Thursday, October 6, 2011

EL EPÍLOGO

Folks, I can't express how awesome this experience has been. I feel that I have accomplished all that I set out to do with this blog... supported local businesses and ate amazing food. Sure, I was weary of going into these little weird looking restaurants, thinking these folks probably hate it when gringos come in, but I was wrong. Most everybody was very friendly and happy to have my business!

I highly encourage all of you to step out of your comfort zone and take a chance! So what if the building looks shady or no one speaks English? You're not going to get shot or harrassed, I promise. I wasn't. These people are trying to make a living just like you and me! However, it couldn't hurt to brush up on that Spanish you learned in high school though!

Help 'em out. Buy tacos. They're delicious. Some tacos got better reviews than others, but overall.. I didn't really have a bad one all summer! Most of these restaurants also serve tortas (mexican sandwiches) and some serve seafood, none of which I tried. All kinds of doors have been opened to this whole world I had no clue about... and I've only scratched the surface! I am considering picking another ethnic food and doing another food blog next summer, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it I suppose. I still have a lot of mexican food to consume!

In conclusion, thank you all so much for reading, posting, and keeping up with my taco adventure! I sure do feel loved, as I'm sure all of the businesses I have blogged about do! Please support these businesses, and spread the word!

..and remember to bring cash!!!  
¡¡Los amo a todos!!
-Judson

THE RESULTS ARE IN!!!

Here it is folks. THE RESULTS SHOW! The main award will be obviously best taco in town, with several runners-up. I will also be giving an award for best red and green sauce and a few other random awards for other good stuff. I will say that I have not had time to go back to ALL of these places and "retry" all of these tacos (except for the top contenders), just going off my notes.

There will more honorable mentions on some categories than others, only because I have not had as many of one as the other.

Enough chit-chat... let's see those results!

BEST POLLO TACO (grilled chicken)
Taqueria Union
510 Gallatin Pike N, Madison, BP parking lot

Honorable Mention:
Taqueria El Recodo
Tacos y Mariscos El Amigo
Taqueria Tex Mex

BEST ASADA TACO (grilled steak)
El Tapatio #2
3609 Nolensville Pike, South Nash

Honorable Mention:
Pupuseria Salvadorena
Taqueria El Dolar #2

*I also must mention that El Tapatio has THE best guacamole I have EVER EATEN IN MY LIFE.

BEST CARNITAS TACO (slow-smoked seasoned pork)
Carniceria y Taqueria Don Juan
2910 Nolensville Pike, South Nash

Honorable Mention:
Taqueria Rebelcaba
Taqueria Lindo Mexico

BEST PASTOR TACO (spicy pork)
Tacos y Mariscos La Frontera
3455 Lebanon Pike, Hermitage

Honorable Mention:
Taqueria El Dolar #2
Taqueria San Luis

BEST BARBACOA TACO (slow-smoked beef)
Taqueria Express
4225 Nolensville Pike, South Nash

Honorable Mention:
Valles Market
Carniceria y Taqueria Don Juan

BEST WEIRD MEAT IN A TACO
Tripa (tripe/stomach)
I was pleasantly surprised by the tripe taco I had at Taqueria Express back in July. If you can get over the consistency of the meat, it tastes pretty good. I wanna say they put breading on it and fried it, but I'm not sure. I also tried lengua (tongue), cabeza (cheek), and buche (pork belly), none of which were as good.

BEST RED SAUCE
Taqueria Tex Mex
6207-A Charlotte Pike, West Nash

Honorable Mention:
Taqueria San Luis
Taqueria San Juan

BEST GREEN SAUCE
Taqueria Mexico Lindo
Citgo parking lot on Nolensville Road across the street from U-Haul (can't find an address), South Nash

Honorable Mention:
Taqueria Mexico Tennessee
Taqueria Express

BEST PART OF NASHVILLE FOR TACOS
The roughly 6 mile stretch of Nolensville Rd in Southeast Nashville between I-440 and Old Hickory Blvd is without a doubt THE area of town for tacos. I think this stretch of road should be named "Taco Row", but I'm sure some would consider that racist, even though it is strictly referring to amazing food!

A close runner-up was the stretch of Gallatin Road in Madison between Briley Pkwy and Old Hickory Blvd. Many taco choices!!!

and now, the moment we've all been waiting for:
the award for NASHVILLE'S BEST TACO goes to...
CARNICERIA DON JUAN for their CARNITAS TACO!! 
These dudes do it right. I knew deep down when I first had this taco that it was the clear winner, but I had to go back last week and compare the top 2 tacos just to make SURE I had made the right decision. After going back a second time and tasting their fresh, juicy, meaty carnitas tacos again, I knew they had it won. 


