Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Taco Mamacita Road Trip

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Taco Mamacita Road Trip
109 North Market Street

We would like to pretend that we are so dedicated to Nashville food concerns that we took a road trip to Chattanooga to get a preview of Taco Mamacita. We learned recently from the Nashville Scene Bites blog that the popular Chattanooga bar and restaurant is opening a Nashville location in December. The folks in the Scenic City have said good things. We planned a trip to the Tennessee Aquarium, so what the heck, we swung by Taco Mamacita for lunch. We have to say if they keep the great attitude and fun menu Nashville is in for a treat.

Southwestern Tex Mex has plenty of room for interpretation. Taco Mamacita takes a decidedly playful stance, which can be seen in the Mexican wrestler and 50’s poster girl style décor. Funky glass balls and colorful stars dangle from the ceiling. The bar and patio are standouts. This is clearly a place that takes drinking seriously. Happy hour and drink specials are posted proudly next to the full range of liquor and beer. Why do we stress this? Taco Mamacita should be one of those classic drinking/munching establishments when it hits Nashville. They plan a big expansion of the former Rosario’s location at 1200 Villa Place, including more patio and bar space. It’s easy to imagine folks in Edgehill and neighboring Music Row packing the place after work.

The food line-up is made for drinking and eating. It’s pretty much a la carte by design. They’re hoping you mix and match: pick up a taco for $3.99 and pair it with the salsa sampler or guacamole. Those starters and sauces get quite a bit of attention. The enthusiastic wait staff takes great pains to tell you all salsas (mango jalapeno, salsa verde and roasted tomato) are made every morning in house. The freshness of ingredients is a mantra in the joint, expressed often on our visit and well before they knew that we wrote for a food blog.

Queso Fundido gets a tangy twist with the addition of a tomatillo cream sauce. It comes in a hot, iron skillet so the Chihuahua cheese and peppers stay at a nice, melty consistency. We fly through two baskets of warm tortilla chips. A little Mama’s Smokey Chipotle sauce on the side brings out a new set of spicy and creamy flavors. A bottle sits tableside and we quickly found ourselves ordering a container to go.

Creative tacos are the centerpiece of the menu: Shrimp Po’ Boy BLT, General Homeboy (panko breaded shrimp in a sweet Thai chili sauce), Greek Chicken (topped with a Meyer lemon peppercini sauce) and Vegetarian Jerk (plantains, black beans and a jerk sauce). The Oy Vey is a fat taco filled with chipotle beef brisket, ranchero sauce, guacamole and habanera escabeche (peppers in vinegar). The six inch flour tortilla is homemade. The mushy mixture brings all sorts of flavors and the excellent brisket manages to stand out.

Chicken Tortilla Soup brings a dish filled with the main ingredients: cubes of queso fresco, tomato, chicken, avocado and lime fresh in the bowl. You pour the reddish broth in the bowl at the table. It leaves everything with a nice fresh texture. A few tortilla strips sprinkled on top gives it some crunch. It’s a light and tasty take on the classic soup.

Roasted Peruvian chicken is highlighted on the menu. You can choose from a ¼ chicken for $6.99 or a half-chicken dinner for $13.99. Enchiladas come in entrée form and there are a couple of creative salads on the menu,

They’re not afraid to shake things up in the kitchen: they profess no lime in the guacamole so the avocado can be the star. They’re also constantly coming up with new taco creations and new sauces. The server actually had to check to see what was new in the kitchen that day.

Veggie Eater: Loved this place; the vibe, the food, the staff. During the course of our meal, the waiter (darling), manager, and owner all came by to chat with us. The waiter was kind enough to let me know that tortilla soup can be made veggie friendly as it is made from meat free broth, and that they would essentially make anything veggie that my heart desired. Head Mama, Taylor Monen, absolutely oozed excitement over the Nashville venture. She and husband, Mike are old hands at the restaurant gig; he was the owner of the Sticky Fingers chain and sold it a few years ago. Taylor stated too much downtime for Mike led to the vision of Taco Mamacita, so that he could have a productive way to channel his energy. What good fortune for us. Their pride and vision shine through to the final product.

I opted for the black bean taco. Black bean cakes topped with crema, pico de gallo, cojita cheese, guac, and a habanera sauce. Pretty much every single favorite ingredient I could ask for and truly fabulous. The only negatives were the sides. The Jalapeno Corn Slaw was under salted (and I’m not much of a salter) and needed a generous sprinkling to bring out the flavors. The cilantro-spinach rice seemed a bit greasy and didn’t much taste of cilantro or spinach, but it was in fact green. I will happily return to eat nachos, fundido, try the Veggie Jerk taco, and drink a Negra Modelo.

Meat Eater: The demise of East Nashville favorite Alley Cat left a big Southwestern size hole in the Nashville dining scene. It will be nice to have another fun drinking/eating place for Tex Mex in Nashville. Now, of course that’s assuming they have the same close attention to detail and creative fun that they are having in Chattanooga. We paid $43 with tax and tip for two tacos, soup, queso, two sides, and a couple of drinks (and also the chipotle sauce to go).


ceeelcee said...

Now I know where we can finally meet in person. When our home remodeling job is finally over, we'll be in walking (staggering) distance of Mamacitas.

Sounds like fun!

I'm also glad to hear that they're eliminating that odd mezzanine from Rosario's space. That made it claustrophobic.

Eric and Katie said...

ceeelcee: very cool...nice to have a hip neighborhood bar. A meet up for drinks sounds fun. Now only if they'd open one in Joelton.