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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Fresh and Flavorful Huevos Rancheros

I love having breakfast for dinner. It’s a nice change of pace to mix in from time to time, and I enjoy breakfast foods more when I don’t have to prepare and eat them quickly before heading out the door.

To literally spice up the breakfast-for-dinner fun even more, we recently tried Rick Bayless’ recipe for Huevos Rancheros, or Rancher’s Eggs, as described in his “Mexican Everyday” cookbook.

The dish offers an authentic Mexican take on the “simple” breakfast, but it’s filling enough to feed a heavy appetite such as that of a hard-working farmer or rancher, as the name suggests.

Fresh ingredients create a rush of flavor in the sauce for these Huevos Rancheros, but for those who don’t enjoy much “heat” in food, it’s not too spicy.

Here’s how it’s done. (And we’ve cut down the recipe’s yield for two people.)

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Ingredients

4 corn tortillas

4 eggs

1 jalapeno (or chile of your choice)

5 tomatillos

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chicken broth

2 small garlic cloves

1 ½ tablespoons heavy cream

½ teaspoon salt

queso fresco

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Instructions

1. Chop garlic, chile, tomatillos and cilantro.

2. Heat oil in a medium saucepan.

3. Add chopped ingredients to pan and cook on medium-high heat for 7 minutes until sauce thickens.

4. Add chicken broth and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes.

5. Stir in heavy cream. Taste and season with salt.

6. Cook four sunny-side-up eggs. Leave yolks exposed if prettier presentation is desired.

7. Heat four corn tortillas. (For fresher tortillas, wrap them in about six damp paper towels. Insert into a large plastic zip-closing bag. Fold over, but do not seal. Microwave on defrost setting for 4 minutes. This is Rick Bayless’ trick for freshening your store-bought tortillas, and we very much approve after trying it!)

8. Place 2 tortillas on each plate. Top each tortilla with an egg. Spoon sauce over everything. Sprinkle with cilantro and queso fresco. (We bought a block of queso fresco and grated it ourselves.)

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Matthew’s Take: Before trying this recipe, we had never before cooked with tomatillos or cilantro. Along with all of the other ingredients, those two items added so much flavor to this dish. And I highly recommend freshly grating queso fresco to sprinkle on top. Yolk-exposed sunny-side-up eggs are not my forte, so that was perhaps my greatest challenge with putting together this plate. It takes some practice to get the eggs done enough for our taste, while still acing presentation. This isn’t your fastest breakfast-for-dinner meal, but it might be your most flavorful.

Molly’s Take: Wow! From the grocery trip where I packed my cart with fresh ingredients to the final delicious product enjoyed over eggs and warm corn tortillas, this recipe experience was banging! The sauce poured over the fresh, sunny-side-up eggs contributed a powerful flavor and every bite was delightful. We did not have a food processor to finely blend the chopped ingredients, but as you can see, chopping them as we did worked out just fine. You really can’t beat the freshness and wholesomeness of this dish. It just makes you feel at home and warm and taken care of. Treat yourself sometime with these Huevos Rancheros. You won’t regret it.

Yucatecan Shrimp Tacos

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One of my favorite things on TV when it comes to food is Rick Bayless’ fabulous PBS show “Mexico – One Plate at a Time.” Not only does Bayless have a bottomless energy and enthusiasm for traditional, authentic Mexican food, he also provides fascinating historical and educational commentary about Mexico’s culture and traditions, while creating mouthwatering dishes that cause me to enviously stare at the screen. He is so fantastic at describing the tastes and smells of his cooking that you can almost taste and smell it yourself. Enough said, the guy’s a genius.