2nd PLACE:
BARBACOA TACO at TAQUERIA EXPRESS
The barbacoa taco at Taqueria Express was stiff competition against Don Juan for best taco. Their barbacoa is cooked perfectly and the meat is tender and flavorful. Makes for a near perfect taco. No one else's barbacoa even came close. 

3rd PLACE:
CHICKEN TACO at TAQUERIA UNION
I was never able to go back and have another chicken taco at this place, but I had not had a better chicken taco before that one or since. Juicy, tender, and marinated in something so heavenly I almost don't even want to know what it is... but then again I kinda do so I can try making tacos at home!!     

Saturday, October 1, 2011

September 30th, 2011 - Pupuseria Salvadoreña

It's the last day of September, and I thought I had hit all of the south side establishments! WRONG! I came across Pupuseria Salvadoreña while on the way home from the Dan Halen concert Thursday night. Forgot one. Drat. Fortunately there was still time Friday to sneak some more tacos in. I thought it was strictly a pupuseria, like Las Americas market, the first restaurant I blogged about, but it turns out they make tacos too.

I end up having to work late that day, so I have actually worked a small appetite for a couple of tacos by the time 4pm came around. I make my way through the traffic and pull in to the parking lot. Such a colorful building! Hopefully the food rocks.
I walk in and find a nice dining room with big booths. Would be fun to bring friends. I wonder if we could bring our own booze.... I approach the counter and the chick hands me a menu. There are tons of menu choices, all of which I bet are amazing. I immediately find the small taco section. They only offer 2 meats: asada and pollo. I order one of each, along with 1 pupusa.. because they're so good, and I have to report to my pupusa buddies about the new pupuseria I have discovered. If you do not remember what a pupusa is, please refer to my first blog entry at Las Americas Market. I order my food to go and have a seat.

I can hear 3 or 4 Latino ladies back in the kitchen chit-chatting... I take a look back into the kitchen and it is legit. They are equipped to handle large crowds. Maybe the food is as good here as I have heard... It certainly smells AMAZING back there, especially when they start making my food. It takes a good 15 minutes for my plate to come out, but my total only came to $5.42 for 2 tacos and a pupusa. Pretty awesome. Tacos were probably $1.25 each and the pupusa was somewhere between $2-2.50. Not sure. There were no prices on the menu!!!

I take my plate back home. Can't wait to tear it open. Since this is a pupuseria, I'm not sure how the tacos would be.. They sure do look delicious.
I have the chicken first. Surprisingly good! Chicken is marinated and very juicy.. one of the better chicken tacos on the tour. Pleasant surprise, way above average. Same with the asada... Very good marinade and juicy.. a contender for best asada on the tour. They gave me a little cup of red sauce, which was pretty standard, not mind-blowing. Awesome tacos regardless! My pupusa (not pictured) and mexican slaw were fantastic. Highly recommend it.

I'm giving Pupuseria Salvadoreña 9 out of 10 sombreros. Fantastic.
Pros: tacos and pupusas, cheap, delicious!
Cons: other than the red sauce, none!

Pupuseria Salvadoreña is located at 340 Welch Road off Nolensville near Wal-Mart. Will definitely be coming back.

September 29th, 2011 - Valles Market

After El Taco Veloz, I am not really wanting more tacos, but man... I have a job to do!! Valles Market is mere footsteps away.. a new adventure!
We walk in to this place, and it appears to be a typical Mexican market with all sorts of weird goodies... neon studded belts, Virgin of Guadalupe baseball caps, Pakistani porn... you know, the usual. There are a couple of kids running around, one of whom is passed out on a blanket behind the counter. Hilarious. I'm assuming children of the chick who takes our order. We see no foodservice equipment anywhere, so I'm wondering if this is another market that says they have tacos but DON'T! Turns out the kitchen is in the back. There is no menu of any kind anywhere, so I have to ask what meats are available. They have the usual suspects. I order 1 barbacoa and 1 asada to go. We'll be taking these tacos back to Mike's. She then asks if we want our tacos on homemade corn tortillas. OH YEAH. We'll have to wait a few minutes she says. After a while a Latino dude who I'm assuming is her husband walks in and plops a couple of chairs down right there in the storefront for us to sit. Good deal.

We can hear some commotion going on in the kitchen while we sit and watch Jerry Springer on an old discolored TV and checking out the decor. Boxes of OLD VHS tapes, fruit, various medicines, trinkets and whatnot. Pretty weird place. I'm into it. We wait a good 15-20 minutes before our tacos come out. Maybe they had to hand-make the tortillas before putting meat into them. Mike and I had some good quality time together. That's why I love having taco buddies! Dude comes out with 2 plates covered in foil, along with ziploc snack bags filled with red sauce and green sauce. That's a first. Sweetheart Mike pays for my tacos and we head out.

