116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — To Ali Mason, the American dream not only lives up to the hype — it lives in The Hype Bar & Grill, the restaurant he opened in late May.
Mason earned the name “Taco God” from his customers after selling tacos out of his home since May 2020. Now, those tacos and more food options have a proper home at 1810 Sixth St. SW., the former site of Southside Steakhouse.
Where: 1810 Sixth St. SW, Cedar Rapids
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday, with plans to open seven days a week soon
Phone: (319) 289-8527
Details: Open for carryout and dine-in
The opening comes at the intersection of opportunity with co-owner Rich Burdine after months of tweaking the food and capitalizing on a trend seen on social media.
“I was sitting at the barbershop, everyone was saying, ‘You got the tacos today?’” Burdine, a barber, said. “Word spreading around town. They didn’t even know (Mason’s) name, they just knew ‘Taco God.’”
“All I did was take advantage of a trend that was going on last summer to build my clientele,” Mason said.
That trend built on the birria taco with chuck roast, cilantro, red onions and mozzarella cheese and served with a consomme dipping sauce. The tacos, which take about six hours to prepare with slow cooking and simmering, are fried to a crisp on the flat top with a flour tortilla.
The recipe is adapted from the traditional Mexican version, which uses goat or lamb.
Working at a retail job, Mason set out to use his talents in a way that could get him somewhere before the tacos took Cedar Rapids by storm — even garnering a few copycats, the owners said.
“I was working at Dollar General, I wasn’t getting ahead in life making $10 an hour,” Mason said. “(I thought) I’ve got to utilize my talent.”
Before long, Mason was unable to fill everybody’s taco orders by himself.
“I was tired of cutting hair. He was tired of (making food) from home,” Burdine said. “So the best thing to do was try to put it together.”
With a product almost universally enjoyed across cultural and geographic boundaries, they renovated the Southside Steakhouse to give it an official venue: The Hype Bar & Grill, home of the Taco God.
“It was like a domino effect,” Mason said, describing how they capitalized on a social media trend to create the buzz the tacos have maintained. “I knew I had built a brand.”
In addition to the birria tacos, which are only served on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, diners can get spicy jerk chicken tacos and steak tacos any day they’re open. The Hype’s menu also features a crispy, smashed Hype burger on a toasted buttered bun, chicken sandwiches, a catfish dinner, and wings.
“If we do (birria tacos) every day, they won’t be a big deal,” Mason explained.
The restaurant plans to add barbecue pork and polish sausages in the future.
They continue to hire employees to reach full capacity. And they plan to obtain a liquor license by the end of June for full beverage service.
“We want to give people their money’s worth,” Mason said, evaluating everything that comes out of the kitchen by its portion size and value, in addition to taste.
Raised by a single mother who worked two jobs, the Taco God wasn’t instilled with a passion for food until he spent more time with his father as a young adult.
“She wasn’t the greatest cook in the world, but she always had a hot meal for us to eat,” he said. “I got around my old man, and he put in a little more TLC than my mom.”
Now, Mason enjoys watching the reactions of customers taking their first bite, just as much as making the food.
To him, the realization of a brick-and-mortar location is more than having a certified kitchen to cook in and a venue to enjoy the food — it’s the affirmation that he can make it.
“If you live in America, if you do the right thing, work smart and work hard, you can be (successful) in today’s society,” he said. “I just want to be in a position … so when my son’s kids follow up, they can follow a format.”
He has his eyes set on bigger aspirations, too, with hopes to eventually open locations in Cedar Falls and Iowa City.
More than hype, it’s a vision.
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