By Jeff Hutton, Hola Iowa correspondent
JOHNSTON – For the past four years, foodies have discovered the incredible burgers, Asian wraps and other delights that are featured within Flame the Food Truck.
The popular mobile eatery that continues to traverse Des Moines and Central Iowa has converted many first-time food truck diners into converts of the New American cuisine that Flame has become known for.
Now owner/operator and chef Arturo Mora is expanding his Flame franchise into a brick and mortar restaurant – a small but inviting building at 5775 Merle Hay Road in Johnston.
The restaurant – appropriately called Flame the Taqueria – features authentic Mexican dishes, cultivated from Mora’s family and Michoacan Mexican roots.
Open since late January, Flame the Taqueria is the latest venture from Mora. He has been involved in the food industry since he was a teenage immigrant from Mexico relocating to Chicago, and then later Des Moines, where he has worked in a number of restaurants, honing his skills and creating a following of food lovers who appreciate his skills.
“We wanted to do something more with authentic, fresh Mexican food. It’s different than the [food truck], but it’s really just expanding our brand,” Mora said.
Opening a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic did not deter Mora, who said he’s been diligently working hard and securing the financial resources after finding success with the food truck.
“Back in 2019, we realized that we really had something going, and we were growing,” he said, adding that the pandemic allowed him to adjust the focus that restaurants had to make in utilizing online, delivery and carry-out capabilities.
And because of the reputation Mora had established with his food truck, loyal customers had been asking about a restaurant for some time.
Besides, he said, customers with discerning palates are looking for good food, regardless of a pandemic. And more importantly, they want something different.
“If you go to [other] Mexican restaurants in Des Moines, and I say this in a respectful way, it’s a ‘cookie cutter,’ big place, too Americanized,” Mora said.
Like his food truck, the restaurant emphasizes flavor, real seasonings and healthier choices.
“People are craving authentic. Customers are becoming more educated and they know what they want,” Mora said.
While many restrictions have been lifted for restaurants and eateries in the state, Mora insists safety is still emphasized, and will always be important to him as he serves and feeds his customers.
“We learned early last summer with the food truck that we could do this safely and we are doing that too with the restaurant,” he said.
While the restaurant is different from the food truck, some food truck menu items will continue to be featured including the ever-popular Flame burger and an Asian wrap.
“When I first opened here, I didn’t really want to do the burgers, but we had to give the customers what they wanted,” he admitted.
But Mora is convinced customers will also want to try new restaurant offerings, including authentic burritos, a salmon bowl and other dishes.
And lest you think the food truck and now this new restaurant is the only choice, Mora said there’s no doubt that he wants to do more.
“We’re looking at the potential for another truck, and maybe another restaurant,” he said, suggesting that eatery might be called Flame the Modern Grill and Bar.
There’s also a future catering company in the works, featuring variety, true tastes of Mexican and Latin cultures, and much more.
Whether it’s the established food truck, the new restaurant in Johnston or future offerings, Mora is not shy about what sets him apart from others.
“My food is in your face, fresh, full of seasoning. It’s never going to be bland!”
Flame the Taqueria is open from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays and Mondays; 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30-10 p.m. Fridays; and from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays.
For more information, call (515) 410-1069 or visit Flame The Taqueria Facebook page.