Sunday, January 31, 2010

Taco Mamacita

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Taco Mamacita
1200 Villa Place

Venturing out from the traditional is a-okay in our book. Just make sure it tastes good. Taco Mamacita mixes up the Mexican classics, with some new twists. Along the way you get a well designed and fun restaurant, with an outdoor deck that may prove to be one of the most popular in Nashville. Of course, all of this comes with a price. And in the end it’s a matter of what you get for your money.

Taco Mamacita opened in Chattanooga. It’s the brain child of long time restaurateurs Taylor and Mike Monen. Mike was the owner of the Sticky Fingers barbecue chain and sold it a few years ago. Taylor told us that too much downtime for Mike led to the vision for Taco Mamacita. Taylor is responsible for much of the menu design and the funky-chic décor.

They’ve trained the wait staff well. You can expect to be greeted at the door, and given a top to bottom explanation of the menu, if time allows. What they stress is that sauces and salsas are made fresh each day and are the original creations of the chefs. Now this is where things get a bit tricky. You have to pay for the salsa. This may seem like a rip-off for those who expect unlimited salsa and chips at most Mexican joints. For $2.50 you get a big bowl of handmade roasted tomato salsa. It’s a little sweet, a little hot and chock full of fresh tomato flavor. The chips are okay, and seem to be reasonably fresh on our visits. Is this worth $2.50? Yeah, I think I’d rather have good salsa and pay for it, than have lame salsa for free. Now this harkens back to the old argument: there are plenty of mom and pop Mexican joints in town that give you great, complex and handmade salsa for free. This is an argument you may have many times at Taco Mamacita. My answer is this: Taco Mamacita is a different animal altogether. Throw out the comparisons and judge the food and atmosphere versus the price.

Tacos are, needless to say, a big part of the menu. These are not your usual Mexican taco styles. The California Club is a jalapeno line mayonnaise based conglomeration of tasty apple wood smoked bacon, chicken and guacamole. Quite frankly the only thing that reminds you this is a taco is the flour tortilla and the guac. That said it is a flavorful treat. The 6 inch tortilla is over stuffed, but the price does bring pause. Is $3.99 worth it for a six inch taco? Maybe. The Shrimp Po’boy BLT is the next subject up for examination: the fried shrimp are small and lacking in real flavor. The remoulade and bacon bring things around a bit. It’s an average taco.

Don’t let this dishearten you. There is a bunch on the menu to love. The fresh guacamole is chunky and savory, with not much of the usual citrus bite. It’s really good, but also a bit expensive at $7.99 a shot. On the table you may notice the smoky Mama’s Chipotle Sauce. You must sample. It is so good that when we made a visit to the Chattanooga branch last fall we bought a pint of it to go. The elotes, Mexican street corn, is a highlight of the sides menu. It’s served on the cob, nicely roasted and topped with cheese and a light sauce. Thumbs up also for the chipotle turnip greens. They come with a smoky and spicy bite. The sweet potato fries are super thin, crispy and really salty. The flavor is good, at least when not competing with salt. A couple of other sides fall a bit flat in the flavor department: the jalapeno slaw and cilantro spinach rice just don’t hold up their end of the bargain.

The roasted Peruvian chicken has a prominent place on the menu, and for good reason. It’s roasted for a moist meat with fabulous crispy skin. A little chipotle and cilantro lime sauce on the side makes for a feast, and this my friends is a real bargain at $9.99. It’s too much chicken for one sitting and that price comes with two substantial sides.

Veggie Eater: The owners have managed to translate the same charm, funkiness, and vibe to the new Nashville location. I pined for margaritas on the patio, but, alas, it was a cold December evening on our first foray to this location. The margaritas are wonderful; no Rose’s lime juice or sweet and sour here. Initially, there is sweetness, without the processed juice acidity. That is quickly replaced by the assertiveness of the tequila; a perfectly balanced concoction. (The Elvez is traditional, and the El Camino adds orange juice – even better – Ed.)
On this trip, I opted for the Veggiladas. I’m morally opposed to cutesy titles, but am glad I got beyond the moniker. Fresh corn tortillas surround corn, feta and black beans, and are topped with cilantro cream sauce. Nothing gloppy here; all ingredients get to stand out. I opted for the sweet potato fries, which appear to be hand cut. They are crisp and fresh. Feel free to adorn with the homemade chipotle hot sauce, which may be one of the best hot sauces I’ve ever had; thick and smoky with a chipotle kick. I’ve still got plenty in the fridge at home for future use. My only complaint is everything is a bit pricey, but I think given the freshness and quality, I think well worth it.

Meat Eater: That’s my take as well. Sure, you’re going to spend more here than a traditional Mexican joint, a lot more. But this isn’t a traditional Mexican joint. It’s a fun, upscale restaurant with a great bar, cool patio and good drinks. I’ll pay more for that if the quality is there, and overall that’s the case. Perhaps those tacos could be a dollar cheaper, or a few inches larger. Either way, this will be the happy hour spot of the city come spring and summer. We’ll be there.
We paid $63 with tax and tip for a dinner visit with two entrees, appetizer, and three margaritas. A lunch trip for one cost $15 with tax and tip, for salsa and chips, and the two tacos and a side special.
Taco Mamacita on Urbanspoon


Virginia bed and breakfast said...

The Taco Mamacita story is one built around a passion for food and customer service and a love for the restaurant business. Taylor and Mike Monen have always loved the restaurant industry. The majority of both of their working lives have been spent in the restaurant business.