also give out samples and they’d pair their beer with some of our tacos.”
Shallenberger hopes the restaurant can continue to evolve.
“A lot of people say this is not an authentic Mexican restaurant, but we never tried to be,” he says. “We just wanted a place to make fun, unique tacos.”
The restaurant opens daily at 11 a.m. The kitchen is open Sun.-Thurs. until 10 p.m. and until midnight on Fri.-Sat. Event catering is also available.