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When he was growing up in Túxpan, a small village in the Mexican state of Michoacan, Diego Alcantar would watch his mom glide across the kitchen floor on weekend mornings, hand-making tortillas and plating Huevos a la Mexicana. Spanish music would be playing in the background, and his mom, Maria Gervacio, would be working her magic.
The family moved to the US 14 years ago, spending about a decade in Central Falls before Alcantar moved to Cumberland. Immediately after graduating high school, he began working for Avenue N as a dishwasher. Over the last seven years, he worked his way up to executive sous chef of the company. But in the back of his mind, he was working toward one goal: to open his own restaurant by his 30th birthday.
Each day, he drove by a tiny spot on the corner of Broad and Clay streets in Central Falls. It had been empty for some time, but had been a Honey Dew donut shop with a drive-through at one point, a check cashing business and an eyebrow-threading station at another.
But about a year ago, he took a chance and signed a five-year lease on the building. After months of manual labor to bring the building up to code — nearly all done by himself and his family members — he opened Tuxpan Taqueria in December.
It’s a family affair: Alcantar is typically behind the line as executive chef, his 17-year-old sister and his girlfriend run the floor and serve guests, and his father helps in the dish room. His mom, who is usually found right by his side, is the taqueria’s sous chef.
The menu is simple by design and true to taqueria fashion. About 30 percent of the ingredients are imported straight from Mexico, such as the dry chillies to make mole. Other ingredients are sourced locally, such as the Portuguese rolls from Colonial Bakery in Cumberland for the Torta ($12) — a signature sandwich. They make tortillas by hand daily.
Over the last month, his Gordita ($7) has quickly become one of the taqueria’s best sellers. It features refried beans, cabbage, sour cream, cotija cheese, guacamole, and your choice of meat on an open, fried empanada.
The menu might be simple with fresh and classic ingredients, but Alcantar has big plans: He told me he plans on re-opening the building’s drive-through by summertime, and then wants to expand their late-night hours with a smaller menu on weekends.
Within the next few years, he wants to have more locations throughout the state, particularly on the East Side of Providence. One location he’s eyeing? Thayer Street. That part of town, which is near Brown University, was once a haven for small businesses owned by locals, but it has transformed into a commercial haven with chains like Shake Shack and retail stores like Urban Outfitters. Alcantar said it’s time to bring the street back to its roots — where a taqueria can “transport you to Mexico without really going.”
Alcantar points to his mom as the backbone of the business, and the driver of his ambitious plans.
”She’s the reason for all of this,” he said, during an interview in the corner of the taqueria one recent afternoon. “My dreams, this taqueria... It all started in the kitchen on Saturday and Sunday mornings with my mom.”
Tuxpan Taqueria is located at 355 Broad St. in Central Falls, Rhode Island. 401-722-1620. Check their Instagram for updates.
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Alexa Gagosz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.