Sunday, July 10, 2011
4730 Old Hickory Blvd.
A sign in the open kitchen proclaims “Welcome to the Mexican Waffle House” and it’s just one indication that the owners and staff at Taqueria Vallarta have a good time. It’s a long-time family joint serving authentic taqueria fare, a fact well-known to folks in the Old Hickory area.
The dining room is humid and warm on both of our visits reflecting perhaps Mexican preferences or the result of having that grill out in the open. The kitchen activity does provide a festive vibe as the cooks are chatting and laughing with the men sipping spicy weekend sopas (soups) at a tall counter. Our waitress today is impossibly young, helping out Mom, and doing an incredible job of it. It’s endearing and symptomatic of the family atmosphere that pervades Vallarta.
We start with a small bowl of roasted jalapenos- salted and seasoned. They’re a tongue-tingling way to kick-off your meal, although if you are Anglo, and not a regular, you may need to ask for them. They do bring the Anglo folks salsa and chips without asking. The chips are thick and the salsa is okay. The menu lists you as having to pay for salsa, but I don’t think it was rung up on our bill. Specialties of the house includes chili verde, tamales, carne guisada (stew), chuletas de Puerco (Mexican style pork chops) and tinga tortas (meat in a spicy and sour sauce). A carnitas taco features rich and flavorful pork with simple onion and cilantro as the only accompaniment. Each version of taco has different pairings. An al pastor, marinated pork taco, adds a lime and radish to the mix. A Cubano torta is deftly assembled chicken, steak, and fried egg, all lovingly grilled flat for a solid sandwich. The chili verde is a hot stew-like plate of tangy verde sauce with pork and onions. Served with corn tortillas it’s a hearty dish perhaps best suited for colder weather.
Veggie Eater: There’s not much for the veggie eater here, as the menu focuses on the meat items for the tacos. Our young waitress on both occasions though, is happy to serve as interpreter between us and the kitchen. Opting to remain safe, I went with the cheese enchiladas; not terribly interesting, but very well prepared here. On the table is a delightful rojo sauce- smoky and tangy and a wonderful condiment for those enchiladas. The space is bustling and festive. The kids are allowed to be kids and all the adults know one another and hop between tables to visit. I’ll go back just for the fun vibe.
Meat Eater: We stumbled onto Taqueria Vallarta while on a mission to try another restaurant in the area and happened in only because the other restaurant was closed. We’re certainly glad that we did. When I asked one waitress how long they had been open she laughed and said 12 years, implying that we really should have known about them by now. We couldn’t agree more.
We paid $22 with tax and tip on one visit and $19 with tax and tip on another visit and for both occasions we had enough food to stuff ourselves silly.