A few years ago, my family bought me one of his cookbooks – “Fiesta at Rick’s” – and I tried a few of the recipes, but found many of them a little too difficult for my busy lifestyle and limited access to authentic Mexican ingredients. This past Christmas, I received “Mexican Everyday”, which, to compare the two, is a fiesta without the fuss. Matthew and I couldn’t wait to try our first recipe from it, “Seafood Salad Tacos with Tomato, Radish and Habanero.” We made a few changes: we didn’t have habanero in our grocery store, so we substituted half of a jalapeno; we changed a few of the amounts to suit our tastes; and whereas the recipe allows for preparing it with any type of fish, we decided to focus on shrimp, since we love shrimp tacos. As an added coincidental plus, I had just been watching Bayless on TV talk about Yucatecan cuisine, and the introduction to this recipe is all about the market in downtown Yucatan! Cool stuff. I can’t wait to try more recipes from this awesome book, and share our takes on them (a bit simplified for us and for you) here on FoodieScore.

Ingredients

1 pound of small shrimp (about 40) (We always buy the small bag of frozen raw shrimp at Walmart; inexpensive and easy to cook, because they are already de-veined and peeled.)

1 tbsp. butter

2 tbsp. fresh lime juice

1/2 cup chopped onion

3 radishes

1 jalapeno chile

1 large tomato

1/4 cup cilantro

1 tsp. salt

12 corn tortillas (Walmart has a variety of brands that smell incredibly fresh and homemade.)

Directions

  1. Put the shrimp in a non-stick pan and add the butter. Saute until pink. Remove and place in a small bowl to cool.
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  2. Prepare the salad ingredients/vinagreta:img_1388
    • Pour the 2 tbsp. of lime juice into a medium-sized bowl. (You can use a bottle of lime juice, or squeeze a little fresh.)
    • Finely chop the onion.
    • Thinly slice the radishes.
    • Cut off the stem and finely chop about 1/2 of the jalapeno pepper.
    • Core and chop the tomato.
    • Finely chop the cilantro.
    • Add all ingredients to the bowl, along with the cooked, cooled shrimp.img_1391
  3. Stir with a large wooden spoon and season with about 1 tsp. of salt.
  4. Warm the tortillas. (Bayless has a strategy for this, which we also saw in action on his TV show. Dampen a stack of about 6 paper towels. Wrap the tortillas inside. Place inside a large plastic Ziploc-type bag, but do not close. Fold the top over and microwave on defrost for 4 minutes. This will make your corn tortillas softer and fresher.)img_1393
  5. Assemble! After our first try, we suggest using two tortillas for each taco for added strength to the integrity of the taco.

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Matthew’s Take: In a world that moves too quickly and stressfully, food preparation and consumption have turned into rat race processes of the dining out or heat-and-eat variety. This dish bucks that unsettling trend. There’s nothing already-processed or drive-through like about these Yucatecan tacos. You freshly prepare your ingredients. You slow down to savor the extraordinary flavor that gives your tastebuds pause. And you save this recipe to make again. Rick Bayless is the modern master of authentic Mexican cooking in America. I’m lucky my wife discovered him so I can now enjoy his tried-and-true recipes, too.

Molly’s Take: These tacos were cool, refreshing and bursting with crisp, fresh flavor. I suggest if you don’t like spicy things at all, maybe leave out the jalapeno, because it definitely added a kick. All in all, a very simple, delicious recipe that I’d suggest for any summer or winter night.

Creative Southeast-Style Fish Tacos

The recipe is a missing ingredient when I approach the kitchen. There are very few things I cook that follow an actual tried-and-true recipe with measurements. Something thrills me about looking in the fridge and the pantry and creating a meal. Maybe that’s a trait I developed during my bachelor days. And maybe that’s why many of my posts in this space are restaurant adventures; I cook often, but I rarely use a recipe that’s very shareable.

Cooking is a therapy for me, and there’s very little that’s therapeutic about sweating what expensive ingredients I need to pick up at the store and how carefully I follow someone else’s directions. It’s the creativity that makes the whole experience fun and flavorful.

That’s the case with these “Southeast-Style Fish Tacos” I made up on a recent Sunday afternoon. We cook a lot of homemade Mexican in our house, and we usually keep things incredibly simple. This on-the-fly “recipe” is easy, too.

Here are the basic parts of the plate: Fish, Tortilla, Sugar Slaw, Garlic-Onion Aioli

Molly makes amazing homemade tortillas, but for this “dish” we used store-bought. We always prefer flour.

