Here's how it begins: A couple of Jimmy John's delivery guys wonder why nobody is delivering tacos.
"We're not that smart, so we figured there must be some fatal flaw to taco delivery," says Tristan Jimerson. "Surely people have tried it before and found that it couldn't work."
But Jimerson and his partner Dan Laeger-Hagermeister don't leave it at aimless musings. They are lucky enough to have friends willing to party with them, make tacos, and answer the occasional call for tacos to be delivered by bike. So they do just that. Easy enough.
Then word catches on. They get mentioned on the Current. They panic. "We were like, we gotta shut this thing down or we're gonna get in big trouble!" says Jimerson.
But instead of shutting it down, they head in the other direction. They go legit. They think of a name.
"The first thing that came to us was Taco Cat, and we were like, we can do better than that," Jimerson recalls. "But then we thought about it for another hour and thought, no, we can't do any better. It's a palindrome. Taco Cat it is."
They rent a communal kitchen in the Midtown Global Market but still keep their day jobs, even though they hate them. Such was their wariness about this dream of delivery tacos. Could it really work?
It could. The calls keep coming, and in December a space opens in the market. They beat out dozens of other hopefuls and open a stall. The rest is taco history.
And no, they haven't forgotten their roots. They still deliver by bike, seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Not only has Taco Cat been a boon for the market, which lost the most excellent Sonora Grill last year (it's now a freestanding restaurant on East Lake Street), but also for breweries and distilleries that don't have kitchens. Places like LynLake Brewery, Eastlake Brewery, and Tattersall rely on their tacos for all-important customer eats.
So successful is Taco Cat these days, they've hired a full-fledged chef, Jordan Shively, formerly of Bryant-Lake Bowl. While Jimerson and Laeger-Hagermeister were a couple of dudes with a serious yen for tacos, they recognized their own limitations. Taco Cat is no longer just food for drunk people; it's a bona fide destination.
They're doing the right thing in their new digs by keeping the menu tight and focused, rather than meandering beyond their comfort zone. As a result, the product shines.
The menu is divided between "street style" tacos and "specialty" tacos. If you're a purist, you'll be satisfied with straight-up steak, braised pork, chipotle chicken, or veggies tucked into corn tortillas the way the gods of taco intended. These come garnished simply with cilantro, onion, and their most excellent salsas, available in a righteous smoky chipotle or verde. At $7.99 to $8.99 for an order of three, they're priced in line with the taco market.
But we'd highly recommend you turn your attention to the specialty side, where a little extra attention goes a long way.
Pickled radish and mint chimichurri on Black Angus steak is aptly dubbed the Ruckus, with the addictive citrus-herb qualities of chimichurri making all sorts of love to the beef and a top note of pickle from the radish.
Or try the Outlaw, with kimchee, which makes everything better, plus pickled jalapeño apple slaw for sweetness and spice, and the added richness of crema. It's a loop-de-loop in the mouth, covering every base beautifully.
We'd recommend the Larry to anyone with a man-sized appetite who craves abundance. Chicken, chorizo, cheese, and crema make for a protein bomb, and cilantro and onion provide astringent grace.
All of these wonders can be folded into a burrito for $8.99 or $9.99, which might seem a little steep until you heft the full weight of it. It's packed with heavily seasoned Spanish-style rice, creamy refried beans, cheese, corn pico, more crema, and your choice of meats or veggies.
Speaking of veggies: Taco Cat goes out of its way to accommodate those who eschew meat, as well as full-on vegans. The veggie taco is no afterthought, but a compendium of freshness including lots of nicely shredded radish, pico, corn, beans, and strips of fried tortilla for crunch.
A piquant refried bean dip is available as a side with chips, the guacamole is top-notch, nachos can be made vegetarian or vegan, and inventive weekly specials are always designed with the meat-free in mind. Case in point: a recent lentil and scallion dhal with apricot ginger mostarda, crema, goat cheese, and hibiscus-pickled onion.
If all of this sounds a little designer or gourmand, please know that it isn't. It's precisely the opposite of that. This is a little taco stand that could. Jimeson and Laeger-Hagermeister remain overtly humble about this whole crazy endeavor. They readily admit they had no prior restaurant experience outside of Jimmy John's.
The secret to their success is never doing too much, too soon. Even when their business went legit, every call was taken on a cell phone. Aside from the cost of the kitchen and the ingredients, their only overhead was bike maintenance.
They plan to continue this gradual growth, possibly with a freestanding restaurant in the future, but not too soon. "We aren't coming from a place of great capital," says Jimeson, adding that they're reluctant to bring on investors for fear of relinquishing creative control.
Tacos, bikes, cats. Taken separately, they're everyone's favorite things. Together, they're creative genius. Ride on, Taco Cat. Ride on.
Pro tip: Taco Cat serves brunch on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when breakfast burritos come with potatoes, eggs, refried black beans, corn pico, crema, and cheese. (And yes, you can have these delivered for a most righteous hangover helper.)
920 E. Lake St., Minneapolis