We open up the plates at his house. Looks pretty typical.. The weirdness of the market luckily didn't affect the appearance of our taco plates. The tortillas are smaller but the rough edges make it obvious that they are definitely made in-house!
The first GLARING omission from this plate is a slice of lime.. a STAPLE for any taco plate. To make things worse, they have given us slices of LEMON. I even gave it a shot... I'll try anything once.. nope! Lemon is NOT good on tacos! Save lemon for chicken and seafood.. That's it!!!! The asada is pretty standard... nothing special at all. The barbacoa was definitely above average, very flavorful. They put a pretty good amount of meat in our tacos too. Well worth a buck each!

I'm giving Valles Market 6 out of 10 sombreros.
Pros: Barbacoa, $1 tacos
Cons: Asada, LEMON not LIME

Valles Market is located in the shopping center around 928 Gallatin Pike S in Madison, next to JOB Billiards.

September 29th, 2011 - El Taco Veloz

It's getting to the end of the road here, and I'm having to cram in the taco joints before the end of the week. I can't keep a summer blog going through October. Well, I suppose I started it in March BUT STILL....

I called up my Madison taco buddy Mike and we "hit the town". I remember one particular taco stand in a parking lot of a little shopping center that wasn't open the last time I was making the taco rounds in Madison called El Taco Veloz. They appear to be open this time around, so we pull in. I make Mike take pictures with his phone since I have once again forgotten my camera. Thank god for technology!

There isn't an English speaker within a mile of this part of Madison. Good sign. We glance at the menu on the back of the truck before a chick beckons us to come around to the back side of the truck to order. I don't see any taco prices immediately, I'm just going to assume they're $1.25. I have already eaten lunch and don't want to explode, especially since we spot a Mexican market across the way who is advertising dollar tacos. We have got to go to that one after this. I order 1 barbacoa and 1 pastor. Our tacos come out in about 8 minutes. We decide to down the tacos there on the spot. We are given 2 bottles of red and green sauce.
The first thing I notice is the large slice of grilled jalapeno pepper included on the plate with our tacos. I carefully bite into it a little at a time. Hot, but nothing mindblowing. Plates also include a few slivers of grilled onions, but that's all. Green sauce is average, Red sauce is a little creamy, hot but very flavorful. Mike was really wanting some radish slices.. I wasn't missing them. I eat the pastor first. Pretty good. Above average. The barbacoa is standard, Nothing special. They have a huge cooler in the parking lot by the truck, probably full of delicious cold Mexican sodas. I pass.. need to save my last couple of bucks for the next place! My bill came out to $2.50. Not bad.

I'm giving El Taco Veloz 6 out of 10 sombreros.
Pros: pastor, red sauce
Cons: barbacoa (ok, not bad!)

El Taco Veloz is located in the parking lot at 928 Gallatin Pike S in Madison.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September 22nd, 2011 - Las Primas

I accidentally happened upon this place when stopping in to get beer once. I saw a sign on the front of the building of this Shell station on Thompson Lane reading "Las Primas - serving breakfast and lunch", and was immediately intrigued. I asked the lady at the counter when the taco place was open, and she said 6am-3pm. What the crap?! A breakfast taco joint?!! No way. Unfortunately their business hours are pretty much my exact work shift, so it's going to be pretty hard to get in during peak hours.

I manned up and left work on a break to go check out the place further (fortunately it's right down the street). I did not have my camera, but I needed to hit this place. Didn't care. I go in and look at the handwritten menu and see that they're open until 9pm. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. That's a first!! I had forgotten that there was a $5 bill in my wallet and ask the counter lady if they take debit cards. She said no, so I went on my merry way. As I get back into work, I discover said $5 bill in my wallet. New tacos here I come after work!