The fish can be any fish you like. To be truly “Southeast” I’d suggest something like a catfish that you commonly see here in North Carolina. You could also use a flounder or a tilapia. We had fresh-cooked salmon on hand, so that’s what I used, lightly seasoned with a little paprika and fresh-squeezed lime juice. I cooked the salmon on a medium-high heat for about 6-8 minutes on each side, just enough to cook it through and through without losing any of that beautiful flaky texture and light pink color.

For the slaw, I took 2 cups of fresh red cabbage (great for color), 2 teaspoons of white sugar and 2 teaspoons of brown sugar, and a teaspoon of milk to add a little liquid to break down the sugars a bit faster. I mixed the slaw in a bowl and then flash-froze it for about 15 minutes. The combination of two basic sugars in the slaw is one reason I call this “Southeast.” There are many variations of Asian slaw out there that have a sweet ingredient, but the sugar just seemed to place this in the Southeast United States.

The aioli was a combination of a 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, a teaspoon of onion powder, a teaspoon of chopped garlic and a teaspoon of garlic salt. This sauce was intended to give the aioli a bit of a quick kick that would counter the sweetness of the slaw and the citrus spice of the fish. The mayo in this ingredient is another reason I refer to this as “Southeast Style.”

I spread a few lines of the aioli on a warm tortilla, added a few strips of freshly cooked fish (the salmon in our case) and then topped the plate with a healthy pinch of the slaw.

It took about 30 minutes to put this dish together, from the moment I gathered ingredients to the time we took our first bites. Let me know what you think of the concept and the dish if you try it, and feel free to share with me in the comments below what you think about my approach to cooking. Eat well!

Molly’s Take: As a big fan of White Duck Taco in Asheville, I have to say, this is the closest we’ve come at home to replicating the explosion of flavor and fresh ingredients you’ll find in one of their tacos. The three parts of this taco were each incredibly flavorful – the citrus-y, grilled salmon; the crispy, cool slaw; and the salty, saucy aioli. I don’t always rate dishes on our blog, but I give these easy tacos an A+ for originality and taste.

Matthew’s Take: Obviously, I love this approach to cooking, as I said above. But I was also quite pleased with how these tacos came out. We feature beef, chicken, fish and shrimp in tacos at our house on a regular basis, and this particular combination varied from the homemade pico de gallo, rice and beans we normally use to accompany the main ingredients. I really liked the flavor combination of the sweet slaw and the spice of the aioli, along with the hearty lightness of the fish. And I ultimately decided that cabbage holds up much better in a taco than the oft-used lettuce.

Fresh, Simple Homemade Salsa

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Mexican restaurants used to confuse me with the phrase pico de gallo. Is it salsa? Is it something else? Now I have a simple answer: It’s salsa so fresh and unprocessed that you can still see the different vegetables and spices it includes.

I’ve recently been tinkering with options for an incredibly simple and fresh-tasting salsa that I can make to enjoy when we eat Mexican-style food at home (which is often because we love it). We aren’t big fans of incredibly spicy food, and I like such recipes to include as few ingredients and measurements as possible. It’s nice to know you’ve got what you need in the kitchen without having to make a special grocery trip to make something as simple as salsa. Here’s what I came up with, and we’ve enjoyed it a few times with tortilla chips (and I once successfully used it as a southwestern-style cheeseburger topping).

Ingredients 

1/3 cup chopped tomato

1/3 cup chopped onion

1/3 cup chopped pepper (your choice, mine was green bell)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

splash of lime juice

Directions

Finely chop your vegetables and mix them in a bowl alongside your salt and pepper. Splash with a couple of circles of lime juice. Mix again and serve in a bowl of an appropriate size.

This recipe yields a cup of salsa. You’ll want to multiply that by how many people you’re serving and how much salsa you expect each diner to eat.

Foodie Travels: White Duck Taco Shop, Asheville, N.C.

Mexican food is always a viable option when Molly and I are deciding what and where to eat. We’re attracted to the free or inexpensive appetizers of chips, salsa and queso dip, the ability to mix and match a variety of tortilla, chicken, beef and cheese entrée options, and the atmosphere you experience in each Mexican-style restaurant.

