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Dan Maldonado of Tacos Atoyac, Part 2

Yesterday Chef Dan Maldonado of Tacos Atoyac dished about why his restaurant isn't your run of the mill taco shop. Today he shares more of his own story, how he and Pablo Lopez came together, and what their future holds.

Where are you from?

And how did you end up here?
I was actually in the Air Force for eight years. And I ended up at Luke Air Force Base...and I wanted to go to culinary school. I always cooked for the guys, you know I was in Korean before I was here for a year and we'd all get together on Sundays and have a Sunday meal...

You did well for yourself!
My first job cooking was at Roy's [Hawaiian Fusion] at Desert Ridge, and then I moved on from there, worked at a couple of country clubs, I was a sous-chef at Moon Valley Country Club...Executive chef at Arrowhead Country Club... I opened a restaurant in Park City, Utah a couple of years ago, and it didn't work out and I came back.

How did you meet your partner?
Pablo was a dishwasher when I worked at Moon Valley Country Club. I asked him to help me make soup one day, and he made the most amazing chicken noodle soup I've ever had in my life. And I was like, "You're a dishwasher?!" So we just started talking and I talked to the chef, I said "look , I mean this guy can't be a dishwasher anymore." And he became a line cook and we've known each other since...

Whose idea was Tacos Atoyac?
In December he came to me out of the blue and said, "Hey I want to open a restaurant." And I'd been thinking about it. We'd lost touch for a couple of years and he said he'd just recently lost his job. We sat down, talked about it, and January 26th we opened.

Talk about your cooking style
I love to cook everything. Barbecue is pretty much my passion. It was Asian food for a long time but now it's Mexican food. [Pablo] taught me a lot of things.

Where are these recipes from?
Most of our menu is from his mother, it's her recipes from Oaxaca. And the other recipes, his wife helps. She makes the moles, she makes the speciality items.

Your favorite dish on the menu?
My favorite dish...the tamales. The tamales are out of this world. The masa is phenomenal, it's a little denser than what people are used to. We don't use yellow cheese, we use mozzarella blend...

On second thought...
The fish tacos, I've been working on the fish tacos for about eight years now, just off and on, different styles of fish taco, trying different things. The fish tacos are my absolute favorite on the menu...I see all these other places, they claim to have the best fish tacos in town. I really think ours...not to be cocky or anything...but I really like ours.

Do you cook at home?
Nowadays I'm pretty much always here, six days a week, but before yes. I have two kids, my sons are fifteen and nine. They both love to cook...now they cook for me on Sundays.

The future:
Right now we're not planning on expanding or opening a new one or redecorating. [The space has] been called industrial and sparse...minimalist, I got that too.

Things have developed fast enough it seems...
We opened in two weeks, from the day we signed the lease to the day we opened. We signed the lease at 11:30 at night with a flashlight, right here at that table. The next day I gave notice at my job , we started painting and cleaning and buying equipment. It's been just a whirlwind. From that first two weeks in January until now it's just been crazy.

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Did you expect success so fast?
I never thought it would be like this. It's wonderful. I smile every single day, I'm so happy when I get home. People come in and to see them leave happy, and it was food that we made, it just makes me feel so good inside.

Do you think you'll do anything else?
No. I want to be here for the rest of my life. I don't want to do anything else, I don't want to work anywhere else...I want people to come taste it, try something different. That was the whole reason behind opening a restaurant, something different, something people aren't used to

The icing on the...churro
I'm my own boss. This is my restaurant, this is what I've always wanted. Since I was a child I've wanted to own a restaurant. I've always been cooking with my mother and my grandmother...We didn't do this to become millionaires, we did this to do what we love.

Check back tomorrow for Dan Maldonado's recipe for some delicious summer drinks.

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