Sharing Love, Blending Cultures

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Gonza'a armadillo eggs appetizer. Photo courtesy of Witek Marketing.


For the team at Gonza Tacos y Tequila, the work centers on love. This is made evident by the family environment fostered in the kitchen, leading to long tenures for team members—chef Andy Maldonado and kitchen manager Tony Aldama have so far clocked eight and nine years, respectively, with the company. 

It’s also evident in the way the restaurant’s staff shows up for the community. When the eastern coast of North Carolina was impacted by heavy flooding, the team took the restaurant’s food truck—Gonza on Wheels—to a church to help feed people who had sought shelter. 

And the team has a Thanksgiving tradition of bringing Gonza on Wheels to A Place at the Table, Raleigh’s first pay-what-you-can cafe. All morning long, they dole out breakfast tacos and Colombian hot chocolate, giving the team at A Place at the Table a chance to take the holiday off and simultaneously feed the local community. “It feels good to spread the love around when we can,” Maldonado says.


Cultural Combinations

Gonza’s kitchen showcases its creativity through its rotating Taco del Chef selections. Each dish is influenced by multiple cultures, leading to interesting flavor profiles; Maldonado brings a background in Tex-Mex, Aldama’s expertise is in traditional Mexican flavors and Gonza Salamanca ensures his Colombian heritage is represented in the dishes.

The result is a combination that is perfectly balanced, with both the spicy flavors from the Mexican side and the sweeter notes from the Colombian side. “Everyone has a broad knowledge about food, and everyone can bring ideas to the table,” Aldama says. “We make up ideas, we do test trials of them, we make sure all the flavor profiles are hitting correctly,” adds Maldonado. This highly collaborative process has produced Peruvian tacos, cheesesteak tacos, Cuban tacos and more.

One favorite item from the appetizers menu is the ceviche de leche tigre, which translates to “ceviche with tiger’s milk.” Ceviche specials change frequently, but this one is popular and reappears often at the restaurant’s North Raleigh location. 

The shrimp that comprises the base of the ceviche is pre-poached and then added to the “leche tigre” sauce—coconut milk, coconut cream, cilantro, lime juice and serrano chiles. This combination is then topped with fresh vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers and more fresh serranos. The dish is bright and fresh, and the leche tigre adds a standout flavor among traditional ceviches that rely primarily on acid.

Owner Gonza Salamanca and Tony Aldama, Gonza's kitchen manager. Photo courtesy of Witek Marketing.

Owner and namesake Gonza Salamanca says that each menu item begins with a brainstorming session and ideas. “We think about what’s popular [in Mexico or] Colombia, and what were our favorite dishes our moms used to make for us,” he says. The dessert menu includes one of his favorites from childhood, which has now become a fan favorite for the restaurant’s clientele—the talega, a pastry with guava, banana and cheese.

Another Colombian favorite that Gonza has helped to popularize is the plantain, which Salamanca says Colombians eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When the doors to the first Gonza location opened in 2011, not many were familiar with this banana-adjacent delicacy. But now, they have become more common—not just on Gonza’s menu, but also with other restaurants in the area.

Much has changed since Salamanca opened the first location. Gonza Tacos y Tequila now boasts four locations, including two in Raleigh—the flagship location and a location on Hillsborough Street in the Aloft Hotel—plus one in Cary and one in Wake Forest. 

The restaurant has received numerous accolades over the years, including “Best Guacamole in the Triangle” and “Best Latin American Food in Wake County.” Although Salamanca could not have dreamed of this wide expansion 12 years ago, he says they have been fortunate. “When we opened the doors, we were busy right away and word of mouth kept people coming in,” he says. “And then new opportunities keep coming to us.”

Despite all of this change over the years, there is one thing that has and will continue to stay the same. “We were just looking to open a restaurant, do something different, and have a place to work and have fun,” Salamanca says.

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Gonza Tacos y Tequila's Pescado Tacos. Photo courtesy of Witek Marketing.


 For the salmon:


1 pound salmon, diced or sliced into small pieces

4 tablespoons fajita seasoning

2–3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

12 small tortillas

3 ounces shredded red cabbage (optional garnish)



Using a mixing bowl, coat salmon with fajita seasoning to create a blackened-salmon flavor. Add oil to a medium-sized skillet. Once heated, add the seasoned salmon. Let the salmon pan sear until it has a good, solid blackened-salmon appearance, then add passion fruit glaze (recipe follows). Quickly stir, and immediately remove from heat.

For the passion fruit glaze:


10 ounces passion fruit purée (available in any Latino grocery store)

2 ounces brown sugar

1.5 ounces habañero sauce


Add the passion fruit and brown sugar to a preheated pan and bring to boil, dissolving the sugar. Add habañero sauce, stir, remove from heat, and set aside to cool. This glaze will create a crisp, sweet-but-spicy flavor to the blackened salmon.

For the pineapple pico de gallo:


 green bell pepper, diced

 red bell pepper, diced

 bunch of cilantro, chopped

Half of a pineapple, diced

Juice of 1 lime

1 teaspoon table salt



Mix all ingredients and set aside for taco preparation.

Taco Assembly:

Place about 4 ounces of salmon on top of each tortilla.

Top with pineapple pico de gallo. Add red cabbage for garnish. And voila! Your tacos are ready to be enjoyed.  

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