White Duck Taco Shop takes that experience to a whole new place altogether—quite literally in its Asheville River Arts District location.

We first discovered this place while on our honeymoon in 2015. The arts district was on our list of places to visit in the city, but White Duck wasn’t really foremost on our radar. That radar, by the way, wasn’t very accurate as we initially had a difficult time even finding the arts district along a beautiful but lengthy stretch of river.

A bit frustrated from driving around a bit more than expected, we came upon the taco shop, which we had heard of but hadn’t necessarily planned to visit. Hungry, we decided to make it our lunch stop.

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Already in a graffiti and creativity-covered waterfront section of an artsy town, White Duck’s setting in a colorful old industrial building gave us the feeling of being somewhere outside North Carolina.

When we walked inside and took note of the pub-style seating, the underground-feeling environment and the somewhat-hipster customers, we felt like we had stepped into a travel portal and out the other side in Europe. Upbeat music filled the air and a variety of drinks covered patrons’ tables around us as we surveyed the menu.

At first glance, you might think more than $3 for a taco sounds expensive. Normally, you’d be right, but these are unique and large tacos. We decided to order three and share all of them to make the most of our experience. We highly recommend the fish taco, the carnitas and the black bean variety.

You should expect to have a hard choice, as this place appears to offer about 10-12 different taco options on its menu each day, with slight variations depending on when you visit.

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White Duck’s tacos are packed with the kind of intense flavor that many Americanized ethnic food restaurants are lacking. The different meats were clearly seasoned in their own unique spices, the vegetables were fresh, the sauces added to the experience instead of feeling like a way to hide a lack of taste. And the portions were more than satisfactory for the price.

Past the tacos, most of your chip-and-dip combinations are also about $3 and are a satisfying prelude or sidekick for your main courses. And the side order offerings provide $2 choices that are a mix of traditional and unique for a shop that serves Mexican-style food. We had the options of black beans, cowboy pinto beans and chipotle cheese grits on the day we first visited, seeing a chance to mix Mexican and Southern recipes to accompany the tacos.

We liked White Duck so much we’ve referenced it ever since that first visit as a Mexican-American favorite within an hour of our home in western North Carolina. That affinity even led me to stop by to pick up takeout for dinner on my way home from a conference in Asheville earlier this year. There’s always room for tacos on our household’s menu, and White Duck is absolutely one of our favorites.

 

White Duck Taco Shop

1 Roberts Street, Asheville, N.C.

(There are also locations in downtown Asheville, the Charleston and Columbia areas in South Carolina and in Johnson City, Tenn.

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Foodie Travels: Pawleys Front Porch, Columbia, S.C.

Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” (or DDD for short) resoundingly succeeds in sharing some of the most tasty, interesting and American restaurants from coast to coast. The show has served as a locator map for restaurants Molly and I have visited across the country, and it’s been a primary source of dining ideas for a couple of our trips this year alone.

When we planned to hit the road for a recent summer trip through South Carolina, Molly explored DDD options on our route. That’s how she discovered Pawleys Front Porch, an American food restaurant in the Five Points community of Columbia, not far from the University of South Carolina campus and the confluence of interstates 26 and 77.

Pawleys is a well-known burger spot in Columbia, receiving praise beyond just the Food Network. One of my mom’s friends even suggested it as her first choice when she learned we’d be traveling right through the South Carolina state capital.

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As if the menu’s primary reliance on cheeseburgers wasn’t enough to reel me in, this place names its specialty burgers after South Carolina islands. That’s a major selling point for me, since my family has frequented Kiawah Island south of Charleston for nearly 30 years as our vacation haven.

There’s a Kiawah burger on the menu, and that was naturally my easy choice. Along with an incredibly well-seasoned beef patty, I enjoyed the Brie cheese, fire-roasted peppers and portobello mushrooms as my toppings. And the burger was more than a mouthful in each bite.

