The Real Deal 

The latest authentic Mexican is being served out of a truck

The latest authentic Mexican is being served out of a truck

The first El Palenque restaurant pre-dates La Hacienda Taqueria as perhaps the first Mexican-owned restaurant on Nolensville Road, opening in the mid-’80s. But the former—though more genuine than the chain Mexican restaurants that Nashvillians were familiar with—still bowed to American tastes, serving up the real native cuisine for fellow Hispanic patrons, who were just then starting to move to the region in substantial numbers.

In 1991, Carlos Yepez came to Nashville from California and opened La Hacienda Taqueria at 2615 Nolensville Road, with a market on one side, and Nashville’s first tortilla factory on the other. Inside the market were a small grill and a short counter, where Mexican men, drawn to Nashville by job opportunities in the construction industry, gathered daily for a taste of home. If an adventurous local diner happened to wander in and take a seat, that was fine, but no one pandered to American tastes. And if you didn’t have at least a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish, the best you could do was point at whatever the guy beside you was having and mumble a “por favor?”

In the decade since, La Hacienda has relocated its tortilla factory, moved the market into the former Friedman’s Army Navy Store next door, and turned the original store into a full-scale restaurant with a couple of other locations. On any given day, the Hispanic customers still outnumber the Americans—at least at the original location—but the menu now includes some dishes no one would find south of the border.

Anyone who longs for the good old days of the original La Hacienda should check out Taqueria El Charro No. 2. Not exactly a restaurant, El Charro is a mobile truck parked in a lot formerly leased by a used car operation. On the Nolensville Road side of the truck are two monster, black cast-iron grills where the pork, beef, and chicken are cooked. On the far side of the truck, panels are raised to reveal the kitchen inside, where a cook chops the meat and assembles the tacos and burritos, which are the extent of the current menu. A short counter is affixed to the truck with a quartet of stools, and a couple of wooden picnic tables provide additional seating.

You are likely to find that the cook does not speak English, but frequently a young woman is working there who does, and she will take your order and make the translation. Here are the options painted on a panel of the truck, with a translation provided me by the señorita: pastor is spicy pork; asada is steak; chicharron is pork rinds; tripas is beef intestine; buche is pork intestine; pollo is chicken; and barbacoa is Mexican beef barbecue.

Tacos, made in small corn tortillas, are $1 each; burritos are $4. I had the bad timing to arrive just after a busy lunch, and El Charro was out of the large tortillas, so I did not get to try a burrito. But a reliable source reports that they are huge two-handers. I did try the pollo taco, which had a fabulous grilled flavor, and the fantastic barbacoa. If you are a fan of Texas barbecue, you will love barbacoa. They offer two homemade salsas, red and green, and both score high on the heat factor.

El Charro No. 2—the original on Murfreesboro Road is closed—is open Sun.-Thurs. 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m. and Fri. and Sat. from 8 a.m.-midnight. It is located at 5312 Nolensville Road, about three blocks north of Old Hickory Boulevard, across from Tusculum Lanes. Phone: 781-4030.

12 o’clock high

Sure, sure, it’s ever so glamorous by candlelight, but did you ever wonder what 6º looks like by the light of day? Book a table for lunch and you’ll find out. On July 24, the hot Gulch restaurant added mid-day service from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tues.-Fri.

Chef Scott Alderson has fashioned an exhilarating menu of hearty sandwiches and entrees priced from $9 to $11.50. That’s considerably less than you would drop after dark and a great opportunity to sample Alderson’s ingenious fare.

Among the selections are the hot shaved sirloin French dunk, a roasted and shaved angus sirloin on crusty baguette with Roquefort cheese, caramelized shallots, and fresh horseradish with veal jus for dunking; the “blow-your-mind BLT,” house-smoked salmon, apple-smoked bacon, heirloom tomatoes, hearts of romaine, Vidalia onion, and herbed fromage blanc; summer vegetable and shrimp ravioli; salmon grilled and glazed with ancho chili purée over soft polenta con queso with black beans, tomatoes, and roasted-poblano butter; and fresh black pepper-lemon zest tagliatelle with a steampot of little neck clams and pei mussels, concasse tomato, white wine, garlic, and lemon. Alderson is also offering a lunch-sized serving of the wildly popular chicken fried chicken with Sonoma raw milk cheddar and mac and Smithfield ham giblet gravy. For the non-carnivorous set, there is a plate of grilled veggies with hummus, pita chips, and vinaigrette with feta cheese.

Y cook?

You exercise there, your spouse takes a weekly yoga class there, your kids are on their soccer teams, and the whole family swims there. Now, you can get cooking with Once Upon a Recipe, a collection of recipes from YMCA members across Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky. Approximately 225 YMCA members submitted more than 500 recipes, but only the best 125 survived the cut, which is also the number of years the YMCA of Middle Tennessee has been in existence.

Once Upon A Recipe features 30-minute meals for families on the go; recipes for kids in the kitchen (eek); nutritional profiles; ways to modify recipes for healthier eating; and a chapter entitled “Food for Athletes” with contributions from players and coaches of the Nashville Predators, Nashville Kats, and Tennessee Titans. Former UT QB Peyton Manning offers the how-to for two of his favorite dishes—quick fajitas with pico de gallo and grilled steak with colorful peppers. Many of the recipes rely on cream-of-something soup, Velveeta cheese, and canned tomato sauce, so stock your pantry.

On Tuesday, Aug. 7th, Davis-Kidd will host a book-signing and fundraiser launch for the Y, with 20 percent of sales of the $18.95 book donated back to the YMCA of Middle Tennessee. The book will be available later at any local YMCA for $19 for members and $21 for nonmembers. Samples from recipes in the book will be available for tasting. For more information, call YMCA registered dietician Lynn Henderson at 373-2900.

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