116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - When he got a call from the health department, Ali Mason took it as a compliment. That meant people were noticing what he was doing.
'That was my goal, to get buzzy enough people would pay attention,” he said.
Mason started Taco God, making birria tacos and initially selling them out of his kitchen, posting the photos on Facebook to let people know when they were available. After the call from the health department informing him he needed to work out of a certified kitchen, he found one at the former Southside Steakhouse restaurant location on the southwest side, but he is no longer serving there.
Now, he's looking for a new spot to cook and serve up his pop-up restaurant menu, with hopes of eventually opening a restaurant of his own.
'You have to trust the process,” he said. 'My family believed in me; they kept telling me, ‘Push yourself.'”
When he started out, he tried making and selling soul food, but wasn't getting much response. Then he started seeing videos for birria tacos, a food trend popping up on YouTube and social media and more and more menus. The tacos are fried, with a dipping sauce for added flavor.
'I had to figure out what cuisine everyone would gravitate to,” he said. 'Everybody likes tacos.”
He made his first birria taco in May and has been refining the dish ever since. He said what he's serving now is a very different - and better - taco than when he started out. He said he's never really satisfied with the food he makes, always looking for things to improve.
'Cooking is a job. If you want to do it right, you need to put in a lot of time and repetition,” he said. 'But I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy watching people's faces when they're eating.”
He serves two tacos - a beef birria and a jerk chicken. His tacos have meat, cheese, cilantro and onion if people request it. He serves them with a consomme dipping sauce. His menu also includes Mexican corn - a kind of deconstructed elote in a cup, with sweet corn, mayonnaise, cheese and spices.
He said growing up, he didn't think much about food. When he was 18, he moved to Iowa from the New Jersey-New York area where he grew up. Here, he started spending time with his father, who loved to cook. Watching him, he learned to love it, too.
'I watched him make his spaghetti and said, ‘That's a lot of work.' And he told me, ‘If you want people to really like your food, you have to put in more work.'”
He hopes the pandemic situation improves and the downtown farmers markets return because he would like to sell there. A welder is making him a smoker, so he can start a second venture that he plans to call Smoke City.
He hopes he finds a place soon to sell his tacos again because he enjoys watching people eat them.
'It puts a smile on my face - my hard work is paying off,” he said. 'The people telling me it's good - they're the ones adding fuel to my fire.”
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' What: Taco God
' Details: Search for Taco God on Facebook and follow his page for updates on when tacos are available, or reach him at (302) 438-6208.