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Other island options include Fripp, Edisto, Wadmalaw and Sullivan’s, with a wide range of toppings that make each burger a special experience. But that’s not all that we enjoyed about this place.

When Molly and I can travel to a restaurant that offers me a burger and her a Mexican food option like a quesadilla or taco plate, we’re especially happy. Pawleys delivered on those options, including a special shrimp taco offered on the day of our visit.

With burgers and a mixture of other food options, Pawleys has an atmosphere you’d almost expect to find at a more coastal location. There is a front porch with seating, as you’d expect with the name, but there’s also inside seating in an all-American restaurant kind of environment with college-aged wait staff members, which you’d expect with the location proximity to USC.

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We usually order water for drinks, but with that in mind this is a place where two can eat well for about $20. When we left, our stomachs were full, our tastebuds were happy, and I didn’t have any reason to complain about pricing or service. Give it a try if you’re traveling through the middle of South Carolina. I’ve had burgers from Greenville to Charleston to Myrtle Beach, and Pawleys’ was the best in taste, creativity and price.

Pawleys Front Porch

827 Harden Street, Columbia, S.C.

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Foodie Travels: Lankford Grocery & Market, Houston, TX

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Earlier this year, Molly and I took a 2,500-mile round-trip road trip to Houston, Texas, for the wedding of one of her best friends. Of course, we looked forward to the beautiful occasion and the chance to share in a most special day. I also saw the trip as a chance to try a few local restaurants in Houston and a few along the way.

Along with a chance to try Texas brisket barbecue, authentic Tex Mex, Texas-sized pecan pie and a variety of Asian, Cuban and other ethnic foods that Houston offers, I had to sample at least one spot known for its local cheeseburgers. The bride offered us a list of great food options to try during our visit, and I supplemented those choices with a little research of my own. That’s when I found Lankford Grocery & Market, a decades-old Houston institution located between the city’s Fourth Ward and Midtown districts.

On our first full day in Houston, we visited Space Center Houston south of the city’s downtown. On the way back toward town, we rolled through neighborhoods and around the corner home of Lankford Grocery & Market, which is also listed here among Texas hot spots on the roadtrip food site roadfood.com. I was concerned about parking options after seeing online that the restaurant looks like it sits on a full corner with not much on-street parking. Turns out, parking was no issue. Right past the restaurant, there’s a street with ample space for 20 or so cars to park underneath shade trees. Once we parked, we got out and took a short walk around the corner and into our lunch spot.

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The restaurant was busy because it was lunchtime on a Friday, but there’s plenty of seating inside and outside, so we had no trouble getting seats in the corner. A waitress arrived shortly with menus and our adventure began. It was a memorable experience best summed up by these words from Molly (and I paraphrase because I’ve forgotten the exact quote): When you can get a cheeseburger and I can get Mexican, we won’t find a better place to eat than this. And I completely agree. In addition to American favorites like the cheeseburger, Lankford capitalizes on the Tex Mex connection of the state to offer delicious Mexican food favorites as well.

Molly ordered and consumed as much of Lankford’s Super Taco as she could. It was a heaping of Mexican food on top of crispy tortilla shells. I ordered the original cheeseburger and a side of fries and finished the whole plate. It was the best cheeseburger I’ve had since my favorite cheeseburger joint of all time (Kim’s Kitchen in Stanley, N.C.) closed about five years ago. The meat was hand-pattied and incredibly fresh. The bun was soft and hearty to support the patty, cheese and delicious toppings.

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In addition to the food, the atmosphere personified the local joint: regulars trading conversation with the waitresses and cashier, a take-out line with as many people as were seated in the restaurant, businessmen in suits stopping in for lunch, loosening their ties and removing their sunglasses, and a kitchen churning out plate after plate of tasty treats.

Everything about this restaurant was a winner. The atmosphere, the parking, the location, the history, the spot on the Food Network and Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” TV show and, most important, the amazing food and memorable cheeseburger. If you’re ever in Houston, check out Lankford Grocery & Market.

Lankford Grocery & Market, 88 Dennis Street, Houston, TX, lankfordgrocery.com

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