HUMBOLDT PARK — Six years after starting a food truck serving Mexican dishes based on family recipes, Aztec Dave’s is opening its first brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Aztec Dave’s Cantina is on track to open within the next couple of months in the former Bullhead Cantina spot at 1143 N. California Ave. in Humboldt Park. Eater was first to report on the upcoming restaurant.
Brothers Ramon and David Torres launched Aztec Dave’s food truck in 2015 with help from their father, Ray. Starting with one truck Downtown, they added two more and worked a stream of private events. The family has planned a restaurant for a long time; they said they decided to make the move after finding an ideal space.
“We’re happy to be able to expand, to show Chicago and the world what our family has passed down to us,” co-owner Ramon Torres said.
The brothers built the business — named for David Torres — around recipes passed down from their grandmother, who is from Michoacán in central Mexico. The menu is filled with dishes inspired by her home cooking, like blackened guajillo shrimp, mole chicken and loaded papas.
For example, their mole sauce is made using a slightly tweaked version of their grandmother’s signature recipe.
“She normally uses pork loin, lets it simmer for eight hours so [the flavors] marry, so it’s decadent,” said Ramon Torres, adding that they opted to use chicken instead. “That’s what we know her dishes to be like: made with love, made to be eaten so there’s never any left.”
At the restaurant, the brothers will serve the same food Aztec Dave’s food truck is known for, but with craft cocktails and other drinks, and in a dedicated space. They’re bringing in rustic wood accents and a hand-painted mural to honor their Mexican heritage. Once open, they plan to host regular events, like salsa nights.
“Our culture and our history is very important to us,” Ramon Torres said.
With the pandemic upending the service industry, the family stayed afloat by making meals for hospital workers, thanks to a partnership with a philanthropist, Ramon Torres said.
The family was always interested in going brick-and-mortar, but they never found the right opportunity, Ramon Torres said. But early this year, a reasonably priced, built-out restaurant went up for lease in Humboldt Park. The less-than-1,500-square-foot space, formerly the home of Bullhead Cantina, is just a block from where Ray Torres lives.
“It seemed to be a perfect fit for what we were looking for: already built-out kitchen, basement space for dry goods … good location. The price was unmatchable. We had to jump on the opportunity real quick,” Ramon Torres said.
After months of renovations and planning, the Torres family is on track for a winter opening. All that’s left to do is make cosmetic changes to the space and hire staff, Ramon Torres said.
As the opening nears, the brothers are thinking of their grandmother, Maria Luisa, or “mama,” the main inspiration behind the business.
Ramon Torres described her as the “typical grandmother throwing down in the kitchen — with four pots on the stove, doing three things at once — but doing it all perfectly and feeding a table full of hungry people.”
Aztec Dave’s is about “transferring that energy and love for the craft” wherever the business takes us, he said.
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