New street taco chain coming to downtown Lawrence

photo by: Courtesy: Rusty Taco

I’m rusty at a few things, but eating tacos is certainly not one of them. (Despite watching about three hours of instruction on the Olympic channel this weekend, my sand volleyball skills are pretty rusty, as my game never progressed beyond the dragging-the-cooler-to-the-beach stage.) Regardless, there is a new Mexican restaurant chain called Rusty Taco that is moving to downtown Lawrence.

The Dallas-based taco stand has struck a deal to move into the former Jimmy’s Egg location at 945 Massachusetts St. in downtown, according to its website and a development filing at Lawrence City Hall.

It will be Rusty Taco’s first Kansas or Missouri location. The chain has its biggest presence still in its hometown of Dallas, but it has expanded to about a dozen other states, with the closest locations in Omaha and Lincoln, Neb.

As for the food, the menu features what I would call both street taco and seaside taco varieties. There’s everything from a traditional Texican Taco, with “tex-mex beef” lettuce, tomato and cheese to a Baja shrimp taco with red cabbage, cilantro and a Baja sauce.

The company’s website said company founder Rusty Fenton — the reason the tacos are rusty — was inspired to create the business after traveling to Acapulco, where he bought a fish taco from a pair of women selling them out of a simple street corner stand.

With that origin story, there has to be some fish on the menu, it would seem. Indeed, the menu features a fish taco with grilled or tempura-battered cod. It also has a “Dynamite Shrimp” taco that includes fried shrimp, avocado and Sriracha with a jalapeño ranch sauce.

But honestly, it looks like the menu may be even more heavily influenced by the company’s Texas roots. The menu features not one, but two, varieties of brisket tacos. There’s one that’s billed as a barbecue brisket taco with a sweet and smoky barbecue sauce and slaw, while there is another brisket taco that aims to be a bit more Latino-inspired by ditching the barbecue sauce and replacing it with queso fresco, diced onions and cilantro.

In case a double brisket offering doesn’t convince you of their cattle country bona fides, there’s at least one more beef dish, a “Picadillo Taco” that features both ground beef and potatoes, for good measure. But there are some other interesting meat combinations on the menu. Those include a smoked green chile pork that is paired with cojita cheese, and something called achiote pork — named after a peppery spice mix popular in the Yucatan region of Mexico. That achiote pork is the main part of the signature Rusty Taco, which comes topped with a grilled pineapple relish, diced onions and cilantro.

One of the more interesting meat offerings, though, comes on the breakfast burrito menu, which includes eight breakfast burritos that are served all day. One of them features “jalapeño sausage” with eggs and cheese. But don’t fret, there’s also brisket available on the breakfast menu with brisket egg and cheese.

Yes, there are vegetarian dishes too, including several black bean dishes, plus a “Rajas Taco” that includes fajita vegetables, mushrooms, queso fresco and cilantro.

The restaurant will included a limited bar, focusing on beers and margaritas, according to the menu.

No word yet on a timeline for the restaurant to open, but the plans were just recently filed to begin the renovation work on the building at Ninth and Massachusetts streets. The development will fill one of the larger, and more prominent, vacant restaurant spots in downtown. Combined with the recent news of Gold Medal BBQ going into the large corner spot at Ninth and New Hampshire streets, that’s two solid signs that deal activity in downtown is starting to pick up again.

The Rusty Taco deal also continues what seems to be a new trend in Lawrence. Street tacos have become a real thing. Fuzzy’s Tacos near 11th and Massachusetts got the trend going several years ago, but more recently Torchy’s Tacos has opened on south Iowa Street, and the local player in the market — La Estrella — has undertaken major expansion plans. It moved temporarily to 2210 Iowa St. after plans for a new Kwik Shop convenience store forced it to move from its longtime spot at 25th and Iowa streets. But La Estrella’s bigger plans involve converting the old FirstMed doctor’s office building at 2323 Ridge Court into a large combination taco stand and Mexican market.

I also reported back in April that another Mexican market was opening in The Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana. The Azteca Market was planning on serving street tacos as part of its market offerings; however, I’m not sure where that project stands.

I’ll need to stop by and report back because I certainly don’t want to get rusty on taco eating. After all, it surely will soon be an Olympic sport.


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