116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — When Lord Stephen Range first tried birria tacos two years ago, something clicked in his head.
But it wasn’t until three months ago that he set out on his own to sell his perfected recipe. With rapid success, Birria Tacos is quickly gaining traction as a direct competitor to Ali Mason, the man known as “Taco God,” who helped popularize birria tacos in Cedar Rapids.
“I always knew in the back of my head — stick to a simple menu, one item. Perfect it, make it good,” Range said. “Not this 40-items-on-the-menu type of thing.”
True to his word, his menu only has a few variations of birria tacos: the tacos themselves, birria egg rolls, Mexican street-style corn, nachos and salad. The consomme, a signature broth dip that adds a rich dimension to birria tacos, is a given.
“I turned it into a soul food. It’s that good.”
What: Birria Tacos
Where: Inside Rapid Foods cloud kitchen, 4444 First Ave. NE, Suite 3001, Cedar Rapids. (To the left of Firestone Complete Auto Care, directly across the parking lot from Lindale Mall.)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Phone: (319) 743-8381
Details: Orders can be placed via call or text, online or in person at a kiosk. A common area with tables and chairs is available at Rapid Foods to eat in. Delivery available.
After two months cooking from home, mounting sales levels were a sign that the food was popular enough for him to work out of another kitchen. In early September, Range started working out of Rapid Foods, a cloud kitchen collective with no official signage yet.
Range previously worked with Mason in the commercial kitchen at Southside Steakhouse before parting ways over disagreements in December 2020. Mason has since started The Hype Bar & Grill in that building on Sixth Ave. SW, which opened in June.
Range carefully guards his proprietary information and how he has perfected the tacos, but promises “awesomeness.” To the eye, the tacos appear to have red onion, cilantro and mozzarella cheese, although the seasoning blend remains a mystery.
“I took a Mexican recipe and I critiqued it just enough to satisfy the American taste buds,” he said. “I turned it into a soul food. It’s that good.”
The tacos offer a golden hue on the outside of the crisp shell. Dip the tacos in the signature consomme broth for a whole new dimension of flavor. Range concedes he did lower the heat of the spices used while turning up the flavor, but those who need to turn up the heat have jerk chicken and jerk beef options.
Range’s tacos and egg rolls are offered with several meat options: chicken, beef, jerk chicken and jerk beef (mild or hot.) Birria Tacos, co-owned with Range’s girlfriend, Ariel Gage, also offers lamb, when available.
Soon, he hopes to add refreshing, original drink options.
Although he has years of experience doing various jobs at various restaurants, Birria Tacos is the first time the co-owner has relied on making food as his main source of income. With seven children and no formal training as a cook, he said his experience comes from cooking for the kids.
“It’s really just the talent from being a dad,” he said. “I don’t have any special training.”
Unlike many aspiring restaurateurs, Range said he isn't really interested in a brick-and-mortar restaurant. In fact, he’d like to expand with more cloud kitchens like the one he’s in now.
The collective housing Birria Tacos is owned by CloudKitchens, a $130 million startup of kitchens nationwide that make food primarily for delivery. CloudKitchens was started by Travis Kalanick, an ousted co-founder of Uber — the household name for ride-share services. Range said the Cedar Rapids kitchen is one of about 60 in the United States.
With low startup costs and low capital investment risk, Range looked into the concept as an alternative to NewBo City Market, where the limited number of grill hoods means there’s a waiting list for new vendors.
Customers can order directly with vendors, at the kiosk near the front entrance or online. With rent, CloudKitchens provides runners to bring food to customers out front and offers a delivery service option. Customers can pick up their orders to-go or even eat in a small area with tables and chairs.
Range’s kitchen is the only one operating now in the building that has 19 kitchens, which appears to be newly renovated at 4444 First Ave. NE, Suite 3001, a building across from Lindale Mall’s south entrance.
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