La Raza opens in brick and mortar location

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ The quesadillas can be stuffed with your choice of meat, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, avocado and cilantro.

From 2004 to the summer of 2011, La Raza Taco Truck, stationed along N. 3rd Ave., was a popular draw for fans of Mexican cuisine. Now, seven years later, the business, re-dubbed La Raza The Taco Shop, has a brick and mortar location at 822 N. 3rd Ave.

Situated in the former Uncle Jack’s Taco eatery, La Raza is a family-run venture, owned by Mary Gonzalez Burr and her husband Robert Burr. Her parents Silvia and Alfredo Gonzalez operate the kitchen, with help from her sisters Gladis, Laura and Dania Gonzalez.

“I like to cook. I like it a lot. I’ve been cooking since I was 12 years old,” Silvia said through translation. “I like it when people tell me they like the food. It motivates me.”

The family immigrated to the United States in 1989, settling first in California before moving to Marshalltown in 1994. When they opened the taco truck, the idea was more about pursuing a passion rather than a career.

“We figured it would be something fun where they could make a little money off of it, and after word of mouth traveled, it just exploded. It was the first taco truck in town,” Burr said. “It operated seasonally, from the first week of May, to the last week in October.”

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ La Raza’s kitchen is run by Silvia Gonzalez, who has a life-long passion for cooking. A family business, the staff prides themselves on using only fresh, authentic ingredients.

La Raza means “the people” and that is the driving force behind the business.

But then, a variety of factors — personal and professional — sidelined their long-term plans.

“There was a whole bunch of changes in city regulations toward mobile food trucks, and it just made it more of a task than an enjoyment, and them wanting to stay home with grandchildren, too,” Burr added. “So just recently, they decided to reopen. There was still a calling for the food. They had a following.”

The main menu consists of tacos, burritos, tortas, quesadillas and tostadas, with tamales and special soups available only on Sundays: Menudo and Pozole, plus Birria, a spicy traditional beef stew. The main menu dishes can be made with the following cooked to order meats: steak, seasoned pork, cheek meat, beef tongue, tripe, chicken, shredded pork and ham.

“The meat is not spicy; what makes the food spicy is the sauce, which comes on the side,” Gonzalez Burr said.

Tacos can be made “Mexican style” topped with cilantro and onion or “American style” with lettuce, tomato and sour cream.

All dishes are made from scratch, emphasizing the foods of Central Mexico.

“We’re from Guadalajara, Jalisco and so basically, the food that my mom cooks is usually what you find for sale outside of shops (in Jalisco),” Gonzalez Burr said. “She has a family of 12 siblings and was the oldest one, so she was the one that helped with the kids, and in the kitchen more than anything.”

The building allows for more space for patrons to sit and enjoy their food, ordering at the front counter.

“The opportunity came up. It had been a food establishment, so there wasn’t a ton we had to do. The building fit the bill fairly well,” Burr said.

Because a telephone line has not yet been set up, the staff receives orders through the Facebook page “La Raza AKA the taco bus!!” and accepts cash or check only for the time being. Looking to the future, they plan to open a drive-thru window.

Hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

By day, Burr is employed at Emerson Process Management and Gonzalez Burr works at State Farm. Seeing her parents’ eatery get reestablished has been rewarding.

“It’s her passion. She likes to see the people enjoy the food,” Burr said.

———-

Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at

641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com