Tacos create community.
That's the sentiment of Taylor and Maya Mason, owners of Black-queer Chicago women's taco shop Taylor's Tacos in Little Italy.
Extra juicy chicken and poppin sweet potato tacos (available with pickled red cabbage and their famous secret salsa), delicious lettuce wraps, and eloTay street corn are some of the signature dishes available daily.
The road to opening their own brick-and-mortar restaurant has been long, but the Masons credit the relentless support of the community who invested more than $50,000 to help the couple in their May opening of Taylor's Tacos.
“It was one of the hardest and most difficult things we've ever done, but it's also the most beautiful thing we've ever done,” said Taylor Mason. “I'm actually living my dream.”
Located just below street level on a tiny corner on Taylor Street, this restaurant features a beanie-wearing cactus mascot named Tacobae. The atmosphere is cozy and lively with variations on the brand's signature pink and orange color palette. A mural depicts Tacobae in a car heading from California to Chicago.
The murals, like the menu, pay homage to the culinary and cultural impact of Taylor's life in Chicago and in California. After graduating from Whitney Young Magnet High School, the West Side native attended Pepperdine University on a basketball scholarship. While on the West Coast, he fell in love with the culture and flavors of Mexico's many street food vendors. He loved the taste so much that he decided to give his tacos a try, making his weekly Taco Tuesday a highly anticipated night among his basketball teammates.
When Taylor began creating a communal experience around tacos in California, his mother suffered from a series of brain aneurysms. Taylor left her senior year at Pepperdine to come home (and graduate.) While she has no regrets about returning to support her mother on her journey to recovery, one thing she really misses about California is creating a communal experience centered around tacos.
Taylor decided to share his tacos with his artist and creative community in Chicago. One of her first curated events was an artist exhibition in 2015 called “The VIBE Collective”, where she sold $1 tacos while local artists were given space to share their art. Once the storefront reached capacity and the tacos sold out, Taylor knew she was onto something special.
“The feedback from VIBE Collective has been overwhelming. People love to have a nice atmosphere and good food. People are still bringing up that initial pop-up and asking if we're going to bring it back,” said Taylor.
Taylor crosses paths with Maya, a self-proclaimed “foodie” with a deep appreciation for the culinary arts and music. The two bonded and soon not only did Maya and Taylor become partners in life, but Maya also joined the business as the brand's creative director.
The business then operated from The Hatchery, a culinary incubator located on the West Side where they had access to a commercial kitchen. In 2019, Taylor proposed to Maya in one of their taco pop-ups, and finding a home for them to build a life for and a home for their business was high on Taylor's priority list. But then the pandemic hit and temporarily slowed that goal.
“I come from the old school in the sense that you do something to make a profit, then use that profit to invest it back into the business,” says Taylor. “It's a huge pain of bootstrapping where you have to spend money to make money.”
With that in mind, the Masons opened Taylored, an event space located not far from where they would later open their taco shop. As well as curating their own events, the two rent out space for personal use.
“Our community has had our back, front and side from the start. And it's been great to see the people who have followed us since our random pop-up days and to see that they believed in us enough to help us open a taco house is just amazing,” said Taylor.
“People are supporting with their dollars for more than buying tacos. They invest in us and we don't take that lightly.”
People like Jasmine Valle are part of the Taylor's Tacos community who have supported Taylor since 2016. A big fan of extra-juicy chicken tacos, Valle jumped at the opportunity to invest in a brick and mortar store.
“Not only were the tacos delicious, but Taylor and Maya were warm and welcoming and were some of my first new friends in Chicago,” says Valle. “I met so many of my friends and network here because of them.”
Taylor's Tacos employs people from underserved communities to work in the store as well as in the catering and delivery of the business. Local artists create custom pieces for restaurants and event spaces. The couple's non-profit Tacos Create Community would eventually do community beauty projects on the South and West sides.
The next time you find yourself in Little Italy near St Taylor, Taylor and Maya welcome you to try some of the “best damn tacos” in town.
Taco Taylor is located at 1512 W. Taylor St. Hours: 11am-7pm Tuesday to Saturday. Delivery is available via UberEats and GrubHub; catering service available.
Samantha Callender is digital reporting partner for WBEZ. Follow him on social media @OnYourCallender.