The first time I reached up to the serving window of Mas Tacos Por Favor — at an outdoor nighttime event the roving taco stand was catering — I accepted the folded paper boat and blindly ingested a snack that I couldn't even see in the dim light. I knew what tacos generally look like, so I assumed I'd know what this taco would taste like, too. I couldn't have been more wrong. No number of talking Chihuahuas could have prepared me for the unique layering of textures and flavors that enlivened the blind meal. No sooner had I finished the tangy citrus-laced chicken taco than I queued up for a taco with quinoa, potatoes and corn. Then, just as I was weighing the choice of pork or another bundle of the warm, pearly quinoa, owner Teresa Mason slid the window on her blue 1974 Winnebago closed and pulled away from the party, leaving a delighted group of diners in her dust.
After two years of cruising around town in her nomadic taco dispensary, Mason finally slowed down this summer, parking her cheery enterprise at a brick-and-mortar shop in East Nashville, on the corner of Eastland and McFerrin avenues. The layout of the stationary shop, located in the former Hampton Deli, mirrors that of the mobile flagship, with a decor as ruggedly quaint and endearingly worn as a 36-year-old RV. Wobbling, mismatched chairs circle small tables, clustered intimately below the chalkboard menu and kitchen window. Wire-basket light fixtures, dangling lanterns, corrugated-metal cladding, old-school oscillating fans and a real-live jukebox lend the cinderblock-and-linoleum-accented room the warm, eclectic ambiance of an Anthropologie store. Cacti on the tables and colorful woven blankets hint at the Mexican inspiration behind the menu, without smacking you in the face with a hackneyed array of Speedy Gonzalez kitsch.
We applauded Mas Tacos' conciseness when it was a mobile vendor delivering a handful of clever tacos — still, we worried the stationary store might lose that precision. But Mason has deftly avoided any temptation to stray beyond the elegantly simple formula that made her a late-night sensation. In other words, it wasn't broke, so she didn't fix it: She just parked it in East Nashville — and added soups, tamales and brunch with churros and coffee on Saturdays. (The Winnebago still hits the road every now and then.)
With a laser-like focus on a tight repertoire of tacos, grilled corn, soups and fruit drinks, Mas Tacos Por Favor has as close to a 100 percent success rate as you're likely to find, further underscoring our thesis that small is beautiful when it comes to menus.
Obviously, tacos are the headliner. Mason grills corn tortillas (from La Hacienda Taqueria) to a perfect, supple texture that still folds, yet has a distinct toasted crunch on the edges. The chalkboard lists a rotating array that includes cast-iron chicken with charred onions, jalapeños, tomatilla salsa, sour cream, lime and cilantro; tilapia with spicy dill yogurt, red cabbage, red onion, lime and cilantro; and quinoa with roasted potatoes, corn, jalapeno and cabbage. Follow Mas Tacos on Twitter, and you'll find updates such as "Tamales in the pot ... cactus and chorizo tonight ... braised pork and red mole in la manana ..." and "fried avocado, pulled pork, cast-iron chicken, quinoa tacos, elote y mas!!"
For our money, the fried avocado taco stands above all others, reprising the decadent buttery-and-crisp sensation of the famous Fat Ball at the bygone Alleycat Lounge, inside a toothsome tortilla drizzled with citrus and crema.
But don't let the Tacos title distract you from the other delicacies. Mas Tacos' version of elotes, grilled corn on the cob topped with crumbly cotija cheese and tangy lime juice, could slap french fries off their pedestal as most-beloved side item in a head-to-head competition. Meanwhile, Mas Tacos' chicken soup — laced with lime, chili and cilantro and bobbing with white meat, grape tomatoes, grilled corn, peppers, avocado slices and puffy strips of deep-fried tortilla — deserves a place in the pantheon of most-powerful nonprescription cold-remedies. Vegetarian-friendly soups, such as black bean with a deep-red hue and mole-esque texture, also make frequent appearances on the menu.
As the Twitter feed frequently reminds, Mas Tacos is still a BYOB situation, but don't bring your own beverages to the exclusion of Mason's gorgeous nonalcoholic agua fresca, which she makes with fruit and ice in the morning and allows to dilute through the day as the ice melts. The red drink is made with pureed watermelon and lime juice. The yellow — or sometimes green — version is a medley of pineapple and cilantro, whose sunny hue varies depending on the ratio of herb to fruit. (Hint: Agua fresca blends nicely with tequila or vodka.)
But the sunniest hue of all, whether in the Winnebago or in the brick-and-mortar store, comes from Mason, whose cheery personality brightens the dark interior of the cozy store and makes the big blue RV look like it must be smiling. Circling the room greeting her customers, talking about the 40th birthday party where she served tacos last weekend, Mason sounds like she's having fun. As much as the excellent food, it is this happy hospitality that keeps people coming back for mas.
Mas Tacos Por Favor serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday and brunch on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Follow the truck on Twitter @mastacos and at eatmastacos.com
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