CHICAGO — Raymond Jones has written jokes for some of TV's funniest shows. But the former hip-hop artist hasn't completely switched gears by opening a taco joint near his native Bronzeville.
“I have a loft in Atlanta with a big kitchen so I would invite people over and cook,” he said. “The whole restaurant thing was always one of those things I’d joke about with friends. They would always tell me I need to give up music and open one.”
And he wanted to be part of the revitalization of 51st Street, which is near where he grew up on 45th Street.
“The area is getting better,” Jones said. “There didn’t used to be any options, so it’s an up-and-coming area.”
Love Taco, 109 E. 51st St., offers authentic Mexican cuisine, but with a healthier twist, said Jones, who moved back from Atlanta six months ago.
All of the recipes are his own, but his friend Seth Rushing, a pastry chef who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu, helped with the menu.
Love Taco, 109 E. 51st St. [Photo by Andrea V. Watson]
The Sweet Thang taco is made up of sweet pineapple chicken with a hint of spice, topped with queso fresco, red onion and pico de gallo. That’s his favorite, he said.
The Slow Jam is described as “when chicken meets dried cranberries, queso fresco, fresh jalapeno and lime creme.”
There are other specialty tacos on the menu, plus burritos, tortas, and side items like elotes.
He even has one item, the Marveloso Tamale, where he takes a portion of proceeds and gives it to the family of his friend who was a victim of gun violence. That’s important to him, he said.
Framed posters from the movies West Side Story" and "The Best Man" decorate Love Taco. [Photo by Andrea V. Watson]
Jones has a love for movies and music that’s noticeable from the first step into Love Taco. On a wall are framed posters of movies like "Poetic Justice," "West Side Story" and "The Best Man."
Before becoming a comedy writer in 2010 for shows like "Key and Peele" and "'Funny or Die," and Marlon Wayans' film “50 Shades of Black,” he was known as Raydio G — a member of the former Chicago hip-hop group HotStylz most known for its radio hit “Lookin’ Boy.”
Although he’s stepping back from music, he will continue to write comedy, Jones said.
Jones, who grew up in Bronzeville and graduated from Dunbar Vocational and Northern Illinois University, said he has seen the community change. He always wanted to open up a restaurant in the area.
This is his first restaurant, although he formerly operated a bar in Atlanta.
He believes people want something different, something healthy, he said.
“We’re giving them options,” he said, adding that he would like to possibly franchise the business in the future.
Rosemarie Rodriguez loved the veggie taco.
“The tacos are fantastic,” she said.
Rodriguez owns Tee’s Snack Shop, 5118 W. Madison St., and encourages people in the neighborhood to try her turkey burgers.
As a black business owner, she said it’s important for black communities to not only support each other, but to avoid consuming so much fried and greasy foods.