If you love traditional Mexican burritos, tacos and tortas, a new restaurant opening at 160 Kenan Court aims to hit the mark by offering authentic birria, carne asada, al pastor and pollo.
While authentic meats will be a core part of the menu at the forthcoming AzTec Taqueria, vegans and vegetarians can also enjoy marinated tofu. Homemade corn tortillas and freshly-prepared green and red salsas will also be an integral part of the fare.
The business opened on Cinco de Mayo (May 5).
Owner Salvador Tecpoyotl’s own mom and dad are the culinary masterminds behind the recipes at his restaurant. Their authentic food will never have been seen in the area before, he said. These recipes and seasonings have been handed down for generations.
Tecpoyotl grew up in the Puebla region of Mexico. When he was four years old, his family immigrated to California where he and his five brothers worked in fields picking grapes for Sun-Maid Raisins company during the 1990s. In 2004, they relocated to the Midwest.
In Wisconsin, Tecpoyotl rose up the ranks at a national fast food franchise from dishwasher to busboy to supervisor to general manager over 17 years.
Working in an air conditioned restaurant was an “oasis” after years in a 110° field, he said.
For the past five years, he dreamed of taking all that he learned and going into business for himself. Though, it’s much more than just about making money, he wants to welcome everyone to la carne asada, or rather – everyone is invited to his barbecue by him.
He wants to welcome everyone as if they were his own family.
“Family culture for Mayans – for the lion people – is strong, it’s everything,” he said. “Come over to the cookout, expect family culture, amazing food, laughter, fun, good memories, we especially want that here.”
Tecpoyotl means “heart made out of rock” in Mayan, and Salvador is putting all of his heart into creating the bedrock of a potential new franchise. He said he hopes the Verona location of AzTec Taqueria will be just the first of many that could rival national chains.
A Mayan cross symbol in the business’ logo represents unity and the beginning of something new.
Getting it right
Tecpoyotl’s family spent a lot of time trying out different salsa recipes to find just the right one and hope they become known for them. The corn tortillas will be made from scratch in-house with a special wooden press.
The flour tortillas and the tortas are bakery-fresh and sourced locally to help the community rather than being shipped-in, Tecpoyotl said.
The birria, or shredded beef, will cook for 12 hours until it melts in your mouth, Tecpoyotl said.
Al pastor is a slowly-turning, spit-grilled pork, which is sliced into tacos. Those familiar with gyros or shawarma will recognize the vertical rotisserie that cooks the meat.
“The meats will be traditional and explosive in depth,” Tecpoyotl said.
People can choose from corn or flour tortillas, tortas or bowls, to which they can add their choice of meat or tofu, cilantro, onion, lime, pinto bean, cheese, white or Mexican rice, and choice of salsa.
Apart from recipes native to Puebla food, the cooking will also take inspiration from Tijuana street food.
Tecpoyotl traveled home to Puebla where he tested food to get inspired and was immersed in the culture of his roots. He even visited the shed where he was born, which somehow is still standing.
Traditional Mexican desserts such as tres leches cake, horchata and churros will also feature on the menu, along with agua fresca – blends of fresh fruit and water in flavors like mango pineapple and cucumber lime.
Open atmosphere, open arms
The restaurant has a garage door that will open up on nice days to an outside seating patio, as well as an indoor bar with a window that can be opened up to the outside.
The outdoor seats are bright and colorful.
Mexican folk art flowers are painted on the walls as well as a mural of a Mayan calendar which includes images of a warrior and a jaguar, painted by Madison artist Julie Vornholt.
The two non-gender specific bathrooms offer unique themes. One is black and white with a Day of the Dead motif including skulls, while the other is in vibrant colors with images of roses called the room of life.
Tecpoyotl is proud that as an immigrant with only a high school degree, he has spent three decades working his way to this point, and now wants to give back to the community.
“Building this is awesome, but it has a bigger meaning for me,” he said. “We are a local family-owned business and we want everyone to be part of our family. Our mission is to be a resource to the community, help people who don’t have a voice. I don’t care where you come from, I want to spend on those resources and give back.”
He plans to serve free meals to local teachers, firefighters, police officers and other community “heroes” on a special recognition day, which will be announced soon.
“We wanted to start off on the right foot at the beginning, and be here for years to come,” Tecpoyotl said.
Now he feels ready to “conquer the world.”
“I want to completely blow away everyone’s expectations with this experience,” he said. “It’s been strategically planned, with no shortcuts.”