Someone raved about this place to Andrew at a random house party. We hadn't eaten much Mexican food in Toronto and knew we had to check it out. We were in for a real treat as we had some incredible food, and Fabiola graciously indulged our request for an interview.
Sadi: I just want to start by asking you how the business is going here?
Fabiola: Business is good. Since 2008, we’ve opened this business. But before that, it was a combination grocery store and restaurant. It was small. We started with a few tables in 2008. It was small you know? We started preparing it ourselves, we started cooking, and we tried to keep the same tastes of back home, from Mexico. I learned from my Mom. She taught me, from when I was eleven years old. So when I came here, I said ‘Okay, it’s not difficult for me to cook, you know it’s normal’ right? I like it.
Sadi: Did you have any experience working in a restaurant back home, or anywhere else?
Fabiola: No. I just worked at home. We were altogether six. Two brothers and three sisters. I was already cooking for my family. So for me it was difficult here when I was living by myself. When you’re having to cook for ten people, and now you’re cooking for one, it was like I was making too much food. But when it comes to cooking for the business, I like it. I guess I have that nature. I like to cook.
Sadi: So why a restaurant? Why not another kind of business?
Fabiola: I’ve eaten at a number of different restaurants. Mexican restaurants. They say that they cook Mexican food…but they don’t.
Sadi: Can you give me an example? What were they making?
Fabiola: Okay…tacos they give you the tortilla, very hard, dry. This doesn’t feel like you’re eating a taco. The tortilla is cracking you know? This is one of the things. And for Pozoles or Salsas, sometimes people just open cans and bottles and they serve it to you. It’s another thing that explains why the food has a different taste. So you feel it you know? When you go to a restaurant you want to eat homemade food right? Sometimes, even the people who serve you don’t know about the food. At least, even if you’re not from Mexico, you still have to know what you are serving. Everyone has their own style, I get that, I respect that. But in your country, you know the taste of your own country right? Same for us. I’ve tried a few restaurants. I didn’t really like them.
Sadi: Okay you mentioned Pozoles, what are those?
Fabiola: Okay you take the grain of corn, dried, seed form. We boil it for a few hours, three or four hours. If they’re not peeled, we peel it, but they usually come peeled now. After that you can cook the dish. You can add chicken, or you can add pork. In Mexico they have three different styles. They have red, white, and green flavors. This is how you’re really supposed to make Pozole. But if you go to the restaurants they don’t do that. They just open a can. It’s totally different. Maybe people who eat it, they’ve never had it before, they can’t tell. They think that this is the Pozole. Same with Quesadillas. Too much cheese, and this isn’t the main thing with quesadilla, just because it has cheese. And everything is inside, not on top. Here we make all of this stuff by hand.
Andrew: What would you say is the most popular dish in the restaurant?
F: The tacos are the most popular. Tacos are for everybody. Here, the people also like Gorditas, the Sopes.
A: What’s the dish you’re the most proud of serving? And what’s the dish that’s your favorite to make and eat?
F: The Chilaquiles and Gorditas are the ones I’m proud of and people love. Personally, my favorite is Mole. I like Mole. We make our own Mole. We prepare it here because it takes some time.
S: How long does it take?
F: If you really focus on it, maybe, an hour or two. But you really have to focus. Because it has many different kinds of dried chilies, condiments, and after that you have to season it, prepare it until it gets its taste. I mean it’s easy to open a can and prepare it that way, it’s very easy. But we don’t do that.
A: Now not only do you have a restaurant but you also have a grocery store. Can you tell us a little bit about the grocery store?
F: Actually, because we were too busy here, and it was a small place to eat, people sometimes come in and see it’s full, so we realized it was a good idea to split it up. Because people now, maybe they feel more comfortable when they see all the space. Especially people with families. I have two babies, I can imagine now people want some space for strollers, more tables, and now we have the space for all our customers.
S: Is there anything here that you haven’t served yet but maybe you’re thinking about serving in the future?
F: Yes, we’re working on a new menu now. Now that it’s a new restaurant now, with all the space. It’s a lot better now, so my husband and I are planning to do a lot with the menu.
A: So the name of the restaurant is Tierra Azteca, what’s the story behind the name of the restaurant?
F: Land of the Aztecs. Based on the ancient civilization.
S: Ah interesting. So if you’re not at your restaurant here, where’s your favorite place to eat?