I approach the counter and glance at the menu. There is no set list of meats, so I have to ask the lady... She says they have asada and pollo. Fair enough. I order 1 pollo and 2 asada. It has been a while since I have had a plain asada taco. About time. Lady takes my order to the back kitchen and I stand there waiting for at least 10 minutes before she comes out again. She gets a spoonful of chicken from a hot plate, which appears to be more like Chicken Vindloo than pollo... Orange=-ish sauce with peas and carrots in it. This is going to be really bad, or really awesome. She takes a look in the other hot plates and can't seem to find the asada. She asks her coworker where the asada is and has to go back to the kitchen for a new more minutes. This is starting to get a little irritating. She finally brings out my tacos in foil and places them in a white bag with a little cup of red sauce. Total comes out to $4.92. Tacos are $1.50 each, AND these guys charge sales tax. Weak. Oh well, still not bad. I throw them in my truck and head home. Time to chow.
The first thing I notice is the made-in-house corn tortillas. Thicker and fluffier than normal. You would think this means the tortillas hold together easier. The tacos appear to come with old, but cooked onions of some type, but that's it. No onions, cilantro or lime. Pretty lame. I eat the chicken first. No surprise curry flavor, but still pretty tasty. Not all that traditional (to my knowledge), very unique. I eat the asada tacos next. The tortilla managed to hold together through the chicken taco, but completely fell apart before I even picked up the first asada taco. The meat is more reminiscent of beef jefky than asada. Very dry, chewy and fatty. Especially not good without any lime/onions/and cilantro. I end up having to the eat the soggy tortilla separate from the beef because the beef is just falling out of the burrito. The meat was a little better, but these tacos remind me of the tacos de carne asada at Las Maracas. Very bland, not much going on. I try and sprinkle red sauce (wasn't provided green sauce), but it was just really really hot and didn't have much of a taste. The onions were also not as juicy and plump as I was hoping. I'm thinking this food has been sitting under heat lamps for hours. Maybe that has something to do with how dry and chewy it is. Maybe I am getting sub-par tacos because of the hour I'm coming in, who knows. Not really all that impressed. Total for 3 tacos was $4.92.

I'm giving Las Primas 4 out of 10 sombreros.
Pros: good service, totally unique chicken recipe, made-in-house tortillas
Cons: asada, no lime/onion/cilantro, no green sauce

Las Primas is located inside of the Phillips 66 station on Thompson Lane off of Nolensville Pike. They seem to be open for breakfast lunch and dinner. Would be interested to see how the breakfast tacos are.

September 15th, 2011 - Tacos y Mariscos La Frontera

Took a little trip over to the REAL east side for tacos... Tacos y Mariscos La Frontera in Hermitage! I found it a while back while driving down Lebanon Road. I wasn't sure if I was going to make it to this one, but my taco girls Heidi and Dawn and first timer Jake wanted to tag along, and Heidi offered up her family truckster to haul us over there, so I enthusiastically agreed.

La Frontera is located at the old Vittles location on Lebanon Rd. I remember exactly where it is, because I remember Vittles being excellent munchables. Hopefully the good food vibe has passed on.
We walk up to the truck and are checking out the menu when a waitress comes out and tells us there is a patio behind the truck. We walk behind it, and sure enough there is a little walkway leading up to a covered patio with several tables with napkin dispensers and bottles of hot sauce. Inside of the building, they have converted what used to be Vittles restaurant into a little Mexican market/convenience store. Weird. We have a seat and she sets down some menus and takes our drink orders. Fancy! I don't order a drink in the interest of more tacos, but the others get Jarritos-es. After glancing long and hard at the menu (actually considered getting a burrito), I order 2 chorizo, 1 buche, 1 carnitas, and 1 pastor. The others get at least 5 tacos each. We're ready to CHOWWWW.

We are having a good ole time watching a Spanish language version of Love Connection or something while waiting for our tacos. We can see one dude inside the truck making all of the tacos, using fresh ingredients. All of it smells amazing as our stomachs growl. It takes a good 10-12 minutes, but they eventually start coming out, plate by plate. Having to wait for the others to get their food to start eating is about the hardest thing ever. Waitress brings out bottles of red and green sauce. Taco plates have a nice little pile of cooked onions on the top.
I have a hard time telling which taco is buche. It has been bothering me for months, so I have someone look up what buche actually is on their smartphone. Turns out buche is pork stomach. This should be interesting. I find a meat that appears to be buche and dig in. I already like it a lot better than I did the tripa taco I had months ago. The texture is similar to tripe, but less chewy with a little more meat on it. Not much flavor there but overall not bad. Wouldn't have been opposed to another one. I have the pastor next. It almost tastes like there is a hint of curry. Very unique and delicious. A contender for best pastor on the tour. Add a little serrano sauce to it and it's hard to beat. The carnitas is pretty good, a little overcooked, dry... have to add a good bit of serrano sauce. I try the red sauce, but it is tangy and hot but not very good. I save the chorizo for last, because I know it's going to be fantastic every time, and boy it was. Heidi and Dawn got chicken tacos and apparently they're not good at all. The chicken appeared to be boiled & fried instead of smoked or grilled.

As my mouth is burning from the searing hot serrano sauce, I am wishing I had gotten Senorial soda, but in reality that would have probably burned me even more. I end up picking at other people's plates and I end up with a huge pile of caramelized onions from Jake's plate. I drizzle some green sauce on the onions and dig in. Turned out to be a very BAD decision, but man it was good at the time!!!

I am giving La Frontera 7 out of 10 sombreros.
Pros: pastor, good hot serrano sauce
Cons: chicken, bad red sauce

Tacos y Mariscos La Frontera is located at 3455 Lebanon Pike in Hermitage.