Mayan Palace Staff: Yolanda Casillas, Ana Wheeler, Maria Ariadna y Ana Oprea.
Yolanda Casillas and Alfredo Gallo left their ranch in their native Jalisco (Mexico) to embark on a great gastronomic adventure in Alaska.
“My husband’s parents lived in California and seeing a better future, they moved to Anchorage to open businesses. We followed their footprint and migrated in 2005 from the town of Jalostotitlán, a town in the state of Jalisco. My husband started working for his uncle in the culinary area and I was cleaning rooms in a hotel. We opened Taco King in Anchorage,” Yolanda said.
Two years later, they made their American dream come true by opening their own restaurant: Mayan Palace in Fairbanks. Wilfredo is the chef and Yolanda handles the cash register and part of the bookkeeping.Casillas says that she never imagined what destiny would bring her. “I worked on the ranch planting corn and tending to dairy cows with my husband. Mexico is nothing like Alaska. At first, it was a little difficult for me: I didn’t speak English, I didn’t know how to drive either. It was wonderful to see the snow.”
The restaurant has been in operation for 16 years and the Jalisco style of its dishes explains the success of their business. “We saved for two years. We worked long days. It was very difficult at first because people didn’t know us. During the first months we only paid the employees, but little by little the business picked up. Wilfredo is always in the kitchen. The consistency of the recipes must be maintained and thus we guarantee quality in the service. We have two children, and they were a great help in the restaurant until they left for college to study at the University of Texas.”
The couple decided to call the business Mayan Palace, as it is the name of a famous hotel in the Riviera Maya (Mexico). “It is a very Mexican name with a lot of history.” Yolanda explains that to maintain the authentic flavor of their dishes, they bring Mexican products such as tomatoes, avocados, and jalapenos from Anchorage. “The American public likes our style and says, surprised, that they did not expect to find very good Mexican food in Alaska. The military visits us frequently.”
The “star” offering is barbacoa as well as the Mexican tacos. “Barbacoa is shredded meat made with lamb, but we make it with beef because you can’t get a good product in Fairbanks. We cook the meat with Mexican spices (bay leaf, cloves, pepper, garlic, and salt) for two to three hours so that it is tender. A sauce is made with the same spices and served with onion, cilantro, beans, rice, and tortillas. The tacos are made with corn tortillas and filled with beef, chicken, or chorizo (which is made by us,) as well as onion, cilantro and hot sauce.”
The creative touch is the presentation of Alaska’s largest burrito. “It’s called El Azteca Grande. It weighs five pounds. It contains rice, beans, chicken, beef, pork, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, and enchilada sauce; these are all the ingredients we have in the house. It is a challenge for diners. “If they finish it, we will give them ice cream as a prize.”
Currently, they have 15 employees. “We like to help people a lot. We believe in them and share our knowledge with them. If they want to open their own restaurant, they learn how to do it here. We have had employees for many years.” The events that the public really like are the Cinco de Mayo party and the Christmas lunch.
The rewards of hard and disciplined work have paid off for the Gallo family. “Thanks to the restaurant’s profits, my husband bought his ranch in Mexico, we have dairy cows, lemon trees and agave plants.” Their plans are to spend their time in Mexico and in Alaska. Mayan Palace is open seven days a week, from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm, Monday to Saturday, and from 11:00 am to 8:00 pm, on Sundays. It is located at 3401 Airport Way.
HOMEMADE CARNE ASADA TACOS
Ingredients - Corn tortillas - Beef - Garlic, onion, and chili powder. - Onion - Cilantro - Spicy tomato sauce - A slice of lemon
Preparation - Cut the meat into small strips. Season with garlic, onion, chili powder, salt, and pepper. - Fry in a pan with a bit of oil. - Fry a tortilla in a little oil or heat up on a grill. - Serve with onion, cilantro, spicy tomato sauce and a slice of lemon.
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