116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Familiar staples have been brought together under one roof with an island twist in downtown Iowa City.
Tiki Tacos ’n Burgers ’n Wings, 119 E. Washington St., delivers the creature comforts captured by its name with a completely made-from-scratch take on the common dishes found in other iterations at many restaurants.
“The whole idea was I wanted to open a restaurant that had all my favorite comfort foods under one roof,” said Brandon Ryan, owner. “Our unofficial slogan is ’everything you crave, but better.’”
Where: 119 E. Washington St., Iowa City
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Wednesday; 11 a.m. to midnight, Thursday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Details: Open for dine-in or carryout.
But rather than just the mundane familiarity a diner might find in a fast food comparison, Tiki Tacos delves into detail, with everything down to the tortilla shells and sauces made in house. Beef, veggies and small ingredients like sour cream are sourced locally.
That detail doesn’t come at the sacrifice of time, though, with an average ticket time of a little over five minutes, according to the owner.
“We are truly obsessed over every nook and cranny of detail — patties, buns, cheese, spices,” said Bo Ketcham, executive chef. “People go to bed and dream about tacos. We go to work and make the perfect tacos.”
And though he never thought he’d be pushed to create a taco salad seven different ways to find the best one, he said he appreciates being pushed to serve food in quality, creative ways.
Alongside tacos, burgers and wings is a bar serving tiki-themed cocktails with flavors like honey lavender, hibiscus orange and pineapple. Besides the restaurant’s frozen margaritas, Ryan said the drinks are nearly 100% rum based. His passion for the tiki inspired theme and its accompanying cocktails is not so much for the rum itself, but the laid-back, relaxing island culture, he said.
“I think we can all relate … life’s a lot better when you’re somewhere else rather than the 8 to 5 regular life,” he said. “I wanted to bring that to Iowa City as much as I could.”
But that might take some training, as far as the rum’s concerned.
“A lot of people in this town don’t know how to drink a real rum. They think Captain Morgan, Bacardi,” he said. “We literally have to train the town how to drink rum.”
The decor is just as detail oriented as the food, with custom fittings that occupy the former location of a former Asian buffet. The bar is made from authentic Japanese bamboo. The other wood in the space not made of bamboo is constructed from reclaimed derecho wood, Ryan said. In between tables, diners find small but functional details like phone chargers attached to the wall.
If you’re looking for more thrill than chill, Tiki Tacos’ hot wing challenge may fit the bill. The challenge includes wings with a sauce made from pure capsaicin crystals that register at 16 million units on the Scoville scale, far beyond measurements for some of the hottest peppers in the world that weigh in at 2 or 3 million.
How hot is it?
“Too hot,” Ryan said. “We’re in the process of rethinking this. It’s hot.”
Out of the seven who have taken the challenge, he said five have thrown up and one had temporary hand paralysis. The challenge requires participants to sign a waiver of liability, but winners receive free wings for a year.
If you’re looking for something tamer, other hot sauces that serve as a point of pride for the restaurant include its sticky honey chipotle, pineapple teriyaki and hot Hawaiian hulu.
An idea five years in the making, the upscale fast-casual concept is Ryan’s first gig as a restaurant owner after working every other function in the restaurant business, from busser to general manager. Most recently, Ryan served as a general manager for Reds Alehouse in North Liberty and corporate trainer for Texas Roadhouse.
“I’ve done a little bit of everything,” he said.
As restaurants hope to come out of a pandemic slump, the owner is hoping his marketing strategies and quality will pay off.
“We do it all carefully, with love, and we do it really well,” he said.
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