Shredded Tacos: An Italian Twist on a Mexican Favorite

By Katharine Lotze

Last update: Friday, November 11th, 2016

“It’s addicting.”

That’s how Jean Niemi, and probably everyone who has ever tried one of her tacos, describes them.

Jean started making her famous tacos nearly 40 years ago, and what started as an experiment, has now turned into two successful locations of Shredded Tacos, started by her son, Joe, and his wife, Kim.

Jean’s best friend and neighbor in Canyon Country made tacos for the family one night and she decided to try her hand at making them. She added her own Italian twist to the traditional Mexican food.

“I thought I’d just experiment with it,” she said.

Her experiment was an overnight success, especially when she started the Taco-A-Thon, a fundraiser for the youth outreach group, Campus After Dark. The annual event’s attendees wanted to know how to make the now-famous recipe themselves.

Interior of Shredded Taco restaurant. (Courtesy photo)
Interior of Shredded Taco restaurant. (Courtesy photo)

But she’s kept the recipe secret.

“Being Italian and wanting everyone to love her food, she wouldn’t tell anyone the recipe,” Joe said.

Not even relatives of Jean’s have been successful in duplicating her recipe. No one can quite put their finger on it.

Joe’s the only other one with the recipe, and it’s even included in Jean’s will, bequeathed to Joe.

Instead, Joe and wife Kim decided to try opening a take-out restaurant in Granada Hills in 2014.

Tacos served at Shredded Tacos restaurant. (Courtesy photo)
Tacos served at Shredded Tacos restaurant. (Courtesy photo)

“So many of our friends were driving down to the valley to try it,” Kim said.

The Niemis just knew that the next location had to be in the Santa Clarita Valley, and opened their second storefront at the end of September with a soft opening, and will celebrate their grand opening this weekend, Nov. 12, with giveaways every hour, and the grand prize drawing at the end of the day.

And just like Jean would make it, everything at Shredded Tacos is made fresh – and everything is shredded too, right down to the cheese and the lettuce.

The beef and chicken are cooked and marinated overnight, and the chips and salsa are made fresh daily in the store.

Shredded beef tacos used to be the most popular item, but the chicken tacos with their ranch cilantro sauce have caught up – matching the beef in sales.

“We really wanted to mirror Jean’s process,” Kim said. “So we’re really just cooking tacos all day long.”

But the secret is in the salsa, according to Jean, who recommends you try it on the rice as well as the tacos, burritos, and quesadillas.

Their Valencia location expanded on the Granada Hills location’s menu, adding beans and rice, as well as burritos. But that’s about as complicated as it gets.

“It’s a simple menu,” Kim said. It’s like the In-n-Out Burger of tacos, according to Kim.

And like In-n-Out Burger, Shredded Tacos has had plenty of business since their soft opening.

Joe said business has been good.

“Way more than we anticipated,” he said. Customers are coming from as far away as Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, and San Diego. But their first two customers came from Valencia High School, just down the street, and a group of students made the trek across town from Canyon High School for lunch recently.

That’s exactly what the Niemis’ enjoy about having a restaurant in the Santa Clarita Valley: the ability to give back to their community with each person who walks in the door. Every purchase sees a portion of its proceeds donated to local community and school programs. Maybe that’s why it feels like home, according to Kim, when you walk in the door.

“You feel so comfortable when you come in,” Jean said.

For more information and to view the menu visit www.shreddedtacos.com.

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Shredded Tacos: An Italian Twist on a Mexican Favorite

“It’s addicting.”

That’s how Jean Niemi, and probably everyone who has ever tried one of her tacos, describes them.

Jean started making her famous tacos nearly 40 years ago, and what started as an experiment, has now turned into two successful locations of Shredded Tacos, started by her son, Joe, and his wife, Kim.

Jean’s best friend and neighbor in Canyon Country made tacos for the family one night and she decided to try her hand at making them. She added her own Italian twist to the traditional Mexican food.

“I thought I’d just experiment with it,” she said.

Her experiment was an overnight success, especially when she started the Taco-A-Thon, a fundraiser for the youth outreach group, Campus After Dark. The annual event’s attendees wanted to know how to make the now-famous recipe themselves.

Interior of Shredded Taco restaurant. (Courtesy photo)
Interior of Shredded Taco restaurant. (Courtesy photo)

But she’s kept the recipe secret.

“Being Italian and wanting everyone to love her food, she wouldn’t tell anyone the recipe,” Joe said.

Not even relatives of Jean’s have been successful in duplicating her recipe. No one can quite put their finger on it.

Joe’s the only other one with the recipe, and it’s even included in Jean’s will, bequeathed to Joe.

Instead, Joe and wife Kim decided to try opening a take-out restaurant in Granada Hills in 2014.

Tacos served at Shredded Tacos restaurant. (Courtesy photo)
Tacos served at Shredded Tacos restaurant. (Courtesy photo)

“So many of our friends were driving down to the valley to try it,” Kim said.

The Niemis just knew that the next location had to be in the Santa Clarita Valley, and opened their second storefront at the end of September with a soft opening, and will celebrate their grand opening this weekend, Nov. 12, with giveaways every hour, and the grand prize drawing at the end of the day.

And just like Jean would make it, everything at Shredded Tacos is made fresh – and everything is shredded too, right down to the cheese and the lettuce.

The beef and chicken are cooked and marinated overnight, and the chips and salsa are made fresh daily in the store.

Shredded beef tacos used to be the most popular item, but the chicken tacos with their ranch cilantro sauce have caught up – matching the beef in sales.

“We really wanted to mirror Jean’s process,” Kim said. “So we’re really just cooking tacos all day long.”

But the secret is in the salsa, according to Jean, who recommends you try it on the rice as well as the tacos, burritos, and quesadillas.

Their Valencia location expanded on the Granada Hills location’s menu, adding beans and rice, as well as burritos. But that’s about as complicated as it gets.

“It’s a simple menu,” Kim said. It’s like the In-n-Out Burger of tacos, according to Kim.

And like In-n-Out Burger, Shredded Tacos has had plenty of business since their soft opening.

Joe said business has been good.

“Way more than we anticipated,” he said. Customers are coming from as far away as Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, and San Diego. But their first two customers came from Valencia High School, just down the street, and a group of students made the trek across town from Canyon High School for lunch recently.

That’s exactly what the Niemis’ enjoy about having a restaurant in the Santa Clarita Valley: the ability to give back to their community with each person who walks in the door. Every purchase sees a portion of its proceeds donated to local community and school programs. Maybe that’s why it feels like home, according to Kim, when you walk in the door.

“You feel so comfortable when you come in,” Jean said.

For more information and to view the menu visit www.shreddedtacos.com.

About the author

Katharine Lotze

Katharine Lotze

Katharine Lotze is a photojournalist and columnist at the Signal, and can be found photographing daily life in Santa Clarita, or writing personal essays about her own daily life.