ITHACA, N.Y.—It’s a rather nondescript location in a parking lot along a busy strip of Elmira Road, but around lunch-time each day something unusual happens: a long line of people forms, stretching from a small sheet metal stand in front of some storage containers all the way out to the road, and even down the sidewalk.
They’re waiting for tacos.
The setting is humble but the food is not. The metal walls of the stand, located in the parking lot next to the Finger Lakes ReUse Center, show that clearly—peppered with Sharpie messages celebrating the stand’s food and urging people to try different recipes and ask for certain ingredients.
Tacos CDMX opened July 5 and since then has gathered a burgeoning popularity that is largely based on social media (like the Finger Lakes ReUse Center’s Twitter account) and people simply spreading the word to their friends.
Eduardo Acevedo deftly flips between holding court with customers to chopping and tending pork, chicken and steak to assembling tacos and dealing out sodas and water from an assortment of coolers. One recent day, Acevedo was handing out lemonade made from recipe he found from the Dominican Republican featuring hibiscus and pineapple.
Monday through Saturday, the stand is open from 11 a.m. until they run out of supplies—normally around 3:30 p.m. Acevedo is usually helped just by one other person at a time, though he talks about recruiting Cornell University professors to get behind the grill any time he sees one who works with his wife at the school. His wife’s career in higher education is what led them to Ithaca from Chicago.
Acevedo said he’s been cooking since he was about 12 years old, but got more formally involved when he was living in Chicago. There, a flea market held each weekend hosted several dozens of taco stands, which Acevedo eventually got involved in “just for fun.”
“There was no competition because everyone would bring their own unique things,” Acevedo said.
He draws his taco methods from that period of his life and before. He orders tortillas from Chicago (where he says they are made better and the flavor is different) and strives to give customers an experience close to his upbringing in Mexico City (also the inspiration for the stand’s name, as “CDMX” stands for Ciudad de Mexico).
The new stand very nearly didn’t open at all.
“Everybody else that I tried, they were not interested at all,” Acevedo said. “I came over here, my last place. If I didn’t get it over here, that’s it, I’m just going to try something else. But Diane [Cohen, the general manager of the ReUse Center] said ‘How can we help?’ I was afraid she was trying to lure me in and sacrifice me to the gods. She was so helpful, I was like ‘She’s up to something.'”
But it’s worked very well in the first six weeks or so of business. The cultural fit has been the best part for Acevedo, who said he is trying to build a community similar to the flea market outside of his stand every day.
“Not a single person is on their phone when they’re over here, pay attention to that,” Acevedo said. “Everybody is talking to each other, if they don’t have money they come back and pay me later. Because they come back. […] The whole thing is about a community.”
The praise has come in waves for Taco CDMX and Acevedo’s tacos, but he isn’t taking it too seriously yet.
“I’m the only [taco stand], so I’m the best and the worst,” he said. “They could say ‘It’s horrendous, this is the worst in Ithaca.’ It’s not that difficult, I’m the only one.”