A new interactive taco map highlights minority and women-owned businesses in the area. Multimedia designer and creator Luis Martinez launched Taco Map AVL in July. He said he hopes the map brings together communities and dispel stereotypes about Latinx people in the region.
"People in Asheville are thinking that there is not a high population of Latino immigrants, which is not true," said Martinez. "They're just always working and the only place you can see them is if you come to one of these trucks. It's the perfect time when they have a chance to relax and have some food."
Martinez is originally from Oaxaca in Mexico. He moved to Asheville with his wife about seven years ago. He started exploring taquerías in the area and soon found a network of trucks and restaurants from Hendersonville to Woodfin. His favorite is Taquería del Sol on Hendersonville Road.
"I like the places that no one seems to care about," said Martinez. "[Taquería del Sol] is in a location that not many people will stop, but once you're here and you order one or two tacos, your whole idea of what a taco can be will change."
He said no two taquerías in the area are alike. Each location showcases a different food tradition.
"Mexico is so big that the tacos that they serve in the North are not the same ones they do in the South," said Martinez. "The owners are from everywhere in Mexico, so their idea of pastor or their idea of carnitas might not be the same."
He had three criteria when adding businesses to the map. He says he wanted to highlight immigrant and woman-owned businesses. He also added places that do outreach in the Latinx community but are owned by white people. The map lists the names and addresses of the businesses, along with their best taco.
This means some local favorites, like White Duck Taco Shop, do not appear on the map. While Martinez said people have been supportive since the launch, he has also heard from people who are angry their top spots aren't included. He said the angry comments do not phase him. His top priority is bringing new business and awareness to these locations.
"Creating this map is a chance for people to help in some different ways, because sometimes, especially in these times, people want to help and they don't know how," said Martinez.
For Martinez, the map goes beyond visibility for businesses. It is also about community visibility.
"Taquerías are an essential part of Mexican culture," said Martinez. "Some people would say, 'Oh, but it's just a taco place.' For the Latino community, especially the Mexican community, that's a big thing. Wherever you see a taco place, there are going to be people around. What I want to bring is a little bit of life to tell people that we're here, we're not going anywhere. We want to be seen as people that work hard."
He wants people who visit the taco places on the map to discover "the real story behind the food."
"They probably learned the way to cook tacos from their family," said Martinez. "So what you're eating is history, what you're eating is tradition. You're eating something that's been perfected by years and generations."
Martinez's next steps are creating and selling Taco Map AVL merchandise to raise money for nonprofits like the Colorful Pages Coalition. It is a local organization that advocates for diverse books in Western North Carolina schools.