When I was a child, my grandmother and I would spend hours in the kitchen cooking meals for our big (and finicky) family. I regarded her as a magician—chopping vegetables at lightning speed, blending unheard-of spices and transforming "yucky" foods into something we could all enjoy. My jobs usually included shredding cheese and trying not to eat it all.
My favorite dish to make with her was, by far, tacos—something everyone in my family could always agree on. She fried the shells herself while my papa piled on the hot sauce. My brother and I still beg her to make them any time we visit, even on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I wrote about tacos last year, but with the recent addition of Tacos el Cuñao to Chattanooga, it seemed an apt time for a recap. I also wanted to revisit the places that missed the mark for me last time.
As usual, these reviews include only restaurants in the downtown area. If you have a favorite taco spot not listed here, let me know in the comments!
I hear nothing but rave reviews about Taconooga from my friends. I assume this is how many Chattanoogans feel, because every time I pass this little taco joint on Frazier Avenue, it’s loaded with people. During my previous quest, I was severely disappointed with the food. I’d been on several occasions and always found the meat dry and lacking in flavor.
Boy am I glad I gave them another chance!
During my most recent visit, I tried their signature Taconooga and carnitas tacos. The meat was exceptionally tender and flavorful on both, but it was their signature dish that won me over.
The Taconooga was stuffed so full with chicken, cheese and corn that I could barely fold the double tortilla together. The cheese was smooth and creamy, and the corn added a nice crunch to the savory menu staple. The only thing I could think while I was devouring it was "comfort food." Just writing about it now … I need another!
Mexiville is another restaurant that failed to impress me last time. Now that they’re more established and have felt the heat of competition (what’s up with these Mexican restaurants opening right next to each other?), I wanted to give them another go.
This time I tried the Mexican-style chicken, beef and carnitas tacos (pictured above). Without a doubt, the meat was more tender and flavorful than during my visit a year ago. The tacos were served with a super-hot salsa that I quite enjoyed, as so many restaurants usually play it safe and mild. Unfortunately, the shells, which were floppy and unexciting, left much to be desired.
While Mexiville was definitely worth the repeat visit, there seems to be something missing to really set them apart from other restaurants. This keeps them low on my list of places to eat out.
Tacos el Cuñao
Tacos el Cuñao is a change of pace from many downtown Mexican restaurants. The moment I sat down, a waitress brought me chips and salsa (I honestly forgot restaurants used to give these out for free). I had to ask for a suggestion, not just because I wanted the expert’s opinion, but because there was hardly an English word on the menu.
I tried the beef and soledad tacos. The presentation was simple and definitely "street" style—served in a double tortilla with just onion, cilantro and a lime wedge on the side.
The beef taco was phenomenal. The meat was flavorful with a touch of heat and the perfect amount of onions and cilantro to not overpower. The soledad was interesting. What at first seemed mild and savory turned slightly sweet after several bites. The best part of both, however, was the shell, which was ever so slightly fried to give it a little crunch and texture.
This little lunch spot is definitely worth a visit, and I’m excited to try more on their menu. The price is also phenomenal: Two tacos cost me a modest $4. You can't beat that anywhere!
While I still hold that Poblanos dishes up my favorite tacos in town (I can't resist those hand-fried shells), Taconooga was the champion this time around. Overall, I'm pleased to say that Chattanooga has several delicious taco spots, most with reasonable prices and quick, friendly service.
Let me know your favorite taco place in the comments!
Meagan Frey has lived most of her life in Chattanooga but has traveled all over the country and beyond sampling regional cuisines. She enjoys cooking, eating, writing and exploring in various combinations. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.