After years working in other people’s restaurants, Nadia Holguin wanted to open one of her own, where guests could learn about the flavors of her home, Chihuahua. In 2016, she and her husband, Armando Hernandez, opened Tacos Chiwas, with a menu reflecting the cuisine of the state in northern Mexico.

Restaurants such as Tacos Chiwas are boosting awareness in the United States that Mexico is a big, diverse country with a range of cultures and cuisines that extend far beyond the coastal and border fare many here think of as “Mexican food.”

Traditional dishes from Chihuahua lead the menu at Tacos Chiwas, where co-owner and chef Nadia Holguin serves up gorditas, bottom left, filled with chile Colorado, rapas and picadillo; quesadillas (this filled with pork pastor) and of course, tacos, from right: pastor, tacos Chiwas and barbacoa (photo by Marjorie Rice).

Holguin is the chef and Hernandez manages the finances and the front of the house. The couple are so intent on getting the flavors right that they travel to Chihuahua twice a year to pick up locally made asadero cheese along with 500 pounds of dried red chiles for their chile colorado.

“It’s the little things,” Holguin said. “We have to bring these items because they really make the difference. You can taste it in the chiles. I think it’s because of the soil there.”

The menu features tacos, gorditas, burritos and quesadillas, deceptively simple dishes with exceptionally deep and nuanced flavors.

“Chihuahua is a very dry state,” Holguin said. “It’s landlocked, so we don’t use seafood at all. We use a lot of beef and corn and beans and potatoes — and we use everything from the cattle. Our menu is simple and made with love.

“We take time with everything, like the pastor, where we marinate the meat overnight. We also hand-press our tortillas. In some parts of Mexico, mostly they use corn tortillas, but in Chihuahua flour tortillas are very traditional.”

That has surprised some customers.

“We had a hard time at first with our flour tortilla gorditas,” Holguin said. “Customers would say, ‘I wanted corn,’ but I tell them this is us, this is our culture, our menu. It’s how we do it in Chihuahua.

“We had to be patient and stick to it.”

Persistence paid off for the couple, who now have three locations, opening one in Chandler in 2019, and one in Mesa the next year. Last May, they moved from their original leased site at McDowell Road and 19th Street to a building they purchased at 10th Street and Indian School Road. There’s a small, tree-shaded grassy area and a large walled patio, as well as the indoor restaurant/bar.

That passion for using authentic ingredients and preparation has brought national attention to Holguin. Tacos Chiwas has been featured twice on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” with celebrity chef Guy Fieri. They’re scheduled to be featured on Netflix’s “Taco Chronicles” in May, Holguin said.

One dish highlighted on Triple D was chile colorado gorditas, thick hand-made flour tortillas, split and filled with beef and potatoes simmered in red chile sauce.

“These are just outstanding,” Fieri said. “I really want 50 to go.”

Her work with another restaurant led Holguin to be named a semifinalist in the 2019 James Beard Awards best chef Southwest category. The competition could be considered the Oscars for chefs.

Holguin had come to the attention of Chris Bianco, himself a Beard winner. In 2018 he and Holguin collaborated on a new venture, Roland’s Market Café Bar. The restaurant received rave reviews locally and nationally for its innovative approach, but Valley diners weren’t as keen. After eight months, it closed, and a few days later Holguin got a call telling her of the nomination.

“It was bittersweet because I wasn’t there anymore,” Holguin said, “but it was amazing.”

Tacos, from right: pastor, tacos Chiwas and barbacoa (photo by Marjorie Rice).

Customers come to Tacos Chiwas especially for the tacos — pastor is a favorite (pork marinated with red chile and topped with cilantro and chopped white onion), along with namesake Tacos Chiwas (beef, ham, jalapenos, Anaheim chiles and asadero cheese).

The tacos, built on corn tortillas a bit larger than typical street tacos and stuffed to the brim with savory fillings, are a bargain at $2.75 each. The hand-pressed tortillas are thicker than the usual fare, so they hold up to the last spicy bite without falling apart.

Holguin’s “use every bit of the animal” upbringing has inspired tacos lengua (beef tongue), tripas (beef tripe) and barbacoa (shredded beef cheek), all topped with cilantro and onion.

For vegetarians, there are tacos calabacitas (Mexican squash, corn, onion and asadero cheese), and rajas gorditas (with roasted poblanos, Anaheim peppers, onion, asadero cheese and beans).

“We put a lot of love in our food,” Holguin said. “We want to showcase our culture because we have a lot of amazing food there that hasn’t been recognized. That’s the main reason why we opened Tacos Chiwas, because we couldn’t find our food, something that would bring us our childhood like waking up to the smell of our grandma’s fresh flour tortillas. It was the best!”

As if three restaurants weren’t enough, they’re also working with a chef friend from Sonora on Bacanora, at 13th and Grand avenues, serving grilled pollo asado and steaks, street-taco style on small fresh tortillas from Tacos Chiwas.

And they’re partnering with a friend at Spiritu, a bar serving Sonora-style seafood including aguachiles (lime, chiles and cilantro poured ceviche-style over raw shrimp) and shrimp tacos.

“We have another big project coming up in May,” Holguin said. “It’s Cocina Chiwas, in Tempe, in Culdesac, a no-car apartment community being built in Tempe. It’s going to be more upscale with big plates, a modern Mexican restaurant.”

Tacos Chiwas, at 1028 E. Indian School Rd., is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. For more information, call 602-358-8830 or visit


  • Marjorie Rice

    Marjorie Rice is an award-winning journalist, newspaper food editor, travel editor and cookbook editor with more than three decades' experience writing about the culinary industry.