Foodie Travels: Mas Tacos Por Favor, Nashville, Tenn.

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Just a few miles from Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, there’s a cozy little Mexican food spot that really puts on a show for your tastebuds.

Mas Tacos Por Favor (translation: more tacos, please) started out as a food truck-style eatery in a 1974 Winnebago and has since moved into a more permanent location in East Nashville.

This place is all about flavor, as a taco shop should be. On the menu you’ll find favorites like the Cast Iron Chicken Taco and the Sweet Potato Quinoa Taco with roasted tomatillo salsa and red cabbage, both with sour cream, cilantro and fresh lime. Options also include tamales, soups, and vegetarian and gluten-free options. Tacos and other menu items rotate based on fresh ingredients available.

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Expect a line, and minimal parking space in the lot and surrounding neighborhood, especially if you arrive at a peak lunch or dinner time. But that’s just a good indicator of the loyal customer base and the taco experience you’re about to enjoy. We had a brief wait, but when our order was ready, it was exciting to hear “Tacos for Matthew” called on the restaurant’s speakers. And despite a solid crowd, our order was ready pretty fast.

Fresh is an apt word to describe the flavors of each taco we enjoyed, which included savory chicken, pork and fish, as well as the sweet potato quinoa variety. We also appreciated the menu balance of favorites you’d expect in a taco restaurant and creative options you won’t find just anywhere.

There are few foodie experiences we enjoy more than a solid visit to a delicious taco shop, and Mas Tacos is certainly on our list of favorite Mexican food destinations.

 

Mas Tacos Por Favor

732 McFerrin Ave., Nashville, Tenn.

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Foodie Travels: Alcenia’s, Memphis, Tenn.

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Along with some of the very best Southern soul food you’ll ever eat, you’ll get at least one hug when you dine at Alcenia’s in Memphis, Tenn. And that’s just one of the many things that makes Alcenia’s stand out in a city known for a plethora of great restaurants.

A former employee of Memphis-headquartered FedEx, BJ Chester-Tamayo opened the eatery following her son’s sudden passing. Not an experienced cook, she drew on the culinary traditions of her mother Alcenia (the restaurant’s namesake) to stock her menu with Southern favorites that will please any foodie. Actually, “pleased” doesn’t even begin to describe how Molly and I felt after eating at Alcenia’s.

While visiting Memphis a few months back, we chose Alcenia’s for lunch on a day when we visited both the National Civil Rights Museum and Sun Studio. So we had been walking around quite a bit and arrived for lunch with quite the appetites. About an hour later, we left with full stomachs, warm hearts and smiles on our faces.

Chester-Tamayo greeted me with a kiss on the forehead when we arrived in the restaurant that’s decked out in bright colors that instantly brighten your mood. That was followed with a plate of the best meatloaf I’ve ever had (flavorful and melt-in-your-mouth good), perfectly-seasoned green beans, decadent yams, and a hearty cornbread cake. Molly enjoyed a pork chop she described as perfectly crispy outside and juicy inside, and sides of delightfully flavorful macaroni and cheese and cabbage.

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Molly was also excited that she could enjoy super-sweet Kool-Aid – known as Ghetto-Aid – as her drink at Alcenia’s, one of the few restaurants that serve Kool-Aid these days.

We finished our meal so stuffed that we had to get our sweet potato pie dessert to go – and it was so difficult to choose which Alcenia’s dessert to try first – and we enjoyed it later on in the day.

Before we left Alcenia’s, she gave us one of her trademark hugs, and she obliged our request to take a selfie together. She told us she loved us, and she invited us to come back the next time we visit Memphis.

Chester-Tamayo serves up some of the best home-cooked food you’ll eat anywhere. More importantly, she serves up a genuine love for people that we so desperately need in our world today. Visiting Alcenia’s, even the first time, is like making a familiar weekly visit to your grandmother’s house for Sunday lunch with the family. And with that kind of feeling, how could you possibly enjoy a meal more?

We’ll be back, and we hope to see you there as a member of the Alcenia’s family.

Foodie Travels: Charlie Vergos Rendezvous, Memphis, Tenn.

North Carolina has always been my home, but my heart for barbecue has always been in Memphis, Tenn. Unfortunately, until recently that penchant for Memphis-style barbecue only lived through the enabling of national brands that emulate the tradition.

No longer.

img_1183We recently spent a couple days in Memphis, “the pork barbecue mecca of the world,” as the history reads on the website for Charlie Vergos Rendezvous, the location of my first authentic Memphis BBQ experience. And what a baptism in barbecue paradise our dinner at “The Rendezvous” was.

