Daniel McCarthy has big plans, both as a competitor in a national cooking contest and as an entrepreneur.

Daniel McCarthy has big plans, both as a competitor in a national cooking contest and as an entrepreneur.

For starters, the owner of Tatoheads Food Truck, will vie for a $5,000 grand prize at the Spud Nation Throwdown, to be held Jan. 12-14 in Las Vegas.

The other effort involves a major construction project at his brick-and-mortar restaurant, Tatoheads Public House in Merion Village.

"I'm able to elevate people's awareness of me," he said, "and I've fought really hard in this city. I've been here since 2011, and I believe in what I'm doing."

The Spud Nation Throwdown is a national contest for food-truck chefs' best potato-based recipes.

McCarthy, who was encouraged to submit a recipe by the U.S. Potato Board, was about two hours away from missing the entry deadline. He left it up to his girlfriend, Alli Davis, to submit the potential prize winner: chorizo cheese fries.

"It's definitely one of my favorite things on the menu," Davis said, "and it's been one of our strongest items since we started the food truck (in 2011).".

Tatoheads is one of three national finalists competing in the contest, sponsored by the potato board, National Potato Council and Phil Lempert, founder of SuperMarket Guru and food-trends editor for the Today show on the NBC network.

McCarthy's competition is Heather Banter of Circle City Spuds in Indianapolis and Bridgette Blough of the Organic Gypsy in Kalamazoo, Mich.

He said he's not in it for the money.

"I love people," he said. "That's what I live for."

His recipe calls for crispy-fried tubers tossed in a special spice mixture from North Market Spices and topped with ground chorizo from Holiday Sausage in Cleveland, along with shredded mozzarella, a drizzle of aioli and flecks of chopped cilantro. Customers have their choice of tater tots or sweet-potato fries.

Normally available only on the food truck, the dish ($8) will be offered at the restaurant through the end of January, McCarthy said.

He's also not shy about wanting the publicity for the food truck and the restaurant, which he opened in July 2014 at 1297 Parsons Ave., just south of East Gates Street.

Plans call for a major urban oasis in what is now an empty lot on the north side of the Tatoheads building.

McCarthy is working with the Neighborhood Design Center, a nonprofit organization that offers affordable design services to small businesses, neighborhood institutions and government entities in the central Ohio region.

The design center has presented several options. The one McCarthy favors would offer an intricate design featuring amenities such as stone pavers, a fire pit, picnic tables, walking gardens, a gazebo and outdoor bar bounded by a brick-and-wrought-iron fence.

It also calls for a complete remodel and reconfiguration of Tatoheads' interior. McCarthy said a garage door on the north side of the building would offer access to the patio.

McCarthy said cost estimates have not been determined, but the Columbus Economic Development Office offers matching grants -- a total of $31,000 maximum for interior and exterior work.

Money still would be an issue, but McCarthy intends to launch a crowd-funding effort when he has something he can present to the public.

He calls it a "third place" -- a regular spot away from home and work that creates moments for social interaction.

Lisa Snyder, an architectural designer with the Neighborhood Design Center, said the scope of work could be beneficial to the South Side corridor, which has seen a few bright spots in recent years.

"I think there's a definite optimistic outlook," she said.