Flavorful discovery

Three goddesses grace the mural inside Tamale Boy’s first restaurant in Northeast Portland. In the center is Mayahuel, the Aztec goddess associated with nutrition who sustains the masses through the agave plant. For entrepreneur, restauranteur, and Tamale Boys’ owner Jaime Soltero, Jr. (‘99), Mayahuel has been at the center of his life for a long time. “The goddesses represent the things I pay homage to as well as our approach to the food we serve.”

Soltero is passionate about creating cuisine that remains tastefully grounded in its heritage. He was born in California, and his family’s roots are in Mazatlán-Sinaloa and Cuautla-Jalisco, Mexico. His parents owned a Mexican restaurant in Portland, and Soltero was struck by the differences between the meals they served and the cuisine he experienced when visiting family in Mexico. But he had no career plans to enter the restaurant business and obtained a bachelor’s degree in International Studies with focus on Latin America.

“PSU was a perfect place for me to get my studies done,” Soltero says. “It’s in town, a commuter school, and all about business.” After college, he ended up managing his parents’ restaurants and, surprisingly, found a new niche for his degree. “International Studies basically teaches you how the world works, and I applied what I learned at PSU to the restaurant field.”

Authenticity and adaptation

Soltero’s travels to Mexico took on new meaning. He learned about the history and culture of food, the ingredients, markets, and import/export business. In the process, he went through a major self-discovery. Soltero brought his new ideas about Mexican cuisine home and started Mayahuel Catering in 2008. “Even though I ended up using the name Tamale Boy for my food truck, I always wanted to keep the name Mayahuel as the parent company because she embodies the spirit of what I do,” he asserts. 

Tamale Boy’s first restaurant opened in March 2014. It wasn’t long before Soltero needed a bigger kitchen to serve patrons and catering demand, and he opened a second restaurant in 2016. His head chef hails from Mexico City and his other chef is from Oaxaca, where Soltero has ties to a culinary school.

Menu offerings are as authentic to the Pacific Northwest as they are to Mexico. “The diversity in cuisine is what makes it special,” Soltero asserts. “For example, Brussels sprouts aren’t native to Mexico, but we use our local farmers market ingredients and adapt them to the cooking techniques from our roots.”

Constantly exploring, Soltero recently took his chefs and marketing team to Baja to see “the why” behind the region’s cuisine. “We aren’t just making a taco,” Soltero explains. “We take in the history, anthropology, sociology and philosophy of the place. Everything we make has to consider those elements in order for it to be true and really succeed.”