It’s been about nine months since John Atwater signed the lease at 132 Charlotte St., the former home of Two Guys Hoagies. Atwater, owner of downtown Asheville’s Mamacita’s Taqueria, is excited about his new venture, Taco Temple, and he’s extremely happy with the location.
Six weeks before Two Guys Hoagies closed last summer, Atwater says he was eating there and thought to himself, “Man, if this place ever became available, I’d love to have it.” A few weeks later, he noticed a business for sale in that neighborhood. “There’s not very many restaurants on Charlotte Street, so I deduced it had to be Two Guys,” he recalls. “So I brought a check with me and am lucky that the deal went through.”
During the months since that fortunate transaction, Atwater has been busy renovating and decorating the space, while fine-tuning the menu that debuted with the restaurant’s scheduled March 15 opening. He says space limitations made installing a charbroiler nearly impossible. So he got creative with cooking arrangements and decided on dual rotisserie machines, one vertical and one traditional.
Atwater says he decided against just opening a second Mamacita’s location because he wanted to challenge himself to go in a different direction. That direction led him to Mexico, where he purchased a corn grinder, an integral part of the handmade tortillas that are the cornerstone of Taco Temple’s menu.
The corn he uses in the tortillas is sourced from small farms in Oaxaca, Mexico, ground fresh at the store then made into a dough that is pressed and grilled to order. Atwater says customers will take note of the flavor. “It’s the best corn for tortillas,” he says. “The end result … I love it man; it’s life-changing.”
Those handmade tortillas will be the platform for a variety of tacos, some similar to Mamacita’s favorites, such as the fish tacos. But other types, like the traditional al pastor made with spit-grilled pork, will take advantage of Taco Temple’s vertical rotisserie, while whole chickens, sourced from Springer Mountain Farms in north Georgia, will be cooked in the traditional rotisserie oven.
And although Atwater says he doesn’t want to be a drive-through restaurant, he does plan on taking advantage of the building’s existing drive-through window by offering a speedy pickup meal option. “We’re going to have online ordering, so you can get a whole rotisserie chicken dinner for the family,” he says. “You can order online, pull up and grab it from the window.”
Head chef Michael Vess, who helped Atwater open Mamacita’s in 2004, says the menu reflects what you would find south of the border, “What excites me the most is we’re doing traditional Mexican food,” he says. “We’re keeping as much fusion and American influence out of [the food] as possible.” Offerings including lamb barbacoa and chorizo are representative of flavors Taco Temple will have.
There is a strong emphasis at Taco Temple on using traditional ingredients and keeping everything as fresh as possible. “We have no microwave, we have no freezer, so we have to be very smart about everything we’re doing,” says Vess. The tacos will be paired with various pickled vegetables, such as onions, carrots and radishes, plus traditional Mexican cheeses, fresh guacamole and assorted salsas.
Vess says he’s excited about another menu mainstay, the Mexican sandwich. “For that big, filling lunch we’re going to have tortas,” he says. “Tacos are great, but sometimes you want something that will really just fill you up.” There will also be daily specials, giving burritos, which are not featured on the regular menu, the occasional chance to make an appearance.
The beverage side of the menu features five taps: two for sangrias, one for Dos Equis and two for rotating beers, likely from Catawba Brewing Co. There’s also a full roster of liquor and wine, and a variety of craft cocktails will be available. And then there’s the old-fashioned, bright yellow Corona vending machine housing bottled soft drinks, including Mexican soda brand Jarritos. Atwater says he loves the sound of bottles being vended and caps being popped. “It’s just cool,” he says, opening a grapefruit soda.
Price points are similar to those at Mamacita’s, with tacos running about $3. But Atwater notes that Taco Temple tacos are slightly smaller than the ones at the sister eatery. Seating will accommodate just under 50 customers, and Taco Temple will employ about 20 people.
Taco Temple is at 132 Charlotte St. Hours are 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.