FARGO-Fernando Hernandez has cooked food for other people's restaurants for years. Now, he's cooking for himself.
He and his wife, Sara Hernandez, are building up buzz for the street food-style tacos, Mexican sandwiches and platters they're serving up at Tacos Trompo, 4265 45th St. S. When they opened on May 22, the staff consisted of two people-the owners.
They've since hired a couple of other employees, and they hope to have more soon. But the flavor sensibilities at the heart of the restaurant won't change as it gears up because the whole idea of the business is to let Fernando Hernandez bring the street food he grew up with in Mexico City to south Fargo.
He's been in the U.S. for about 20 years, cutting his teeth at restaurants including The Blarney Stone and Village Inn since the couple moved up to Fargo. They met in Minneapolis and began dating about a decade ago, getting married a couple years later.
Sara Hernandez said they moved here for her ultrasound job with Sanford Health, something she still does 40 hours a week when she's not helping make food and keep up with bills at the restaurant.
Fernando Hernandez, meanwhile, is at the eatery more than he's at their Fargo home, adding an authentic Mexican spin to the neighborhood's casual food offerings.
Fernando Hernandez said diners can expect to get the flavors of real Mexican street food, which isn't necessarily the same as the more Americanized cuisine locals know.
Even the tacos on the menu aren't quite the norm in local taco shops. Tacos Trompo offers four meat choices that include standards like al pastor, or marinated pork, as well as carne asada and chorizo. Sara Fernandez said customers usually wonder about the fourth option, suadero, a thin cut of marinated beef they special order from a butcher shop.
"It's really tender," she said.
The place also makes five Mexican sandwiches, or tortas, served on telera rolls. The Cubana is not a typical Cuban sandwich, at least not compared to the standard version around here, and includes ham, chicken, a hot dog, two kinds of cheese, refried beans, mayo and avocado.
"It's how Cubanas are in Mexico," he said. "Even there, they put even more meats on it."
Mexican influences extend to platters, chilaquiles, alambres and the sides, especially the elotes, or corn on the cob with mayo, cheese and seasoning.
But there are ways to Americanize the offerings here, with the restaurant offering to add lettuce and cheese on a taco for an additional upcharge-those toppings aren't standard in Mexico City, he explained.
The burritos are perhaps the most American thing on the menu, he said, being closer to the "huge" burritos that are commonplace in the U.S. that are much larger than the small version he said is served south of the border.
Despite operating with a slim staff and no advertising budget, Fernando Hernandez said the business is drawing new customers by the day on the strength of recommendations.
And no, the name doesn't have any kind of political meaning despite its similarity to the spelling of the current president. Trompo is the Spanish term for a vertical rotisserie used to cook pork for al pastor meat, and trompo also means a wooden spinning top.
The restaurant could represent a change of luck for the strip mall unit they rent. The former tenant, Extreme Pita, which closed in January after about a decade in business, dealt with extensive damage in late 2016 when two vehicles drove through the front of the store in the span of three months.
"It can't happen again," Sara Fernandez said with a chuckle. "Seriously, two times. I think we should be good to go."
What: Tacos Trompo
Where: 4265 45th St. S., Fargo
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
Phone: (701) 282-2473