Mazunte Centro serves Tacos, Tortas and Tlayudas to the Workday Lunch Rush and Lingering Dinner Crowds

This new addition to the Mazunte portfolio brings a bit of Mexico City to Main Street

click to enlarge The exterior of Mazunte Centro - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The exterior of Mazunte Centro

The newest Mazunte location opened in downtown Cincinnati at the end of July, just days before the six-year anniversary of the flagship Mazunte Taqueria, located in a Madisonville strip mall. The taqueria envelops Oaxacan culture, while Mazunte Centro, located at 611 Main St., is inspired by the vibrancy of Mexico City. (The Mazunte portfolio also includes the Mazunte Mercado and an ever-growing catering and events team.) 

Mazunte Centro has diversified the taqueria menu to include some Mexico City favorites and adapted its service to city life, focusing on fast lunch and slow dinner. 

“I realized I didn’t want to tell the same story over and over,” says Mazunte founder Josh Wamsley. “How can we grow?” 

Ten years ago, Wamsley returned home after spending a year Korea, where he traveled around eating a massive variety of food, and all he wanted was a really good taco. This turned out to be a harder quest than he expected. Inspired by his craving for excellent Mexican, he scribbled down a menu while sitting in his parents’ basement in Madeira, Ohio, which turned out to be the spark that fed Mazunte’s flame. 

Wamsley decided that his next adventure would be to go to Mexico to educate himself on the various regional subcultures, with plans to return to Cincinnati and make really good tacos. He spent a year in Oaxaca fully immersed in Mexican culture, learning by way of eating and befriending locals at the market. 

“I went down there and I treated it like a project,” he says. “I needed to learn the language if I was going to understand how Mexican cuisine varies from state to state, region to region; North, Central and South. I needed to learn every single aspect of Mexico to be able to pull this off.”

click to enlarge Some of the offerings at Mazunte Centro including (L to R): a torta, chicharrón de queso, tacos and tlayuda - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Some of the offerings at Mazunte Centro including (L to R): a torta, chicharrón de queso, tacos and tlayuda

On weekdays, he taught English at a university. On weekends not spent at Mazunte Beach or backpacking, he took cooking lessons from his landlord. She rented him a cinder block room for $100 a month, threw in a fridge for an extra $20 and built him a stove so he could cook. She taught him the basic techniques of Mexican cooking two to three Saturdays a month. 

He learned how to shape and cook tortillas from a friend’s mother, who emphasized that the tortilla is the hallmark of Mexican cooking. 

“Now I know what makes a taco,” he says. “It’s not the salsa. It’s not the meat. It’s the tortilla.” 

For the past six years, tortillas have been the cornerstone of Mazunte’s authenticity. The employees at the restaurant make them fresh, serve them with most everything and bag up the crispy ones and sell them for cheap at all locations. 

Mazunte Centro still serves the classics — tacos and tostadas, tequila and Topo Chico. But a handful of dishes exclusive to this location were added to the menu, namely tortas and tlayudas (imagine a love child between a Mexican pizza and a giant loaded nacho). The house recommends splitting a tlayuda — expect leftovers for two and a table littered with crumpled, grease-stained napkins, tortilla remnants and runaway salsa dribbles by the end of your meal. 

click to enlarge The team has adopted a DIY mindset since opening Mazunte Taqueria, inviting friends to be part of the process and asking some of the same artists to design the Centro location who initially helped design the Madisonville space. - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The team has adopted a DIY mindset since opening Mazunte Taqueria, inviting friends to be part of the process and asking some of the same artists to design the Centro location who initially helped design the Madisonville space.

The impressive chicharrón de queso is also new on the Mazunte Centro menu. Literally translated to “cheese cracklings,” it’s a disc of shredded cheese wrapped around a wine bottle and fried. Don’t be alarmed when a foot-tall cheese tube arrives at your table; be amazed. It’s an excellent two-for-one deal — snap some off and dip it in salsa roja or salsa verde (both if you’re bold) or crumble it over the tlayuda for an added crunch factor. 

Out-the-door-tacos for those on their lunch break and lingering evenings sipping tequila are both served with the same warm hospitality. “Nighttime is our chance to connect with people,” Wamsley says. Although folks in Mexico indulge in a leisurely meal and siesta midday and grab street tacos at night, Americans are more accustomed to working through lunch and partying after dark. Wamsley is serving Mexico City food on a Cincinnati schedule. 

“It’s flipped. We’re here, where dinner reigns a little bit more supreme. If it were Mexico, this would be a late-night place, but this isn’t a late-night area,” he says.

The shop’s design, much like its tortillas, was crafted by the hands of the Mazunte team. It’s specific to them. Makeshift and authentic, lively but simple. 

“We built it ourselves,” Wamsley says. “We built the furniture, we designed everything.” 

click to enlarge A tlayuda — imagine a love child between a Mexican pizza and a giant loaded nacho - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
A tlayuda — imagine a love child between a Mexican pizza and a giant loaded nacho

The team has adopted a DIY mindset since opening Mazunte Taqueria, inviting friends to be part of the process and asking some of the same artists to design the Centro location who initially helped design the Madisonville space. 

One of the most notable artistic differences at Centro is the map of Mexico and Central America. It’s thickly outlined and was purposefully kept bare so later it could be sparsely filled in with doodles. 

There’s a banana in the Yucatan region, cacti in the Chihuahua, agave plants near Guadalajara. Some areas are clustered with scribbles. Others have yet to be touched. Each of these doodles represent the things that make these regions of Mexico and Central America special to the people of Mazunte. Anyone who’s had their hands in Mazunte’s journey is welcome to draw something significant on the map. 

“It’s us. You can literally see us on a map,” Wamsley says. “This is where we’re all from. This is what we love.”

From the beginning, Mazunte has been a communal effort. Spearheaded by Wamsley, supported by his business partners, family and friends in both Cincinnati and Mexico, the core of his business has always been about connecting people by way of really good tacos. 

“I want to design a company that’s going to be around 10, 20, 30 years in the future that’s not dependent on my presence,” he says. “This restaurant is not for me; this is for all of us at Mazunte.” 


Mazunte Centro, 611 Main St., Downtown, centro.mazuntetacos.com



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