Roman Raya’s first job was working at a taco stand at the I-70 racetrack in Odessa, Missouri, when he was sixteen years old. Little did he know he was getting a taste of his future project, Taco Tank.
Raya didn’t take a straight path to specializing in the traditional Mexican food, however. He began his corporate career as a document prep specialist at a bank. “Basically, I pulled out staples and paperclips from boxes so our imaging people could scan documents,” he says. “I worked my way up as a tax department manager working with real estate taxes.”
Determined to enter the food industry, Raya decided that a food cart was the most low-risk investment. As a Mexican American, he gravitated toward tacos as the foundation for the concept. For several years, Raya juggled his full-time job and the taco cart, slinging tacos at local breweries during the week and slowly building a following. He was offering the birria taco at the Tank before it was trendy.
“Obviously, our birria tacos are a customer favorite,” he says. “Personally, I really like our carnitas. We make it in a traditional way, cooking it in its own fat. We include spices, citrus and caramel—just a very traditional way of cooking it. That’s something I grew up with my whole life. Carnitas are, to me, a Sunday at my grandma’s house.”
For Raya, creating a family-oriented business makes the hustle of the food industry worth it. “Being able to not only create jobs, but create jobs that support my family, our background and our mission, that’s really important to me,” Raya says.
Taco Tank has two locations: one at Iron District in North Kansas City and another at Parlor food hall in the Crossroads. The menu pays homage to traditional techniques, but every Tank taco is thoughtfully dressed in its own set of ingredients. For example, the adobo chicken tacos are seared with a layer of crispy cheese, then finished with chihuahua cheese, cilantro and a secret sauce.
Quick Bite: Definitely Kitty’s Cafe for the pork tenderloin sandwich. Can’t go wrong. I still enjoy eating tacos on my days off, though. Tacos El Viejon is my favorite taco truck. The best stuff to get there are the tripas and al pastor tacos. I love that they have the trompo right in the front window.
Fancy Dinner: I recently went to Novel and I really enjoyed that experience. I think they’re making the best food in Kansas City right now as far as what I’ve tried. Every plate had its own identity. There was nothing on the plate that didn’t need to be there. I feel like some places want to include an ingredient just to have it or add a garnish that isn’t necessary. Every single piece of food that they served us there made sense and added to the dish. I was really impressed.