It’s common knowledge among metro Detroiters that in order to find the best tacos in the region, one must patronize the many Mexican-run taquerias that are mostly concentrated in Southwest Detroit or Downriver. However, a growing number of Black chefs and restaurateurs throughout the region are turning to the unifying power of the taco to create a uniquely Detroit-style take on Latin street food.
Shell Shock’d Tacos — the wildly popular pandemic-era pop-up taqueria founded by Cedric Andrews and Danielle “Margo Moon” Bigham — plans to open in the coming weeks in a new space in Midtown. As the duo continues to renovate the new spot — formerly occupied by the defunct Alley Tacos at 418 W. Willis Street — they’re hosting a pop-up at Cobb’s Corner just a few doors down on Cass Avenue on Tuesday, May 2 and Cinco de Mayo.
“What we’ve seen with our customers and our demographics is that we bring different ethnicities, different races, different people of color together in one spot,” Bigham tells Eater. “Although we are African Americans, and we are very culture-focused, we bring many different people together all in one space. Sometimes, even if we can’t speak the same languages, we all understand tacos.”
Shell Shock’d began its journey as a pop-up in May 2021 when the pair first showcased its signature crunchy birria tacos at Encore Lounge at Seven Mile and Greenfield. Andrews says that he swaps out the traditional goat in the birria with a combination of chuck beef and beef cheeks, which he says imparts a balance of textures. To create a buzz, Andrews and Bigham began collaborating with artists in the city’s hip-hop community and local influencers to highlight the menu — made up of playful takes on birria-infused Crunchwraps, deep-fried birria egg rolls, and chicken wings paired with mini cobs of elote. Among its highlights, Shell Shock’d was invited to pop up at the 2022 NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland and at Comerica Park to feed hungry Tigers fans. Eventually, Shell Shock’d found a semi-permanent home in a space to the rear of the now-shuttered Bagley Central cocktail bar in the city’s Hubbard-Richard neighborhood.
Shell Shock’d isn’t alone in its pursuit to use the taco as a unifying force.
Meanwhile, on the eastside, Ivy Kitchen and Cocktails’s Nya Marshall is banking on the rush of Detroiters expected to hit the city this week for Cinco de Mayo festivities by offering a special spread in recognition of the holiday from 11 a.m. to midnight on Friday, May 5, featuring pork and beef carnitas, mezcal-marinated wings, jalapeño margaritas, and the spot’s popular wonton tacos.
“I am drawn to many elements of Mexican culture simply because I appreciate it. This includes Mexican food, art, and fashion,” Marshall tells Eater in an email. “I wanted to feature it in a way that people identify with. Everyone has dinner and what better way than through the use of food to showcase [the] love and appreciation I have for their culture.”
For Shell Shock’d, the opening of the restaurant is just the beginning, Andrews says, pointing to the likes of Cardi B, Offset, Megan Thee Stallion, and others in the hip-hop world that have been able to leverage their star power to land major corporate endorsements.
“We see Shell Shock’d as becoming that,” Andrews says. “We believe every the world should be able to taste Shell Shock’d so we just act as [such] now.”