By Michelle Love | Photos by James and Rachel Culver

Walking up the stairs to the second floor of Social Taco, owners Taylor Hughes and Dave Horn call out a guest sitting by the window enjoying a meal.

“Isn’t this like three times this week?” Taylor asked, smiling.

“Don’t judge me!” The guest responded with a laugh.

Since the Homewood restaurant opened in early January, this type of frequent visitation has already become a regular occurrence. Located in the former Jackson’s and Tostadas spot in Homewood Plaza, Social Taco has quickly garnered positive attention from the community.

Birmingham restaurant enthusiasts know Dave and Taylor from their extensive resume. Dave owns the Cahaba Heights restaurant, Mudtown, and The Ridge in Vestavia Hills, while he and Taylor together own Soho Social and Soho Standard—both located next door to Social Taco in the Plaza.

Soho Social opened in February 2017 while Soho Standard opened in February 2020. Dave says the growth in the community has been “organic,” and Taylor says they’ve been very fortunate for Homewood’s support.

Taylor and Dave have worked together for more than 10 years and became business partners to open Soho Social. While Dave handles more the business side of the restaurants, Taylor provides the creative spark that sets the restaurants apart from surrounding businesses.

“We’re both food guys, but when it comes to the creative stuff in the kitchen, that’s Taylor’s domain,” Dave says. “Of the two of us, he definitely has the greater creative gene.”

“I’ve gotten a lot better at reeling in the reigns a little bit as far as what is that dream and what is logistically, financially and feasibly possible,” Taylor says, jokingly. “But I can bring an idea to Dave, and we talk through it like, ‘What is it? How do we make it? What direction is it going?’ A lot of things work the first time, and other things turn into completely new ideas based on that interaction.”

Moving into the space was “opportunistic,” according to Taylor. The space had been occupied by Jackson’s since 2006, then when Jackson’s closed its doors in 2019, Tostadas opened before ultimately closing in 2021. Before jumping into the location, Taylor says he and Dave did their homework on why the two prior businesses were successful or unsuccessful.

Dave says going into making Social Taco a reality was the “biggest project we’ve ever done.”

“We came in, and started peeling back the layers of the building and the aesthetic,” he says. “It just needed a breath of fresh air.”

While the project took longer than they had anticipated, Taylor and Dave say it ended up being for the best as there were several factors that wouldn’t have played out the way they have otherwise.

“We’ve been fortunate with some key staff people that if we had opened earlier they probably wouldn’t be with us,” Taylor says. “Some things just fell into place, and it all worked out.”

A Mexican restaurant was always in the stars for the duo, though Dave said over the years the opportunity never arose at the right time or place. Once the chance presented itself, Dave and Taylor went to work creating a concept that they felt truly represented the heart of what makes Mexican food so special from other cultural cuisines.

“Mexican food for us is central,” Dave says. “If I could eat one food for the rest of my life, it would be Mexican food.”

Taylor describes their food as a “step above” what diners would typically find in a local suburban Mexican restaurant.

“I don’t think it’s what most suburban America thinks of when they think of Mexican food,” Dave says. “Usual Mexican restaurants around here serve what can be described as Americanized Tex Mex, and it’s such a watered down version of what the food really is.”

“We made a list of things that we knew we were not going to have on the menu since day one,” Taylor says. “There’s no quesadillas or burritos or fajitas, things like that. We wanted everything to be fresh and vibrant but also simple.”

Simplicity is a theme that both Dave and Taylor praise when it comes to good food.

“I think simple gets overlooked, but that’s the stuff we as restauranteurs fall in love with,” Dave says. “You go somewhere, and you see someone doing something really good and really simple. There’s a lot of envy in that.”

They’re working on some minor changes and additions to the menu that they’re hoping to roll out in April, but Dave and Taylor both want to keep the menu short and sweet.

“Less is still always more,” Taylor says.

It was important to both the owners that the menu reflect what real Mexican food is all about: fresh ingredients full of flavor. Tortillas are picked up fresh every day from Birmingham favorite, Gordo’s, on Valley Avenue. Taylor and Dave’s favorites on the menu include tacos pastor; tablitas, which are thin-cut charcoal grilled short ribs; tlayudas, which are thin, crispy corn tortillas assembled in the vain of a Mexican pizza with bean sauce and cheese; and their morita sauce, which is loaded with various peppers and has a vibrant flavor.

Dave said the input from Latino members of their staff from over the years has played a large role in the menu’s evolution.

“There’s this respect because coming up, a lot of the food I ate working in restaurants was the stuff the cooks made for each other and the staff,” Dave says. “Having our staff get excited about the things we’re putting out is confirmation for us that we’re on the right track.”

They hope that the popularity and word-of-mouth marketing surrounding Soho Social and Soho Standard will aid the popularity of Social Taco, and after that, they think the food will speak for itself. They’re also hoping to take advantage of having three restaurants in the Homewood Plaza available to the public, especially in an entertainment district.

“I think we’ve made some good decisions with offering our patrons options in the Plaza while they’re waiting,” Dave says. “And, we’re working on using hostessing software, where you can come put your name on the list, and we’ll let you know which restaurant has a table open immediately. It lets us really capitalize on the proximity and making people happy.”

“It can be like, instead of let’s go specifically to Soho Standard or Soho Taco, it can be like, ‘Let’s get a drink at Soho Standard and figure out where we want to eat or get an appetizer at Social Taco while we wait for a table at Soho Social,’” Taylor says. “We’re trying to make it, so you have options to entertain you and keep you happy while you figure out what you want to do for dinner.”

Though they admit they may be biased, both Dave and Taylor express Social Taco is currently their favorite place to eat, and they hope the community feels the same way. They’ve even designed the menu, where guests can play around with variations of dishes to keep each visit as fresh and exciting as the menu itself.

“This has spoiled me,” Dave says. “This is all exactly what we want and exactly how we want it.”