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JED's is giving Rochester an experience to taco 'bout

JED's is giving Rochester an experience to taco 'bout

It is just after one o’clock on a sunny late fall afternoon when we sit down to talk with Steve Dunn, owner of Taco JED, 808 South Broadway Avenue. Inside his restaurant, old-school Tom T. Hall country songs play into the murmur of a lunch rush. The words “TACOS UNITE PEOPLE” are painted on a wall opposite the counter. In front of them a line is formed of high-vis yellow-shirt workers, healthcare executives in shiny grey suits, professional women in round glasses, loud high schoolers, and affable senior citizens.

Whether their mouths water for beef and cheese or spicy aioli and cauliflower, they have congregated here with a shared belief in the excellence of Taco JED’s diverse taco spread.

In a line that long, it is almost a certainty that one of them will order the Flower Child, a flour-tortilla-wrapped combination of cauliflower, pickled onion, feta, spicy aioli, cilantro, and mozzarella with a loyal following. 

”We have people that come here just for the Flower Child,” says Dunn.

The shop has only amended its menu once since opening a year ago on National Taco Day (a total coincidence, says Dunn), to add the Treehugger, which swaps the Flower Child’s cauliflower and feta for broccoli and avocado.

But Taco JED is not all adventure-in-a-flour-tortilla. The whole span of tortilla-wrapped deliciousness has a place on its menu, and they make as much from scratch as they can, like the sauces, queso, guac, and pico de gallo. 

Another of their best sellers is the Merican, an American taco with a hard shell, beef, lettuce, cheese, and tomato. Creeping up behind those tacos in popularity are Taco JED’s distinctive breakfast tacos.

“Breakfast tacos are a huge thing down south, everybody eats breakfast tacos. Donuts and stuff, they don’t really do that. They eat breakfast tacos,” explains Dunn, whose personal favorite is the picadillo. It features spicy ground beef, eggs, and cheese.

In an effort to bring the breakfast taco movement north, Taco JED offers them daily: Monday—Friday from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The same goes for their huevos rancheros and migas. 

Show up on Sunday mornings and you can have your eggs and stand-up bass and/or trombone, too. Dunn’s shop features a different musical act Friday through Sunday each week. 

“When’s the last time you went to a taco place that’s had live music?”

Bluegrass and breakfast tacos is the kind of morning JED, the fictional character the shop is named after, would love. 

“Everybody thinks I’m JED,” laughs Dunn, but no. “He’s just a dude.”

JED was created by Dunn and his artist collaborator Brent McMahan. His name is derived from the initials of Dunn’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, Joseph Edward Dunn (Sr, Jr, and III, respectively). Dunn’s father and grandfather watch over things from a framed photo at the bar.

The restaurant’s decor reflects JED’s personality and interests. A row of motorcycle helmets over the cookline signifies JED’s cycling hobby. JED’s journeys to national parks explain the patches from each one adorning an entrance, the same way his musical tastes are reflected in a line of vinyl records lining the ceiling opposite the cookline. The colossal American flag? JED is a patriot. The Mexican flag clear across the restaurant? It signifies a country JED loves to visit. 

Like the other painted artwork, both hidden or over-sized across a wall, in Taco JED, it was done by McMahan in his place near Big Bend National Park. 

“He painted them out in the middle of the desert, at his little compound that he has out in the desert,” says Dunn.

A customer provided the stained-glass portrait of JED by the bar, while the crushed orange velvet and wood rocking chair known as JED’s Chair comes from a storage locker neighbor of Dunn’s, White Feather White Eagle.

Customers who identify with JED (or who just love tacos) are, at the moment, the only ones eligible to wear his likeness. JED-heads, as members of the store’s perks program are called, accumulate points with each purchase. With enough points, they get a discount or a hat with JED in all his shaggy glory. 

It’s the same JED visible on streets now that the Taco JED taco truck is in operation. As of our interview, JED was about to have a full weekend of events: one in Winona, one at Bamber Valley, and another at Pride.

“Rochester has been a very welcoming community. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of really nice people. The unique thing about Rochester is that it's a very diverse community,” says Dunn. “But also, because it’s Rochester, I get to meet people from all over the world that come here.” 

Taco JED is celebrating its one-year anniversary by throwing a community fiesta on Saturday, October 5, 2019. In addition to food and drink specials, there will be a petting zoo from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and live music from 3 to 9 p.m.

You can learn more about the event on the restaurant’s website.

Story by Bryan Lund / Photography by William Forsman

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