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El Azteco opened its doors for the first time in the basement of a building on M.A.C. in East Lansing in 1976. Many of the customers reading this story are actually part of its history. The community of East Lansing had never had a restaurant like El Azteco, but once this authentic Mexican restaurant took hold, business boomed for owner Arturo Santa Cruz.

Arturo was born and raised in New Mexico, graduating from New Mexico State University with a degree in Mathematics. Arturo arrived in Lansing to further his education, and with only one term remaining to get his masters degree, he had a vision of opening a Mexican restaurant. Arturo quit school, borrowed $10,000 from a friend, and bought the Pizza Pit in a basement on M.A.C. Avenue. He quickly put his plan into motion, implementing a menu inspired from Sonora, Mexico.

In the Spring of 1976, Arturo introduced spicy and hot traditional Mexican dishes to an eager public! Within five years of opening El Azteco, enjoying the success of his business, Arturo decided to further control the quality of his food by opening a tortilla factory in Lansing. One year after the tortilla factory opened, Arturo opened his second location on West Saginaw in Lansing, known to all as El Azteco “West.” Arturo supplied his own chips and tortillas to his restaurants, and over 30 years later, the little tortilla factory still makes daily deliveries to El Az East and West. La India still remains the Lansing area’s only tortilla factory today.

In 1992 Arturo decided it was time to expand his east location and with the fruits of his labor, he purchased the current El Azteco location in East Lansing at 225 Ann Street, where it remains East Lansing’s only rooftop dining experience.

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