Just a few blocks from iconic Beale Street, The Rendezvous is tucked away, the entrance off an alley in the city’s downtown. You know you’re close to the place when you catch the whiff of the pork aroma in the breeze between the tall buildings surrounding you.

Seeing the crowd, we expected a solid wait to savor the taste that accompanies the fragrance, but that was not the case. Almost as soon as our names went on the wait list, we were called to our table for two and our rendezvous with a barbecue masterpiece.

For me, the type of barbecued meat I order stems from the location where it’s prepared. In Texas, I had to sample the brisket. In North Carolina, it’s the chopped pork. In Memphis, and at Charlie Vergos’ establishment, I had to try the ribs, known for their dry-seasoning rub and signature vinegar wash to seal in the moisture.

Our waiter (more on the wait staff in a moment) smartly urged me to purchase a full order instead of the half size. And it turns out he wasn’t just trying to make a sale. For $3 more, he wanted to make sure I fully immersed myself in the foodie experience that is The Rendezvous’ ribs.

img_1196Pull-apart tender. Cooked to perfect doneness all the way to the bone. A seasoning that delights ALL of the senses. Ten meaty pieces, each more pleasurable than the last, until the final rib that makes you wish you lived in Memphis to visit for dinner at least once a week. That’s how I would describe the ribs at this “mecca” of barbecue.

In addition to sampling one of my ribs, Molly enjoyed an incredibly flavorful barbecue chicken sandwich, with a delicious smoky taste enveloped by a hearty, soft bun. And both of our main courses were accompanied by a side of wonderful baked beans and slaw, which offered a unique mustard base in lieu of the mayonnaise base that we’re accustomed to in our home state of North Carolina.

As heavenly as the food at The Rendezvous is, the price you pay also provides a front-row seat to a unique dining experience. The place has been a Memphis mainstay, just a short distance from the Mississippi River, since the 1940s, and you get the feel of an old-time eatery in the décor of the building and the presentation of the wait staff. Many of the waiters have served at the restaurant for decades, and you can tell from the smiles on their faces that they enjoy their jobs every night.

There are so many places in Memphis, Tenn., to experience “Memphis-style” barbecue, and specifically ribs. From our experience, I don’t see how any of them could top Charlie Vergos Rendezvous.

 

Charlie Vergos Rendezvous

52 S. Second St., Memphis, Tenn.

hogsfly.com

Foodie Travels: Prince’s Hot Chicken, Nashville, Tenn.

When a food dish has a city in its name, it seems perfect for a diner to try that dish for the first time in its namesake city. That’s exactly how we experienced Nashville Hot Chicken.

History tells us the story that Nashvillian Thorton Prince was what you would call a ladies man. Well, one night he came home from a night out on the town with the scent and lipstick of a woman on him. That didn’t make his significant other too happy, so she concocted a spicy chicken to punish him. Her plan, as the story goes, backfired, and Prince used the recipe to open a restaurant and serve up the hot chicken to others. Prince’s Hot Chicken was born.

img_1018Nearly a century later, the people of Nashville continue to eat up the hot chicken, and “Nashville Hot Chicken” is served far and wide, heralding the city’s name.

There are many options for sampling hot chicken in Nashville, Tenn. Most local restaurants offer a variation of the dish on their menu. But after researching the city’s foodie spots, I decided we should try the place credited with starting the hot chicken craze.

Prince’s offers a lengthy scale of “hot” options for its chicken. You can start with mild and increase many sweat-inducing levels beyond. Not connoisseurs of spicy food, Molly and I tested out the mild chicken tenders on our visit. It was a wise choice, as the so-called “mild” still seared a few tastebuds while popping a few beads of sweat on our skin.

Despite our struggles with the heat, the chicken was delicious, perfectly tender and juicy on the inside, crunchy and sauced to perfection on the outside. And we enjoyed the presentation of the tenders per the custom of Nashville Hot Chicken – on top of white bread and topped with pickles.

In addition to our chicken, we enjoyed a side of fries (recommended to help curb the heat sensation) and a cup of baked beans, some of the best beans we’ve eaten anywhere due to their sweet and smoky mix.

Nashville natives are the experts, but we suggest you start with mild to test the spiciness first, and we suggest you steer away from carbonated beverages with your hot chicken. Molly loves Coke, but we opted for sweet tea at Prince’s.

It’s too bad Thorton Prince is known for his unfaithfulness, but Nashville and foodies everywhere have him to thank for the legendary flavor of his hot chicken.

 

Prince’s Hot Chicken

123 Ewing Drive #3 or 5814 Nolensville Road Suite 110, Nashville, Tenn.

Princeshotchicken.com