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Eating Mexican food in Music City

April 10, 2012

This is a story about relationships. When I was a single man I didn’t have much of a relationship with Mexican food. As a kid we did occasionally make the long trek to Columbus and the Mexican Kitchen, but all I remember is the covered wagon on the roof — not the food.  And I spent some years as a college — until I met The Hottie. I started dating The Hottie, who rather quickly progressed to The Girlfriend, reverted rather abruptly to The Just-A-Friend, then eventually (thank goodness) back to The Girlfriend and on to The Fiancé’, and now: The Wife. (I told you this was about relationships. I don’t just eat.  I also relate.) The Hottie was a big fan of Mexican food, so I adapted to the new environment and a new era of eating began.

Nowadays, I sometimes have to step back from my drive to try new things and eat what other people like to eat — Mrs. The Hottie, for example. However, returning to the same genre time after time does provide opportunities, if not the necessity, of seeking out new and exciting edibles within the genre. If nothing else, I like to see how new Mexican places have imagined a fish taco. And I do have some influence, especially when we are traveling, in encouraging at least a new location even if it’s still Mexican. In Nashville, I was able to accomplish all these objectives and more.

Day one in Music City was quite busy, and it concluded with our first Mexican meal of the week. On last year’s spring break trip to Branson, our token meal was at a place called Cantina Laredo, which claims to serve “authentic Mexican dishes in a sophisticated atmosphere.” They got me with the guacamole, which they made right at the table. We found a local franchise in Nashville, so we decided to make it a spring break tradition. Son had a very interesting taco with Chorizo and egg.  Wife got the usual chicken fajitas. (Big surprise.) 

I left a bit disappointed. The menu promised a Mahi Mahi taco with chipotle aioli and marinated vegetables. I was particularly intrigued by the marinated vegetables. When the meal arrived, I was surprised to see that the fish tacos looked remarkably similar to the ones Casa Bravo serve right here in Stark-Vegas. And had they tasted the same, it would have been a good day — I really liked Casa Bravo’s. But alas, they were lacking.  The marinated vegetables were just shreds of red cabbage and the chipotle aioli did not even register in my taste memories. 

The saving grace to the meal was a side of bacon-wrapped shrimp.  Bacon saves the day again. We also shared a giant cut of mango-laced tres leches cake which we all enjoyed. At least we ended well, and we could check off the Mexican meal for this trip. Right?

No, that was not to be, and I was responsible. Due to the high food intake the first day, we basically just snacked our way through day two, then hit it again hard on our third and last full day in town.  This time dessert came first. In my pre-trip food research, I had come across a listing for Las Paletas popsicle shop. Paletas are essentially Latin American popsicles, and I’d been hearing about them for a while.  Often they are made with fresh fruit, and most of the gourmet shops I’ve read about create some wild flavor combinations.

Las Paletas was no exception — a bit more expensive than the usual popsicles in the freezer section, but worth it. The flavors were subject to the whim of the popsicle-maker that day, but that made it all the more exciting.  Between the four of us, we tried one Chocolate Chocolate Chip, another CCC further chocolatized by dipping it into local Olive and Sinclair chocolate, one Raspberry Chocolate Chip, one Chai, and one Plum.  There was not a bad paleta in the bunch, but the plum rose to the top.  The paletas purveyor told us that it had both plum skin and flesh mixed in, giving the sweetness a tart edge. 

As we sat there enjoying our pops, I wanted to ask every new customer if I could try a lick of theirs. But I didn’t.  I relate, but there are limits.

We left Las Paletas and set the GPS (gastronomic positioning system) to Mas Tacos por Favor. Mas Tacos does have a taco truck, but we ended up at their brick and mortar location in an artsy neighborhood in Nashville. Truth be told, at this point in the day we weren’t all that hungry. This was more about the experience. But once we got inside and started eating, it became about the tacos, too. With just a little begging, they scraped up enough filling (it was late) to give us the last Quinoa and Sweet Potato taco of the day, which was perfect for the vegetarian in all of us. 

But not to be outdone was the fried avocado, which had the usual accompaniments of authentic tacos (onion, cilantro and lime), plus some spicy dill yogurt. On the meatier side of the menu we tried a pulled pork taco with fresh tomatillo salsa (and also a bit of the spicy dill sauce), and another they called a Cast Iron Chicken taco with charred onions and sour cream. Four times delicioso. 

To wash them all down, we tried their fresh agua frescas — one pineapple-cilantro version and another they called Jamaica (not pronounced like the Caribbean island) which was made from hibiscus flowers. Located in a renovated service station, this was far from a sophisticated atmosphere, but I think we found our authentic Mexican food.
Hasta luego!

Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist.  The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff.  He    welcomes your comments at eatsoneate@gmail.com.

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