Explaining the mystique: WNY’s love affair with Mighty Taco

       By Steve Cichon

Forty-five years later, it’s hard to imagine Mighty Taco as anything other than a Buffalo institution, but in 1973, three Army buddies opened what was Buffalo’s first taco stand inside a tiny store front on Hertel Avenue, right in the heart of North Buffalo’s Little Italy.

The original Hertel Avenue location of Mighty Taco, 1986.

“We’d have old North Buffalo Italian ladies come in and ask what they were,” co-founder Andy Gerovac told News reporter Sharon Linstedt in 1997. “We’d tell them they were Mexican sandwiches and they’d say, ‘Thank you,’ and leave.”

Just as the chicken wing and beef on weck were created as bar food, Mighty was catering to hungry folks leaving bars from the very beginning. “The Mighty Taco,” as the chain was known in the beginning, didn’t open until 3 p.m. in the earliest days, but was open through the overnight hours.

Mighty Taco’s popularity grew with the use of interesting advertising in print and on rock radio stations.

“Mighty Taco generally caters to a younger crowd who are ultimately under high states of intoxication and virtual unconsciousness,” reported The (UB) Spectrum in 1979, naming Mighty Taco the area’s best taco stand. “Munched out patrons – engulfing whole tacos at a time – are not concerned with the true versions of Mexican food. Nonetheless, Mighty’s food comes closest to my idea of a quick-serviced yet well-developed epitome of Mexican culture.”

Within a few years, “The Mighty Taco” was slinging tacos and burritos from 11 a.m. to 5 a.m. on Hertel, then on Seneca Street near Cazenovia in South Buffalo, then Bailey and Minnesota, then Forest and Elmwood.

Employees outside the Forest Ave. location in 1979.

A 1986 review of Mighty Taco in the Canisius College student newspaper The Griffin called Mighty Taco “a place where daytime enemies can coexist peacefully. A place where middle-aged executives and punk rockers stand side-by-side without their usual feelings of animosity.  Under the harsh glare of fluorescent lights, and amidst the mingled smells of beer, cigarettes, gin, marijuana, and Mexican food they line up, patiently waiting for their number to be called.”

And that might be the entire appeal of Mighty Taco. Whether you’re a retiree meeting a buddy for lunch, one of those middle-aged executives grabbing something quick between meetings on the road, or an expat whose first stop after the plane lands in Buffalo is for a couple of Super Mightys, there’s something about Mighty Taco that touches that punk rocker that lives inside of most us.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Elmwood at Forest, 1985

By Steve Cichon

These old houses represented several different front lines in the battles over the development of the new Buffalo over the last decade or so.

As recently as the early 1980s, the row of houses on the east side of Elmwood Avenue between Forest and what was then a tiny breakfast joint named Pano’s were still mostly residential.

While the ’80s wore on and Elmwood found itself in the midst of an urban revival, the onetime ground-floor apartments in these big old homes became store fronts, housing businesses that fit into the vibe that was spilling out of Allentown and SUNY Buffalo State and meeting somewhere in the middle.

City-sponsored efforts to bring neon sculpture to the Elmwood strip gave a new glow to the Bidwell Parkway area, as well to the Neon Art Store pictured above. Play It Again Sam Records and later Home of the Hits were sources of music that couldn’t be found elsewhere.

As plans for development of the block into a hotel were first floated in 2006, the buildings were vacated and fell into disrepair — not that several of them were in great shape to begin with. Discussions between builders, neighbors and preservationists continued for more than a decade, and the houses were further neglected. Early in 2018, the big old houses came down.

Elmwood at Forest, 2017. (Steve Cichon photo/Buffalo Stories archives)

As individual homes, they weren’t historically or architecturally significant, but as the now-shovel-ready gash of earth sits at the corner of Elmwood and Forest, we’re left to ask whether the loss of the tiny piece of our city’s soul will be worth putting up something shiny, multi-use and income-generating. (A 40-unit condominium project by Chason Affinity Cos. — which required eight zoning variances and was the subject of many complaints by neighbors — is planned for the site.)

The question that remains is, if we wipe out too many of the shabby old houses, can we still keep the essence of what attracts people to Buffalo?

The view looking south down Elmwood Avenue at Forest, where site work was underway April 9 on the Chason Affinity project. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Buffalo in the ’80s: Questions we aren’t asked anymore

By Steve Cichon

Our day-to-day lives are filled with common almost reflexive interactions we barely think about. Quite often, we barely notice when one changes or goes by the wayside.

Here is a collection of several questions that were commonly asked around Buffalo in the 1980s, but not so much today.

Paper or Plastic?


When this photo of the Vogt Brothers and their Bells and Super Duper grocery bags appeared in The News in 1986, the accompanying story showed a city divided over the question.

What will we cover our school books in, or use to cover our turkeys to keep them moist should the paper bag go away, were among the questions asked.

Thirty years later, the paper bag is an anachronism. It’s still available, but for most it looks more like a vestige of another time rather than a way to carry your groceries home.

Many are working to give the plastic bag the same treatment. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz spearheaded efforts earlier this year to examine the feasibility of banning plastic bags at grocery stores.

According to grocery supply company Topco, the sale of reusable shopping bags is a $75 million market in the U.S.

Smoking or non?

For decades, this was the ubiquitous ice-breaking question posed from restaurant hostess stations — but not since 2003 in New York State.

While this question might still be asked in other places across the country, New York’s Clean Indoor Air Act banned smoking in all public places in the state 13 years ago.

Where d’ya live?

Buffalo News archives

The question is still asked in a number of different ways in the volley of questions and exchanges of passports now needed to cross the border at the Peace Bridge.

But there was a simpler time, before 9/11, when just the answer to that question alone was often enough to get you over the bridge for some Chinese food at Happy Jack’s, rides at Crystal Beach, or to fill up with some cheaper Canadian gas.

Regular or Unleaded?

Buffalo News archives

That’s a gas station question that’s triple extinct.

Regular now means a grade of unleaded. Old-fashioned regular gasoline — the lead-additive-filled kind — is no longer generally available. And besides that, it’s difficult to find full-service stations where you might be asked anything by a gas pump attendant anymore.

This photo of the Mobil station at the corner of Elmwood and Forest in 1986 says the station is self-serve, but still shows the two grades of gas they offer as regular and unleaded.

Starting in 1973, the EPA ordered the phase-out of tetraethyl lead additives to gasoline. In 1975, car manufacturers began introducing catalytic converters in vehicles to make them run smoother and cleaner, thereby negating the need for the lead.

Regular was cheaper than unleaded, but leaded gas would ruin a catalytic converter, and make for a costly repair. By the end of the ’80s, “regular” gas was mostly phased out.

Can you think of other questions we aren’t asked anymore?