Husband and wife team Armando Hernandez and Nadia Holguin are expanding and opening a third restaurant that will serve Mexican cuisine from their home state of Chihuahua.
The couple opened their first location of Tacos Chiwas in Phoenix in March 2016 and three years later picked a site at Alma School and Warner roads in Chandler for a second restaurant.
Last summer they opened their third location in downtown Mesa during the pandemic.
“It’s actually going OK,” Hernandez said. “It’s good. There have been so many negative things about the pandemic and 2020 in general. It was a bit of a nightmare for everybody. But for us, it was important to continue to move forward.”
“We definitely felt an impact,” he said. “It’s not where things should be especially sales in general. We adapted through carryout. Our price point is relatively affordable.”
Although there’s a lot of competition with other Mexican food restaurants, Hernandez said none of them serve food that reflects Chihuahua cuisine.
“Nadia and I have always said we want to create our childhood food. So, we’re putting everything out there that’s very special to us personally and hope it resonates with people,” Hernandez said.
“For us, it’s an emotional level but also we’re fortunate to come together and come from the region. I went to culinary school. I’ve been working in the industry for a very long time and it kind of all has clicked together real fast.”
Chihuahua-style Mexican food tends to be spicier and focuses on proteins.
“Chihuahua is a landlocked state like Arizona so there’s not really a lot of seafood, obviously,” explained Hernandez. “If you look back at the roots of it all, there’s very little vegetation. Chihuahua by far has more desert and a high altitude. All of that affected our food in general.”
“You have to take advantage of as much product as you can,” he continued. “When you’re butchering an animal, you use almost every aspect of it.
“One of the more popular things on our menu are the barbacoa which is made with beef cheeks. It’s smoked for over 12 hours. We have beef tongue. We have Tripas (tripe). It’s fried. Those are all really good parts that aren’t as common sometimes in the mainstream but for us, it’s really special. Obviously, the carne asada is really popular.”
Tacos Chiwas also introduced its own version of the gordita which are “little flour pockets, cut in the middle and stuffed with beans and all kinds of things.”
The restaurant also serves up flour tortillas.
“Flour is significantly easier to get in Chihuahua,” said Hernandez, noting south Mexico tends to have more corn-based products.
The couple makes their sauce from chilis they get in Chihuahua when visiting each year.
In June 2019, they got a visit from Guy Fieri from the Food Network’s show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Guy tried the smoked beef cheek barbacoa tacos and the smoked brisket Deshebrada Roja Gorditas and gave them both thumbs up.
Now, the restaurant is going to be featured on the show a second time. But Guy didn’t visit this time.
Instead, Hernandez sent food to Guy, who prepared it at his home for the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives Carryout” special since the show is everything carryout.
“They did that as a special because they saw that restaurants had to get smart about how to sell,” said Hernandez.
The episode hasn’t aired and Hernandez hasn’t been notified when it’s going to come out.
“Guy and his whole team and the network are actually a big blessing for a lot of us small restaurants that could never afford that type of publicity,” Hernandez said. “In that realm, we’re very fortunate to be picked to be on the shows.”
After Guy’s first visit, business went up. “It brought attention,” explained Hernandez. “Like anything else, when you’re doing things as correct as you can from your perspective and you have more eyes on you, it just goes hand-in-hand to being busier. We definitely saw an increase in business and that’s continued to be there ever since.”
He added that Guy is exactly what you would expect. “I think he genuinely cares about what he’s doing and making sure restaurants are doing well and the families. He remembers names. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Hernandez has been in the restaurant business 15 years since he was 17. His wife is a classically trained chef.
They have been aided in the expansion by the fact that Hernandez’s dad, mom, uncle and brother all work for him.
“We’re not reinventing food in any way, shape or form. What we’re trying to do is produce the best quality and the best product and trying to be consistent at the same time. That’s our main objective in general.”
Information: tacoschiwas.com; 2160 N. Alma School Road, Chandler; 127 W. Main St., Mesa