Just an emu (ostrich?) blowing a bubble. (Photo: Staff)

As an early start to 2018, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit some of our favorite restaurants that have only become favorites because of the Date Night Dining column. This week, Monica and I returned (for the hundredth time, probably) to Taconooga at 207 Frazier Ave.

I wrote about Taconooga in 2014, which was my first experience with what many consider to be the best tacos in town. In the years since that first visit, I’ve been converted to the Taconooga team, and I champion their food whenever someone asks me where to eat. The prices are right and the food is good. What’s not to love?

Of course, there were a few visits in early 2017 that were marred by awful service. It was as if the owners had purposefully sought servers that had zero experience, ability or personality. The food was still great, but the servers acted as if they didn’t even know they were working. Thankfully (at least at our most recent visit), the problem has been fixed and taco nirvana has returned.

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Have you been to Taconooga? If not, why not?

The “Taconooga” is the best taco in Chattanooga. (Photo: Staff)

Atmosphere/service
Monica and I arrived for dinner a bit early—around 6 p.m.—and found Taconooga to be relatively quiet. We ran into local musician and Chattanooga Whiskey creative director Rich Abercrombie, but only a few other tables were occupied. We sat adjacent to a couple who were obviously on a first date. Their conversation was very much a get-to-know-you kind of back-and-forth that included her telling him that she was “task-oriented.” They sounded like two job applicants, but it was a pleasant-enough conversation, and I wish them luck with their future children. Monica and I had just completed a puzzle (500 pieces!), and the first moments of our dinner conversation revolved around whether we had antacids at home for later. I love her.

You seat yourself at Taconooga and a server visits the table. Our server was wonderful on this night. She brought us menus, took our drink orders and had a big bowl of choriqueso (yep, it’s just sausage and queso dip) and chips at our table in no time. We each ordered a beer, too: I had a Negro Modelo and Monica ordered a Corona. I spied co-owner Armando Castro wandering around serving in various roles.

Monica’s shrimp taco. (Photo: Staff)

The animal paintings on the wall are something else. My favorite is the emu blowing a bubble and, beside it, the sassy flamingo. There is definitely a playful attitude at Taconooga that I appreciate even if I don’t quite understand the humor they’re going after. I love the slogan, though: “not just another pinche taco,” which translates to “not just another lousy taco.” I appreciate the lack of subtlety with their message because it’s true; most of the tacos (I’m talking Mexico City-style “authentic” tacos) in Chattanooga are pretty bad. I can only think of a handful of places that do it right, and Taconooga is one of them.

Chorizo sausage, queso and the best chips. (Photo: Staff)

The food
You can get three tacos (which is plenty) for $8. Of course, you’ll want to add a specialty taco—like the “Taconooga,” “El Gringo” or veggie taco—because they’re amazing. If you’re not feeling tacos, you can order something else from the extensive menu. I can personally vouch for the nachos supreme, empanadas and taco salad. We like to pair our tacos with an imported beer, but you could get an aguas frescas if you want.

When I get a Taconooga craving, it’s usually focused on the carnitas tacos. Monica always orders the specialty tacos: a “Cameron Especial” (shrimp and mango salsa) and the Taconooga (grilled steak/chicken, cheese and corn), the latter possibly being my favorite taco in Chattanooga. No, I’ll go ahead and declare it. The namesake taco at Taconooga is my favorite taco. Done.

The choriqueso dip is to heartburn what kerosene is to a campfire. Know that going in. There’s something about chorizo that lights me up more than almost anything else. I’m still going to eat it because I’m a sadist, but you should be aware of the consequences. The chips are among my favorite in the city.

A plate of carnitas tacos. (Photo: Staff)

This go-round, I ordered a carne asada taco and two carnitas (pork) tacos. I’ve tried for years to replicate the pork at home and failed. It’s succulent and crispy on the edges. Each taco is piled high with more cilantro than I could ever consume. I like to dump the salsa verde on them and sop up any leftover bits with the chips, including the rice and beans that come with the taco dish. Monica’s tacos were huge, so she only needed two. The shrimp tacos are particularly colorful. You best like cilantro if you’re visiting Taconooga.

Would we go back?
It’s important to try new restaurants, but I think it’s equally important to have old standbys you can rely on when you need a little comfort food. Ours are Mojo Burrito, Rice Boxx, Figgy’s Sandwich Shop and The Flying Squirrel (if we’re feeling like going out). Taconooga is another restaurant we can always trust to offer great food anytime. We’ll definitely be back. You’ll find us in the corner underneath the bubble-blowing emu.

The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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