Central Mexico is a long way from Agawam, Massachusetts, but that’s not stopping the Diaz family. The menu, conceived by Guerrero-born Jose Diaz and his mother Ana, is simple and authentic – featuring flavors indigenous to their home-city, Iguala. They’ve just introduced one of the areas most genuine Mexican menus with a catalog of traditional eats.
Jose and his family moved to the United States when he was just three years old, first living in Texas before moving to Vermont, where his dad would find work. He says when they first arrived in Central Vermont it was quite an adjustment, coming to a place where no one new Spanish and they had yet to learn English. Regardless, he remembers a welcoming New England community, one that was helpful; to him it is still very touching. Getting their bearings in Vermont, Ana cooked to preserve the family’s connection to home.
“We always craved that food, particularly my parents since I was so young,” says Jose. “My mother always found a way to find and create authentic food. She couldn’t find the ready-made products that you would in Mexico, so she sought ingredients to make foods from scratch. I think that’s a lot of mom’s experience in cooking – working with what she had to create foods you would so easily find in Mexico – with minimal resources to make amazing food.”
When he and his sister were older and the family had enough money to travel, they went back to their roots in Mexico. “I just loved the food and found where my mom got her cooking skills from – my grandmother,” remembers Jose.
When he turned 18 Jose decided to try life in the “big city,” moving to Los Angeles. He lived there for twelve years, picking up a wealth of experience in the food and beverage industry. He started off as a hotel houseman, setting up tables and chairs, and cleaning. From there, he received a series of promotions through merit-based advancement and eventually became the Director of Food and Beverage for a destination hotel. During a renovation, he was transferred to the East Coast, working in Boston on a task force for a new food and beverage program.
Meanwhile, Ana remained in Vermont, running a popular food truck, Ana’s Loncheria. Setting up at area farmers’ markets and events, she gained a large following over the years. In his free time, Jose would often go up to help, working side-by-side in the kitchen with his mom.
“I’ve always wanted to start my own restaurant; I’ve been managing restaurants for other people for years,” says Jose. “I love cooking, the kitchen and a fast-paced environment. At the convention center I was stuck in the office, managing 400 people and so distant from the customer service and food aspect - everything that had originally attracted me to food and beverage. It’s what I love about the industry.”
With a shared love of good food and appreciation of culture, his wife – Evelyn – encouraged the shift to ownership. Last month they opened Macho Taco, an eatery paying homage to their indigenous origins. At the top of the menu are street tacos, a creative and authentic food that is simple in nature while exploring with authentic flavor combinations. He serves them how “a local” would eat them, a small corn tortilla with protein, cilantro and onions. While the delicious street tacos need no more, they will accommodate those looking for lettuce, cheese and sour cream.
The Diaz family constructed a menu to be like a tacorita. Mexico has one of the most extensive street food cultures in Latin America. Lunchtime or late night, they are popular stops for simple, flavorful food. Using only fresh and made-from-scratch ingredients their menu offers items from handmade huaraches to authentic quesadillas, items that are much different from their Americanized counterparts. Using homemade corn maza, tortillas are pressed on the spot or in small batches when preparing for a lunch rush; Jose wants everything to be as fresh as possible. All items – like taquitos and tacos de guiso – are accompanied with from-scratch salsa and even traditional aguas frescas, fresh flavored waters. From made-daily beans to slow-cooked meats, everything on the menu focuses on flavor.
Inside Macho Taco is a visual treat, brightly painted walls contrast against the black and white tiled floor; it just looks fun. Ana – who has been in town sharing her recipes with the Macho staff – is in the kitchen while Evelyn is working the front of the house and Jose manages operations. They are growing the menu steadily; gradually expanding as the restaurant increases business.
“We try to cook everything as my grandmother would. We don’t have any machines to do any of our work, like tortilla press machines. When we say hand-pressed, we are actually pressing them one-by-one,” explains Jose. “I’ve always dabbled in Mexican food, but I feel the heart and soul of this business is with my mother. She has an endless knowledge of food with a home cooked, old school style of cooking.”
Jose says they’re happy with what they’ve accomplished so far and from the outside it’s hard to determine what’s more authentic – the food or love for family.
“I don’t think there’s anything better than a home cooked meal – whether it’s Mexican, Italian or American - it just tastes different – it’s fresh with more attention to it” says Jose. “We try to be as authentic as possible, just family members who want to offer good food. I don’t think there’s anything better.”
macho taco • 67 Springfield street (agawam town square plaza)
facebook.com/machotacoagawam • (860) 986-1145