Taco Culture

Two Austin natives are on a mission to bring local taco culture to the heartland

Two Austin natives are bringing taco culture to the heartland

Taco Circus Address Number - St. Louis Missouri - November 2014
This hand-painted address might look like something you'd come across here in Austin, but it stands proud as a symbol for tacos in St. Louis, Missouri. Taco Circus/Facebook
Taco Circus Building Exterior - St. Louis Missouri - November 2014
Mikey Carrasco and Christian Ethridge are working around the clock to renovate this building in time for Taco Circus' opening in a few weeks. Taco Circus/Facebook
Taco Circus Address Number - St. Louis Missouri - November 2014
Taco Circus Building Exterior - St. Louis Missouri - November 2014

In Austin, there is nothing as ubiquitous as the taco. In fact, the taco is so prevalent that we often take for granted the number of high-quality, inexpensive and delicious options found on practically every corner. But out in the heartland, where meat and potatoes reign supreme, a good taco can be hard to come by. Lucky for the residents of St. Louis, two former Austinites are on a mission to bring a little bit of Texas to the middle of Missouri. 

Mikey Carrasco and Christian Ethridge are "bred and buttered" Austinites who have been friends since their teenage days of sneaking into Sixth Street bars. Two decades later, with years of restaurant experience in their pocket, Carrasco and Ethridge have relocated to St. Louis to open Taco Circus, a restaurant born from the duo's desire to introduce cheap and delicious tacos packed with high-quality, locally sourced ingredients to the Midwest. 

 Beyond recreating a piece of Austin's culinary culture in St. Louis, the pair wants to give quality, affordable dining options to their new neighbors.  

Located in St. Louis' historical Bevo Mill neighborhood (sorry, no connection to the Longhorn mascot) on what Ethridge describes as the "Airport Boulevard of St. Louis," Taco Circus will be a to-go style eatery offering a menu focused on tacos, rice, beans, queso and a few special off-menu options.

Crafting these menu items with quality ingredients is important to Ethridge, who has an impressive resume that includes stints at restaurants such as Kerbey Lane Cafe, Russell's Bistro and Snack Bar. Citing P. Terry's Burger Stand as inspiration, Ethridge says that Taco Circus will not skimp on quality for convenience. "We're actually making fast food where people don't feel guilty and gross," say Ethridge.

Like the Austin joints that inspired it, Taco Circus will source as many ingredients as possible from local providers, including Missouri-grown meat and cage-free eggs. For now, the restaurant is sourcing its tortillas from Chicago until they can get their own tortilla maker. (Finding a quality tortilla machine in Missouri has proven near impossible and Ethridge jokes that he might have to ask his dad to haul one up from Texas.)

Beyond recreating a piece of Austin's culinary culture in St. Louis, the pair wants to give quality, affordable dining options to their new neighbors. "Growing up in Austin, we had cheap alternatives and options for food." says Ethridge. "I grew up on [Taqueria] Arandas, Tamale House — the list goes on. If I had four or five bucks and not that much time, I would go and get tacos. There's not that option here."

 Ethridge and his family moved back to St. Louis, where cost of living was less expensive and openings in the food industry were bountiful.  

What drew the duo to St. Louis was more than just civic-minded cuisine. Ethridge originally relocated to St. Louis while his now-wife completed film school. After graduation, the couple returned to Austin but Ethridge discovered that making ends meet while working in the local restaurant scene was difficult. As housing prices increased and job opportunities decreased, Ethridge started thinking about returning to Missouri. "St. Louis is on the upswing. All the stuff that I had as far as infrastructure [in Austin] —  following your dreams and stuff — it's here," Ethridge says.
 
Inspired, Ethridge and his family moved back to St. Louis, where cost of living was less expensive and openings in the food industry were bountiful. Shortly afterwards, Carrasco followed him. In St. Louis the friends found everything they needed, including good jobs and affordable real estate.
 
The only things the Austin duo couldn't find were tacos.
 
And so, they are making them. With Taco Circus slated to open in the next few weeks, Ethridge says the idea is for people to come to Taco Circus because it's novel — but keep coming back for the food. "We hope to give them a legitimate fast food option," Ethridge says earnestly. "We want to be one of those places that people can eat two times a week, three times a week."
 
Before Taco Circus can become a neighborhood staple, Carrasco and Ethridge must finish renovating the building, open the doors and start making some tacos. Ethridge says he looks forward to a day when the people of St. Louis want a taco and simply say, "Let's go to the Circus!"

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You can follow the progress of Taco Circus on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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