Sunday, April 24, 2011

El Tapatio 1 and 2

Nashville Restaurants and Food
El Tapatio 1
4801 Nolensville Rd.

El Tapatio 2
3611 Nolensville Rd.

There’s a bazillion taquerias on Nolensville Road in Nashville and they seem to change monthly. The joint you loved for the melty al pastor tortas could have new management, or it could be a used car lot. A new spot offering up awesome pambazo could crop up overnight and be gone two weeks later. The restaurants that do linger over the years often have specialties to round out the typical line-up of tacos and tortas. The El Tapatios, 1 and 2, are just a few miles from one another, and each is worth a visit.

You’ll notice the smoker puffing away on most days at both locations and that’s for good reason. The El Tapatio folks know chicken. Pollo al carbon is grilled chicken. The al carbon part simply means that it’s cooked on coals. They keep those charcoal grills jumping with flame, and best of all they know how important a nice rub and careful char can be for chicken. The pollo is excellent: moist, smoky and tasting very much of the coals. At Number 1, the half-chicken is a crazy-big mound of chopped pollo pieces and a bargain at $6.75. The pico de gallo is fresh and a peppy foil for the chicken. You’re supposed to rip that chicken up and make your own pollo tacos. Sadly, at Tapatio 1 the mediocre beans and rice are not up to the task. Even the tortillas are dry and lifeless on this day. No worries, the bird is a meal in and of itself.

El Tapatio 1 is basically a taco truck with a small dining room next door. We’re not sure if the place is ever heated correctly, but the space heater was not up to the job on a cold winter day and everyone was eating lunch with their coats on. Number 1 does seem to take its Tortas seriously offering up pierna (pork leg) and salchicha (hot dog) versions as part of a robust torta line-up.

El Tapatio 2 is much more restaurant than taco truck. There’s an order counter and a well-worn, much-abused dining room. This place also has the spotlight on that charcoal chicken, but they offer a bigger line-up that includes seafood and sincronizadas (an overstuffed quesadilla with tortillas on each side, like buns on a sandwich.) The stand-out items for us though, are the special plates. This grill based set of dishes could be described as a Mexican fry-up. The playfully named Que Me Vez (what are you looking at?) is a grill-up of chopped steak, bacon, pork, pineapple mounded up and topped with a layer of melted cheese. This is certainly not for the dieters. It is however delicious and a nice twist for taqueria food.

The smoky rojo sauce has great depth and a real whack, and even the verde sauce at Number 2 is spicy. Salty and creamy guacamole has plenty of cilantro and comes served with hot fresh-fried chips. The side items at Number 1 are limited and not as good.

Veggie Eater: El Tapatio 1 does not have much for the veggie eater, and El Tapatio 2 not much more. El Tapatio 1 is really just a food cart with inside space to meet food code regulations demanding plumbing. This menu is primarily meat and seafood, but they were happy to accommodate a quesadilla with beans and rice; not terribly interesting. Although El Tapatio 2 has only 1 veggie item, the one item they offer, the Alambre Vegetariano, rocks and is worth returning for. It’s kind of a fajita-y affair (minus the dreaded MSG); lots of grilled veggies, which are waiting for you to assemble with the accompanying sides. It is a wonderful concoction of mushrooms, peppers, onions, tomatoes, nopales, cheese, and their stealth ingredient, pineapple. The veggies are grilled to perfection and then broiled to produce an ooey-gooey delight. For the veggie eater, they may be a one trick pony, but I’ll happily ride the pony again at El Tapatio 2.

Meat Eater: It’s kinda bizarre to have two restaurants with the same name and ownership and have them be so different. While there are some weaknesses at both locations, we’ve ignored the El Tapatios for far too long. Those skillet dishes and the pollo al carbon are reasons to return. We paid $27 with tax and tip on one visit and $21 on another visit.

Number 1: El Tapatio #1 on Urbanspoon

Number 2: El Tapatio #2 on Urbanspoon