F: I don’t have exactly one favorite place, but my husband and I we go out. We enjoy Italian restaurants, sometimes, if I’m on the subway or something and I see Mexican food, I go there to try it, be a part of the community, and to support them. I want to try different styles, different foods.
S: Are there other Mexican restaurants in Toronto that you enjoy, because I’ve had a tough time finding many.
F: I can say that I’ve tried it. Lots of people they have it here, they love our food so I feel very happy. Because they really say ‘I love it, it’s the best I’ve had and it tastes very much like Mexico’ I like that. Even Canadians that have been to Mexico, they feel like it’s similar.
A: So why did you decide on settling in Toronto when you came here?
F: My friend and I, we were always planning on coming and living in Toronto, for work and living. Everybody comes for work or to visit family. And we were younger, this was back in 2005, I decided to live here.
A: And do you like it here?
F: I like it. It’s a bit cold. It’s a nice city. But a lot of people here, they’re very focused, always at work, always stressed. But nobody wants to leave, everyone wants to be here. Now after ten years, I have a life here, I have two babies, I met my husband here. We have a family now. Now it’s our home. I like to travel though back to Acapulco to see family, but now if I think about leaving, it’s a tough decision. I have a business now too.
S: When is usually the busy time of year for you?
F: Now the place is more known right? That’s why we opened up the place more, made more space, so it’s more comfortable. In the summer it’s very busy, summer and in December.
A: Has business always been great? I can imagine that at the very beginning it was tough and challenging.
F: Oh yes, the first few years we opened the business, we didn’t have any money right? For ourselves I mean. We worked very hard for that first year, after that we saw some payments, but it was work, it was a lot of work.
A: And do you get enough sleep?
F: We worked from morning until night. The schedule was always like this. From 9AM-10/11PM, we saw there wasn’t that much business during the later hours actually so we changed it later on.
S: But are you getting enough sleep these days?
F: I have two babies. So if they get good sleep I get good sleep.
S: What’s your favorite part about the job?
F: Me? I like to cook. I like to serve too, I like to find out how the customers are doing. Sometimes I go to the kitchen, if I don’t like something, I just take control of the kitchen and say what we’re going to do. People know me now, it’s been eight years. They like to see people they’ve known for a few years, and I love receiving them.
S: What do you want everybody to know about your restaurant?
F: It’s important to me that they like the food. This is important. And also that they feel comfortable that they’re here. They feel like we care about them. Sometimes at other restaurants, it takes a long time to get the food, and I want to make sure they get their food quickly. My thing is when I go to a restaurant it’s because I’m hungry. Some people are coming from work, or they’re on their way somewhere. And sometimes you don’t want to go to a restaurant because you know they’re going to take at least half an hour. And what are you going to choose? The fast food.
S: What would you say is your least favorite part about the job?
F: You really want me to tell you? It’s standing at the cash register. Because sometimes, I know it’s cost me everything, but still when families come up to pay 50 or 60 dollars, and I know it’s costly, I have two babies I know how costly it is, I don’t like to be in that position to take that money.
S: What’s the best piece of advice you ever got from someone when it came to this restaurant?
F: I got it from my father a long time ago when we were working side by side, when I was twelve. He owns a bakery back home, so I was working with him all the time growing up. So I got a lot of good advice from him, maturing and dealing with people since I was twelve, learning how to deal with people.
S: Did your father ever say something to you that really stuck with you? Or something you remember to this day?
F: Try for the people. I don’t know how to say it well in English to be honest. But it’s about respect. We would deliver bread to the different stores and solve all problems with clients through talking, my father was always treating people with respect. Working with him my entire life, it prepared me you know? He once said ‘You have to be your own competition’. So what that means is, if I have another store next door, I’m my own competition right?
S: Wow so you really took that very literally.
F: Yes I took that very seriously. It’s true though, why do you need somebody else? You need to be your own competition.
S: And is your father still around?
F: Yes, he was here for a few months. I feel proud because he saw what I’m doing here. He felt proud of me so it feels special. I feel good because they see what I’m doing here. It’s nice to see your mother and father be proud of you.
S: Final question. If someone was going to open a restaurant, and you were going to give them one piece of advice, what would you tell them?
F: First, I would say, I wish you the best, and I would say try to treat your customers well. This is going to help you, because you will feel good if the customer feels important to you.
2-1115 Bloor St. West