Tacos create community.
That’s the sentiment of Taylor and Maya Mason, owners of Chicago’s Black-queer, woman-owned taco shop, Taylor’s Tacos in Little Italy.
Boasting extra-juicy chicken and sweet poppin’ potato tacos (available with their famous pickled red cabbage and secret salsa), mac-nificent lettuce wraps and eloTay street corn are a few of the signature dishes available daily.
The road to opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant of their own had been long, but the Masons credit relentless community support that invested more than $50,000 to aid the couple in the opening of Taylor’s Tacos this month.
“It’s been one of the hardest and most difficult things we’ve ever done, but it’s also been the most beautiful thing we’ve ever done,” Taylor Mason said. “I’m literally living my dream.”
Nestled just below street level on a small corner on Taylor Street (yes, Taylor’s Taco is on an eponymous street), the restaurant features a beanie-wearing cactus mascot named Tacobae. The vibe is cozy and vibrant with variations of the brand’s signature pink and orange color palette. A mural depicts Tacobae in a car heading from California to Chicago.
The mural, much like the menu, pays 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, she fell in love with the culture and flavors of the abundant Mexican street food vendors. Taylor loved the flavors so much that she decided to try her hand at recreating those tacos, making her weekly Taco Tuesday a highly anticipated night among her basketball teammates.
Just as Taylor was beginning to create a communal experience around tacos in California, her mother suffered from a series of brain aneurysms. Taylor left her senior year at Pepperdine to return home (and did graduate.) Though she didn’t regret returning to support her mother on her road to recovery, one thing she missed deeply about California was cooking for those she loved and creating communal experiences centered around tacos.
Taylor decided to share her tacos with her artist and creative community in Chicago. One of her first curated events was an artist showcase in 2015 titled “The VIBE Collective,” where she sold tacos for $1 while local artists were given space to share their art. After the showcase reached capacity and the tacos sold out, Taylor knew she was onto something special.
“The feedback from the VIBE Collective was amazing. People enjoyed being able to have a nice vibe and some good food. People still bring up those early pop-ups and ask if we’re going to bring them back,” Taylor said.
Taylor crossed paths with Maya, a self-proclaimed “foodie” with a deep appreciation for culinary and musical arts. The two bonded and soon not only were Maya and Taylor partners in life, but Maya also joined the business as the brand’s creative director.
The business then operated out of The Hatchery, a culinary incubator located on the West Side where they had access to a commercial kitchen. In 2019, Taylor proposed to Maya at one of their taco pop-ups, and finding a home for them to build a life and a home for their business was at the top of Taylor’s priority list. But then the pandemic hit and slowed that goal down temporarily.
“I come from the old school in the sense that you do things to turn a profit, then use that profit to invest it right back into the business,” Taylor said. “It’s very much a bootstrap grind where you have to spend money to make money.”
With that in mind, the Masons opened up Taylored, an event space located not far from where they would eventually open their taco shop. In addition to curating their own events, the two rent out the space for private use.
Still, Taylor and Maya knew they wanted an eatery solely dedicated to tacos — a place where folks could come in for lunch and dinner to grab their signature tacos and other offerings.
“Our community has had our back, front and side since the very beginning. And it’s just been so humbling to see people that have been following us since our random pop-up days and to see that they believe in us enough to help us open a taco home has been amazing,” Taylor said.
“People supported with their dollars beyond just buying tacos. They invested in us and we don’t take that lightly.”
People like Jasmine Valle are part of the Taylor’s Tacos community who have been supporting Taylor since 2016. Valle jumped at the chance to invest in the brick-and-mortar taco shop. Ever since her first extra-juicy chicken taco, Valle was hooked and would follow Taylor’s Tacos wherever they popped-up.
“Not only were the tacos delicious, but Taylor and Maya were warm and friendly and were some of my first new friends in Chicago,” Valle said. “I met so many of my friends and network here because of them.”
Taylor’s Tacos hires folks from underserved communities to work in the shop and also within the catering and delivery arm of the business. Local artists create custom pieces for the restaurant and event space. The couple’s nonprofit Tacos Create Community will eventually do community beautification projects across the South and West sides.
The next time you find yourself in Little Italy near Taylor street, Taylor and Maya welcome you in to try some of the “best damn tacos” in the city and have a taste of West Coast street food right in Chicago.
Taylor’s Tacos is located at 1512 W. Taylor St. and is open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and offers delivery via UberEats and GrubHub with catering services available.
Samantha Callender is a digital reporting fellow for WBEZ. Follow her across socials @OnYourCallender.