Back in September, chef Anastacia Quinones broke the news to her Facebook friends: She was out as executive chef at the Cedars Socíal, the Cedars bar and restaurant she had helped rebrand as a modern Mexican restaurant with new owner Monica Greene and bar manager Leann Berry. Quinones had only been at Cedars Socíal for seven months, but Greene opted to take the restaurant in a new direction.
Quinones was crestfallen about the split, citing a "heavy heart" when she left.
"Since leaving my post at the Cedars Socíal, the outpouring of support has been humbling," she says.
Now, Quinones is back on the scene but doing things a bit differently. She hasn't taken another executive chef gig; instead, she's cooking what she wants, when she wants. She recently launched a series of pop-ups, which she announces via Instagram, and her first event is this weekend, when she'll cook up pork carnitas on peanut tortillas and green chicken curry tacos at Sandwich Hag's Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, taking over the Cedars sandwich shop from 6 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6.
"Chef Reye [Sandwich Hag chef-owner Reyna Duong] is such an advocate for females in the industry and is always looking to do more," Quinones says. "You can't say no to her. She's just someone whose energy motivates you."
Aside from Sandwich Hag's night market, Quinones already has a few other pop-ups in the works. On Oct. 13, she's squeezing into the tiny Oak Cliff Social Club to cook up a late-night menu of Flaming Hot Elotes, smoked brisket tacos on ancho tortillas and shrimp cocktails, with each dish ranging from $3-$6. On Oct. 19, she'll be popping up at Expo Park mezcaleria Las Almas Rotas, and she's also cooking in Bishop Arts as part of a screening of "Tacos of Texas." All of her pop-ups so far feature the flavored masas she was playing with while running a taco stand out of a shipping container behind Cedars Socíal. Hosting late-night meals at tiny dive bars may not be lucrative, but it gives her the flexibility she needs right now, she says.
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"Money really isn't the motivation because I am working on other projects," she says. "For me, it's more about staying active and relevant in the industry. Its about practicing my Mexican flavors and hitting audiences that might not have been to my other restaurants."
While tacos are on the menu for her first few pop-ups, she's not limiting herself to any one dish or set schedule. Aside from planning her upcoming wedding, she's also currently on the hunt for a space for her own brick-and-mortar restaurant.
"I'm positive Dallas is open to this type of cuisine, contrary to what others may think," she says. "I'm going to continue to be an advocate for it, even if it means cooking outside a bar at midnight or in a parking lot."