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

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Top 3 for Summer 2010

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Top 3 for Summer 2010

Ah, summer 2010: a scorch mark on our brains. Did we have fun this summer? We think so. It’s hard to remember when the temperature never leaves the 90s. We think we had some really good food this summer. We know we drank far too many Moscow mules.

1. Fogatas

When we hear people say that all Mexican food in Nashville tastes the same we raise an eyebrow or two. There is a big difference between the mediocre joints and the good ones (and that’s not to say that we still don’t have a long way to go). For the most part the better Mexican places in Nashville are going after a primarily Hispanic clientele. That doesn’t mean that the Anglo community is not welcome. Far from it: we find the more authentic places to be fun and comfortable. Will it take you out of your comfort zone? Perhaps. Will you enjoy the adventure? Probably.

All that said Fogatas has become one of the better sit down Mexican food experiences in the Nashville area. They cook to order and clearly care about quality ingredients. They have some misses, but the hits are in the majority.

2. Burger Up

A good burger seems like a simple thing and yet there are so many places that screw it up. Burger Up does the hamburger proud and it’s worth the extra money. Triple L Ranch local beef, topped with Benton’s bacon and Jack Daniels maple ketchup? Damn. A juicy lamb burger covered up in melty boursin cheese? Hot damn. Even the Veggie Eater had a good time.

3. La Esquina

Central American food is taking hold in Middle Tennessee. A number of new joints have opened up in the last year. The best of the bunch is La Esquina in Antioch. This tiny El Salvadoran restaurant serves up tasty dishes with an admirable consistency and attention to detail. Our favorites: fried plantains, crema and corn tamales, pan con pollo (chicken sandwich) and the pupusas.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hello to a new pho house and goodbye to some great ribs

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Dai Viet and Jimmy Carl's Lunchbox

A first look at Dai Viet restaurant brings some seriously huge bowls of pho to the table. The Antioch restaurant has been open for a couple of months. They let you choose your size of bowl. The small bowl of pho is about right, the large bowl pretty damn big and the super bowl is crazy. The good news is that the pho is worth super-sizing. The pho tai, nam, bo vien has a generous portion of rare steak, well done beef and meat balls and a solid, flavorful broth. It's the kind of pho that doesn't need any help at all, but clearly you're going to put hoisin, fish sauce and sriracha hot sauce in there eventually, just for kicks. The menu offers tendon and tripe pho for the traditionalists. All this makes us wonder about the seafood hot pots they offer and of course the vermicelli. We'll have a complete review in a few weeks.

Dai Viet
321 Harding Place

We can't tell you had sad we are about the latest Jimmy Carl's Lunchbox news. The Nashville Scene is reporting that Jimmy Carl's, currently operating out of the Station Inn, will be shutting down in November. The problem, according the article, is the narrow profit margin with lunch-only business. They would like to open up a joint in a bigger space, to offer dinner and beer. We can't imagine a better opportunity for investors. These guys cook up some of the best barbecue in Nashville and it would be a shame to let those skills go to waste.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ginger First Impressions

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Ginger preview

House made noodles and bold flavors make the new Ginger Thai restaurant worth noting. The modest, yet stylish joint is located just off Thompson Lane, in a new Logan Street strip mall that also houses Laolanexang Oriental Market and a Middle Eastern, African and Asian grocery named the International Food Mart.

We had our first visit this weekend. The flat noodles we sampled at Ginger were tender and the flavorful Thai gravy a savory and worthy accompaniment. They’re not afraid to jack things up a bit with a generous does of lemongrass, kaffir lime and Thai basil, and they cook-up a curry with a spicy kick. We’ll be back soon for the house made udon noodles and another crack at the curry.

2861 Logan Street

Friday, October 8, 2010

Mas Tacos New Hours and Thai on Thompson

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Friday Odds and Ends

Love the new storefront version of Mas Tacos on McFerrin Avenue? Bummed out about the limited hours? Teresa Mason says she is cracking Saturday hours starting this weekend. It will be kind of an 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. The truck is still going out on weekends and the storefront business has been positively hopping, perhaps even a little crazed at times. It's open Tuesday through Friday from 11am until 8pm and now Saturdays 11am to 3pm. For the latest Mas Tacos developments visit the twitter page  The restaurant is at 732 McFerrin Avenue, just across the street from Holland House. We'll have our review soon.

Thompson Lane is buzzing with new food business lately. There are two new Thai restaurants. Thai Star is under construction and Ginger is already up and running on Logan Street, just off of Thompson Lane.

Next door to Ginger, the International Food Mart has also just opened up shop. It’s perhaps one of the nicest such establishments we’ve seen recently. You can peruse the wares, stacked neatly in the wide aisles and pick up Baraka pita, Abay injera, Bulgarian cheese, or halal meats with a full meat counter. It looks like they have room for expansion as well.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

This Festival Needs More Food Vendors!

Nashville Restaurants and Food
This Festival Needs More Food Vendors!

The Celebration of Cultures is quickly turning into Nashville’s premier festival. It spreads across Centennial Park and there were thousands of people in attendance on Saturday. All those folks make for a whole lot of hungry customers. We found long lines for every type of food available. Note to restaurants: if you serve an ethnic cuisine you should really consider doing this next year. You will have all the business you can handle. They had perhaps 30 food vendors and probably could have kept 60 or more vendors quite busy.

The Veggie Eater went with Woodlands Indian. The Meat Eater sampled chicken empanadas, Colombian style, from a caterer called Que Delicias. They were good, if a little over priced for their size. The plump, sweet plantains were a treat. We finished up with falafel sandwiches from Kabab Gyro, a restaurant that has locations on Thompson Lane and Nolensville Pike. The pitas were puffy and fresh and the ingredients crisp. Pretty darn good falafel. It may call for a visit to one of the restaurant locations. They do the usual lunch gyro, falafel, salad menu but that freshness in ingredients stands out.

There were several other places we wanted to visit, but the lines were too long. We do hope the organizers can attract more vendors next year and especially in the Asian food area. Thai, Laotian, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese didn’t appear to be represented at all, unless we were missing something.

The festival itself is a cool mix of country and cultural displays, music, costumes and plenty of interesting things to do. The artisans selling stuff were particularly cool, some of them not really coming from a cultural angle but just a unique “outsider” art perspective. You don’t see that much at art festivals around town.
They have parking in back of the HCA buildings, across the street from the park. That will be our first stop next year. We hope the Celebration of Cultures keeps growing. Kudos to Metro Parks and Scarritt Bennett for putting on a great event!