If it weren’t for the English-written menu, customers of Desnudo Tacos may feel as if they’ve been transported deep into the heart of Mexico.
Aromas of carne asada, onions and chilies fill the restaurant. The black-and-red color scheme, complete with decorative Catrina (skeleton figure) dolls and artwork, gives the taco shop a “Day of the Dead” atmosphere.
“We’re here to open the eyes of the diners to something new and exciting,” said co-owner Christian Dolias. “We’re not here to compete with anybody else.”
The 35-year-old Paradise resident partnered with Chris Palmeri of Naked City Pizza and opened Desnudo Tacos at 3240 Arville St. in December.
“We established everything together, and (Palmeri) basically handed me the keys to the car,” Dolias said. “It’s been extremely humbling. The progress we’ve seen in the short time we’ve been open has blown me away.”
Dolias, who dropped out of culinary school in 1997, has worked as a “nomad chef” for the last 11 years. Jumping from one opportunity to the next, he hosted pop-up diners at local restaurants, lent a hand in the Life is Beautiful Festival and appeared on the Food Network television show “Chopped.”
“I’ve been out in Vegas for a year and a half, and I worked at the Hard Rock (Hotel) for about six months,” Dolias said. “I’ve mainly been doing one-night stands, and the community of chefs out here just really embraced what I was doing.”
Dolias met Palmeri while working at a pop-up dinner several months ago. One night at a bar, a mutual friend suggested they open a Mexican restaurant.
“From there, we did Taco Tuesdays (at Naked City Pizza) every week for three months during the summer,” Dolias said. “It gave us the opportunity to develop the recipes and menu.”
Growing up in San Diego, Dolias said he understood the Mexican culture well. Using the foundations of Mexican cuisine, he and Palmeri formed traditional dishes, including tinga poblana (pulled pork) tacos, ceviche and carnitas tortas (sandwiches).
“It’s a true representation of what the food is or once was hundreds of years ago in deep Mexico,” Dolias said. “There’s one or two things on the menu that we developed from some of these fundamentals, and kind of turned them up to an 11, so you can hear the flavors just a little bit more.”
The staff at Desnudo Tacos prepares fresh ingredients daily. Salsas and sauces are made by the gallon, and once they’re gone, Dolias creates a new flavor.
“There’s only three things we don’t make in the restaurant: the tortillas, the bread for the tortas and the salt,” Dolias said. “Everything else we make from scratch. Even the chili powder is made from dried chilies crushed (with a mortar and pestle).”
Desnudo Tacos, or “naked tacos,” has received some of its recognition from Naked City Pizza, according to Dolias. Because the pizza joint is inside the Moon Doogies Bar next door, the taco shop found a niche catering to families with children.
“I can’t tell you how many times we get guests in who have small kids and didn’t realize they couldn’t take them inside (the bar),” Dolias said. “It gives us the opportunity to sit them down in our restaurant and show them our hospitality. More times than not, they’ll order from us in addition to Naked City Pizza.”
Lauren Malker, a Paradise resident, brought her 2-year-old daughter to try Naked City Pizza for the first time and was surprised that only guests 21 or older could enter.
“I didn’t realize it was actually in the bar,” Malker said. “I walked next door to ask them if there was a way I could at least take my daughter in (the bar) to get our food to go, and they offered me a table inside the taco shop instead.
“They were just really nice and accommodating. I think we ended up ordering more Mexican food than pizza.”
Naked City Pizza is set to open a second location in February near Paradise Road and Harmon Avenue, according to Dolias.
“It’s going to be a full dining experience and not something buried inside a bar,” Dolias said. “It’s a beautiful space, and it certainly will be a game-changer.”
Desnudo Tacos is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 702-982-6435.
Contact Southwest/Spring Valley View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0403.