Chef News

Dan Maldonado of Tacos Atoyac

Four months ago, Dan Maldonado and Pablo Lopez opened up an unassuming taco shop on the corner of Glendale and 19th Ave, formerly the site of Chik a Ribs. Since then, Tacos Atoyac has been on a steady road to popularity, serving two to three hundred customers daily.

This week, Dan Maldonado talks to us about why his isn't just another taco shop, how he transitioned to the job from a background in country club cuisine, and shares a couple of recipes for Oaxacan style summer drinks.

Why open a taco shop?
It's the way people are eating now days, something quick, something easy, light, fresh. We didn't want to reinvent anything, we just wanted to make the same food people are used to with a twist on it.

And the name?
Atoyac is the region that [Pablo] is from in Oaxaca. It's the river that flows through the valley in Oaxaca.

What makes your Oaxacan food special?
The seasonings, we use different kinds of seasonings...everything we make in-house, we don't buy anything prepared, we have very little products that we bring in from the outside. The carne asada is cooked right. We don't have a trompo. We don't do it that way, we marinate it, we put pineapple and chili so all our food is very your face pretty much.

Not like the other guys
They compare us a lot to the other Mexican fast food places but that's all border food. We are south Mexican food...Our food is prepared differently.

It's pronounced molé We have a daily mole special. Mole is a blend of spices, nuts, chocolate, chillies. The one [Pablo's wife] is making right now is about 36 spices, with sesame seeds, peanuts, pecans, almonds. And that's what Oaxaca's known for is the moles....and it's a labor intensive process, I mean it takes her half a day to make.

Business seems to be booming...
It's going great! Every week is better we've been really busy. It's all word of mouth, no Internet. I mean we have a yelp and facebook page but other than that we haven't done anything at all...We opened up on a really small budget, we got the loan from my mother- and father-in-law.

You don't even plan to make a website?
Not in the near future, you know we just want to cook man, that's what we both do. We want to serve good food and talk to people...Customers come in three, four times a day, just hang out, talk to us. So it's just about adding something to this community. There's nothing like this miles from here. We just wanted to keep it simple. No website, no t-shirts.

The most expensive item you have is $8. How is this so cheap?
All our food is cross-utilized. We don't have that much merchandise. We buy very good quality meat from JP Meats...we buy more and more every week from them so our price goes down...Our tortillas we buy at Ranch Market, that's where we get the majority of our produce...we import [from Mexico] the masa for the tamales, the mole base, the queso Oaxaca , some spices.

What's your take on being part of the fast food industry?
I don't think people want to sit down for dinner every day. They don't have time, everyone's busy...I mean my kids alone, they've got jujitsu, basketball, football, soccer, there's no family time anymore, everyone's busy. I work six days a week, my wife works most of the time six days a week.

But it's not very healthy, right? We are fast food but I see it as a little healthier fast food. We use corn tortillas, we rarely use flour tortillas, not much is fried, everything is made in-house, there's hardly any preservatives in anything. I see where a lot of people are relying on fast food. It's cheap, you can feed a family. We have families of four come in here ans not spend $20, and leave full. So I don't see us along the line as McDonald's or Burger King, we're proving a meal that's freshly made, prepared to order, and everything's made by us, nothing's processed.

Check back tomorrow for part two of our interview!

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Maya Dukmasova