For seven years, Taylor Tacos has operated in various iterations, popping up at places like Dock’s Fish in Bronzeville and the Hatchery in Garfield Park. Now Taylor and Maya Mason are celebrating a long-awaited victory lap with the opening of a permanent location in Little Italy where the spouses dispense food with a distinctive West Coast-meets-Chicago culinary style.
“It’s been so fantastic, better than I could ever imagine,” says Taylor Mason, who launched the cozy spot in early April, coincidentally at 1512 W. Taylor Street. “I remember being at pop-ups back in the day in weird places, so to be in our own spot with our name on the front is literally a dream come true.”
Word of Taylor’s Tacos has spread throughout Chicago for years (the Trib notes Chance the Rapper and Lena Waithe are fans). Taylor Mason traces the origins of her tacos to two influential varieties: Mexican street tacos, grilled meats gilded with salsa, cilantro, and onion in a corn tortilla; and “Black tacos,” her term for seasoned, usually ground meat topped with lettuce, tomato, cheese, and sour cream in a flour tortilla — the tacos she grew up eating during her childhood on Chicago’s West Side.
After graduating from Whitney Young High School, Taylor Mason earned a degree from Pepperdine University in Los Angeles, while acquainting herself with Southern California’s dynamic street taco scene. She would return to Chicago to care for her mother who suffered two aneurysms and carried those culinary experiences back to her home. LA’s influences are seen in menu items like Sweet Poppin’ Potato and Sexy Crispy Shrimp tacos with cilantro, hot sauce, and pickled red cabbage.
“We say that our tacos are street tacos with soul,” says Taylor Mason. “I’m African American and soul food is close to my heart, but that type of [market] is kind of saturated. I want to make sure I’m bringing something fresh and new with our own soul flare.”
Perhaps call it a thoughtful or soulful approach to appropriation, but Black Americans are finding ways to contribute to a variety of culinary traditions and have been making waves in Detroit’s taqueria scene. The Masons, now on the cusp of their three-year wedding anniversary, have fought hard for the location and completed much of the build-out themselves. They also tapped a financial resource that emerged out of pandemic chaos — a $10,000 grant and six months of development coaching from third-party delivery brand Grubub’s Community Fund and the Feed the Soul Foundation, a nonprofit that provides economic support to culinary business owners from marginalized communities. While the city of Chicago continues its lawsuit against Grubhub for alleged deceptive practices. the Masons say the funds allowed their dream to become a reality, they say. “It changed our lives. Our doors would not be open without it.”
The couple is already contemplating future moves. Down the road, they hope to open a cantina with boozy beverages and eventually grow into a nationwide franchise. But for the time being, they’re happy to enjoy the moment and feed both devotees and newcomers.
“I could fill two deep fryers with the tears it took to open this space,” says Taylor Mason. “ It takes a village to raise a business and we wouldn't be here if it wasn’t for everyone lifting us up.”
Taylor’s Tacos, 1512 W. Taylor Street, Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.