What does a rapper who’s beefed with Eminem, who’s also a comedy writer—working on Key & Peele, Funny or Die, and 50 Shades of Black—really want to do? Chicago native Raymond Jones came back to the South Side after nine years to open up a Mexican restaurant. Love Taco, which features movie posters of RomComs decorating the restaurant, opened earlier this month at 109 E. 51st St.
Jones, who goes by Raydio G as a member of the hip-hop trio HotStylz, immediately admitted that it’s a rarity for a black guy to open up a Mexican restaurant. But he really likes Mexican food, visits Mexico and practices recipes as a home cook.
“I am probably the biggest Mexican food enthusiast you know,” Jones said.
The premise for Love Taco seems like it could be from a sit-com. That’s not lost on Jones, who contributed to a few Comedy Central TV shows, including sketch comedy Key & Peele and Workaholics. Friends encouraged him to ditch the entertainment industry and open a restaurant. When he got serious, he enlisted a friend, Seth Rushing, to help with his menu. Rushing is a pastry chef who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu: “He took the menu to the next level,” Jones said.
Jones’ mother is African American, and grew up in Chicago. His father was born in Mexico City and now lives in Mississippi. Jones identifies as black and returned to Chicago about six months ago after living in Los Angeles and Atlanta. The Hollywood feel continues with the movie posters, including The Notebook, Love and Basketball, and West Side Story. Somehow, his friends have avoided giving Jones too much heat for the abundance of stereotypical “chick flicks.”
Love Taco is primarily a take-out restaurant with fresh and vegetarian options. That’s something that’s badly needed in the area, Jones said. The nearest Mexican restaurant is about two miles away.
“I watched the community and noticed the lack of healthy food,” Jones said. “We try to cook all of our food fresh. Not to throw shade, but [other area restaurants], they just don’t uphold high standards. I wanted to offer something new to the community.”
Tacos, burritos, and tortas are on the menu, using tortillas from El Milagro in Pilsen. The house taco specials have names with a pop-culture/romance connection. There’s the “Sweet Thang” with pineapple chicken and queso fresco. The “Bob Marley” with “island-style” steak. R. Kelly gets a shout out with the “I Believe I Can Fry,” a loaded plate of French fries named after the R&B star’s hit song.
Jones has seen the area change, in part due to new housing. Many will take this for granted, but there is no bulletproof glass at Love Taco, which is a hallmark of many restaurants in the neighborhood. Also, because they’re using higher quality ingredients, Love Taco can have an open kitchen. There’s no need to hide what they’re doing with their customers. That’s a rarity for the area, but other newer restaurants, including Skidoes Cafe & Grill, a block east from Love Taco, are embracing those values.
Love Taco’s prices are a little higher than the fried chicken and Italian beef restaurants in the area, but Jones hopes neighbors will appreciate the difference. The bulletproof glass had another negative byproduct: The barrier prevents customers from getting to know the folks who work at restaurants. Jones wants Love Taco to be a part of the community. It even has WiFi so customers can linger.
Love Taco, 111 E. 51st St., (312) 650-9635, open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Friday; noon to 11 p.m. on Saturday; closed on Sunday.