Pablo Lopez and Dan Maldonado broke some hearts in this town when they closed the doors at Tacos Atoyac back in February 2014. The restaurant's abrupt closure left the Valley's taco enthusiasts lost and wondering where they would find such affordable and authentic Mexican fare.
Much to everyone's delight, Lopez — originally from Oaxaca, Mexico — reopened the doors to the original restaurant a little over a month later. Once again, he began to serve his famous dishes, this time under the new name Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca.
A few months later, Chilean-born Maldonado opened his own restaurant with a new partner Aaron Miller, adding a few creative options such as a date-infused horchata and falafel-filled tacos to the menu. On Mucho Macho's website, Maldonado and his team claim to provide “the tacos Phoenix deserves” and calls out competitors for using smaller tortillas for their tacos.
Now that both restaurants have been open for more than a year, it's time to see how the two stand up to each other. We visited both Restaurant Atoyac and Much Macho Taco to see which of the former duo fries up the best fish taco.
In This Corner: Mucho Macho Tacos
The Setting: Mucho Macho Tacos shares a small strip mall with French Grocery on the corner of Missouri Avenue and 7th Avenue. It has a casual and almost coffee shop-like atmosphere to it, complete with local art decorating the walls. The chefs pal around in the small kitchen visible to all patrons. The smell of pickled jalapeños and freshly grilled meat brings comfort to those born and raised in the Valley. The restaurant embodies the feel of a street taco shop because of the small tables and cramped quarters, but visitors can expect more than the basic options when they visit. The menu is simple, but not sparse. When it comes to tacos, there are the classics: shrimp, carne asada, lengua, fish; and then there are more creative options such as bacon and hummus.
The Good: The fish tacos at Mucho Macho were substantial and featured a hearty piece of fried baja fish topped with a creamy chipotle sauce, a sprinkle of cabbage, and a hearty portion of fresh pico. The taco was wrapped in the acclaimed five-inch corn tortilla mentioned on the restaurant's webpage. Fish tacos can tend to be bland so the additions must pack a punch; the saving grace at Mucho Macho was the restaurant's pico de gallo. It’s your traditional tomato-and-onion-and-cilantro mix, but there was an undeniable freshness to the salsa and the crisp vegetables brought much-needed diversity to the tacos’ texture. Two fish tacos and a soda will cost about $9 and come with a tray of tortilla chips and access to the salsa bar. If you’re looking for something new, try the creamy green tomatillo variety.
The Bad: The pico really carried the taco, whereas the other toppings — and the fish itself — lacked flavor. We wanted the chipotle mayo to be smoky, spicy, or anything other than a bland liquid topping our meal. The layer of cheese coating the tortilla was also underwhelming.
In This Corner: Tacos Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca
The Setting: Nestled between a smoke shop and a gas station, Restaurant Atoyac can easily be overlooked. After you get around the construction and into the parking lot, you enter a small two-room taco shop with aluminum-slated walls with a dining room as big as the kitchen. The employees chat with regulars and are quick to make recommendations to patrons staring at the menu. The menu here truly reflects Oaxacan cuisine, boasting multiple mole dishes and a classic Mexican pizza-like creation. It's a little cheaper than Mucho Macho, but chips and drink bring it to about $9 as well.
The Good: The tacos were small, but the fish inside the taco was huge. They came out of the kitchen sizzling and topped with cabbage and chipotle sauce. Customers have the option of getting a side of onions and jalapeños with their tacos — we can't see a reason not to say yes since it's free — which add even more flavor and heat to the tacos. The salsa can sneak up on you, but again, adds a great smoky flavor to the fish.
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The Bad: The tacos are smaller than Mucho Macho's, and the tortillas can get stale pretty quick. We recommend getting your food pics as quickly as possible.
The Winner: Though you can find find decent tacos at Mucho, Restaurant Atoyac wins this round. Size can only get you so far, and though Mucho's were bigger and had more topping, Atoyac knows how to cook the fish and provides the perfect tools to personalize the flavor.
Editor's Note: This post has been edited from its original version.