Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mas Tacos

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Mas Tacos 732 McFerrin Avenue
Phone: none that she is releasing

Taco truck to sit down restaurant, viral marketing to storefront: Teresa Mason is making a natural transition from a hip Nashville happening to a broader audience, and she appears to be doing it on her own terms. That means never losing the “cool” part of Mas Tacos and most importantly not compromising the quality of the food. We can really respect that, and yet it comes with a number of issues, especially in these crazy, early days. The Mas Taco truck is still chugging out on weekends, as it has been since 2008, setting up shop on popular bar strips like Five Points and 12 South. The new East Nashville restaurant location is buzzing at all hours. Balancing it all has to be tough. Someone just interested in the money would find big investors, create a brand and step back from the kitchen. That doesn’t seem to be the Mas Tacos style.

It’s 7 p.m. on a Friday night and people are piling out of the tiny little restaurant on McFerrin Avenue. We’re talking 30 people and the line is growing. Inside the Mas Tacos ladies are hustling and what they’re doing may surprise you. Corn is being husked for each elote and avocado sliced open on the spot. Why you ask? Perhaps it’s just a matter of lack of prep, but it seems much more likely they want to make sure those ingredients are as fresh as possible. Nothing is better than an avocado when it’s just cut open. Wait a few hours and everything changes, even with the best of care.

And then there’s the menu board, it’s always changing. If you have a favorite it might be there or it might be replaced by something else. And at 7 p.m. on a Friday night, which is in all fairness just an hour before they are supposed to close (they have been staying open until 9pm or later to meet the rush), food may be running out. On one night more than half the menu was unavailable.

So, why is Mas Tacos so popular? This is some of the best Southwestern/Mexican food in the city. The attention to quality shows in every bite.

Take the Sopa Tarasca- lovingly simmered for hours until the pureed pinto beans, tomato and chipotle have reached a smoky and spicy perfection. It’s husky and creamy, and with the addition of crisp fried tortillas strips and crema and it’s out of this world. Mas Tacos may have some of the best soups in the city. The chicken tortilla soup has charred corn kernels and big chunks of that ripe avocado and tremendous flavor. The Mas Tacos version of elote is corn on the cob, quick charred on four sides, and then slathered in a sweet and spicy cheese and crema mixture given some tang with help from lime.

The tacos change out daily, with a few stalwarts. The pulled pork is a regular and for good reason: the succulent, slow roasted pig is topped with a creamy purple slaw, cilantro, farmer’s cheese and nestled in two fluffy, grilled corn tortillas. It’s about perfect. You can watch the Mas Tacos folks grilling up those tortillas on the spot. The cast iron chicken has charred jalapenos; the fried avocado features a red onion slaw. In short each taco is its own creation, meat to topping. There’s no generic standard. It has everything to do with the flavors melding together. It’s rare to see that much care in a taco. That said, take out can be risky because any taco does better freshly prepared. The ingredients naturally begin to ooze together after a trip home in the car. That’s not a problem with the restaurant, but is good reason for them to consider a bigger dining room down the road.

Veggie Eater: The Mas Tacos folks try to ensure a veggie option, but beware, menu items often sell out and that means that there may be no veggie item available. On my visit, I opted for the quinoa taco; it consisted of, needless to say, quinoa, as well as potatoes and corn. I found it a bit dry and without much flavor. In all fairness, we had a really large order (we were feeding a large group of people) and ordered essentially 3 of everything on the menu (they literally sold out of almost every menu item after our order—sorry to everyone else in line behind us) and I think my tacos were assembled early on in our order. They then had to travel 30 minutes back to J-town (no room inside the restaurant). Since it was such a mad house, I didn’t have the ability to dress it up with their salsa and hot sauce. I also sampled a fried avocado taco, which I found to be very good; the slaw is a perfect pair with the creamy avocado. I’m hopeful that lunch/brunch will be less of a mad house, allowing me to sample the wares as intended, fresh for immediate consumption.

Meat Eater: Yeah, it’s not fair to judge tacos that have sat around for 45 minutes. A weekday lunch visit was like a trip to a whole different restaurant, after the Friday night craziness. Teresa is hanging out and chatting with customers. The Beastie Boys are hopping on the stereo. It’s a nice funky room when they are not two dozen people stuff inside. Upside down gas lanterns find new life as light bulb fixtures and there is a southwestern touch to the decorating. Also they may have one of the coolest juke box selections in the city.

New Saturday hours may also help soothe those taco cravings. They are now open for a kind of East Nashville brunch thing from 11 am until 3pm with breakfast tacos, cafe con leche, rancheros, churros and whatever else she is cooking up that day.

Mas Tacos has a legion of dedicated fans and so we would imagine, despite the harried atmosphere some nights, the future will only get brighter. Hopefully that means Teresa can continue to grow the place on her own terms.

I paid $12 with tax and tip for a taco, soup, elote and drink at lunch. The dinner trip involved getting three of everything on the menu for a large group and quite frankly we have no idea how much we paid. It probably wasn’t much.
Mas Tacos Por Favor on Urbanspoon