Make yourself at home at this stripped-down Mexican joint, where fresh, unforgettable Oaxacan dishes shine.
I was clearing my table, ready to dump the detritus and exit Tacos Atoyac, when a heavily tattooed gent glided over, smiled and bussed for me. When I thanked him, he responded by saying, “I eat here so often, I’m just part of the team.”
Open less than a year, Tacos Atoyac has clearly become a neighborhood favorite. Located in a drab little shopping strip in west Phoenix, it’s an immaculate white shoebox of an eatery that’s almost conspicuously unfancy. Orders are placed at a rudimentary counter, but for first-timers it pays to first suss out the menu. Dan Maldonado, the genial proprietor who seemingly never leaves his post, will offer help, explaining that this is Oaxacan cuisine. That means the food is less saucy and cheesy and more veggie-intensive than the usual Arizona-Sonoran variety.
Prices are laughably reasonable, and the food is rustic, elemental and loaded with earthy flavor, starting with the complimentary portion of fresh grilled onions and jalapeños, red and green salsas and a tangy “guacamole” (more like an avocado sauce) served with meals. Carnivorous selections include carne or pollo asada (beef or chicken), al pastor (pineapple-marinated pork, but not the conventional kind that’s sliced off a vertical spit), lengua (tongue), cabeza (beef cheeks), chorizo and tripas (tripe). All can be eaten in soft tacos ($1, yes, that’s correct) made from sweet, granular corn tortillas, rolled into burros ($4), heaped onto memelitas (fried masa discs similar to chalupas, $3), or topped onto a tlayuda, which is essentially a Mexican pizza ($8, enough for two or more to share).
Three dishes especially shine: crunchy fish tacos ($1.50); molotes, a fried cylinder of potato and chorizo that’s a cross between a fritter and knish, drizzled with black beans and strewn with lettuce ($1.50); and a shrimp burro ($6.50) full of moist, flavorful rice and sweet whole shrimp. (Ask for it without the lettuce, which quickly wilts and gets nasty.) Fans of Sonoran hot dogs will enjoy the more restrained Oaxacan version ($3.50). The perfect wash-down is the house horchata, surprisingly and deliciously afloat with chopped cantaloupe and pecans ($1.50).
I’m not crazy about the chicken or beef tamales, which are dry, leathery and skimpy on filling. Nor does the menudo boast the depth and clarity of flavor that some other local versions do. No matter, there are so many other things to like here. Most days there’s a mellow, rich chicken mole with rice and beans ($8) and a special dessert, such as pastry cream-filled churros ($1.50) or creamy fruit paletas (popsicles) ($2).
No wonder the customers feel like part of the team.
Address: 1830 W. Glendale Ave., Phoenix
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and
Highlights: Meat tacos ($1), fish tacos ($1.50), molotes ($1.50), memelitas con carne ($3), Oaxacan hot dog ($3.50), meat burros ($4), shrimp burros ($6.50), tlayudas (Mexican pizzas) ($8)