Taqueria del Sol2317 12th Ave. South www.taqueriadelsol.com Words and images by Mary Beth Dined 9/26/13
To be honest, when I first dined at Taqueria del Sol just after it opened in 12th South in early 2013, I was mildly disappointed. I came in with high hopes for this Georgia-originated chain thinking this would be the next best restaurant in 12th South and rival other delicious taco stops in town. While service was friendly and fast, the tacos and sides did not blow me away. Fast forward to September 2013. My dear friend, Clay, and creator of this blog, gave me the opportunity to try Taqueria del Sol again in a restaurant preview event that showcased none other than one of my favorites in Southwestern cuisine, the Hatch green chile.
After having the chance to sample an array of dishes, served up by Chef Eddie, the co-creator and main chef of the original Georgia franchise, I must say that Taqueria del Sol has redeemed itself in my estimation and in my belly. I will give you the run down of what transpired…
To set the scene, the event took place before opening hours, so we reviewers got the restaurant to ourselves to mingle and meet one another. Food service started promptly with a palate cleanser of pickled watermelon and winter radishes slaw, drizzled with citrus and spice. It was the perfect start to the meal with a little sweetness, mild acidity, and a little heat. As we began, Chef Eddie took time to explain the mission behind his food, which is to support local produce, the farming community, and feature the best fresh ingredients from Georgia and Tennessee.
The Hatch green chile relleno appeared next and it was the best I’ve ever eaten, hands down. This dish alone may convert me to a regular at Taqueria del Sol. Normally, I’ve had rellenos that come as a stuffed poblano pepper, but foodie friends, this was something quite different and much more delicious. The panko-crusted chile had the perfect amount of crunchy crust, a warm cheesy center, and a slow heat that builds from the Hatch chile itself. It was non-traditional, but with great Southwestern components, which are really a marker of the cuisine overall at Taqueria del Sol. The taqueria presents great flavors we love with Mexican food, but with a new, refreshing spin.
Next up, the oh-so-Nashville hot chicken taco. I took my first bite, and yes, that chicken was hot but not painfully so. In fact, the combo of chile d’arbol, pickled jalapeno mayo, and some lettuce for crunch, led to a complex set of flavors that allowed me to taste everything. Not only was the flavor there, the chicken itself was cooked perfectly. It was tender inside and had that crunchy, fried exterior we all love.
At this point in the meal, you might imagine I was getting a bit full, but we weren’t done sampling just yet. More goodness was on its way. For the final dishes, we were served an enchilada that contained a full-sized Hatch green chile, smothered in queso blanco, and rolled up inside the corn enchilada shell. This fairly simple arrangement did a lot to feature the chile itself, but not much else, so just know that going in. Along with this last dish, we had the pleasure of three additional sides served up family-style. These included a large dish of green chile (of course!) mashed potatoes that had a subtle heat that complimented their super creamy consistency. Next, some of the best Mexican rice I’ve ever had hit the table. This rice had cilantro, poblano peppers, and even featured the New Mexico Hatch chile finely chopped up and incorporated in the dish. The rice had a clean, flavor-packed taste that didn’t just take up space on the plate like most bland, orange Mexican rice you often get (the kind with tiny peas and carrots). Last but not least, we enjoyed some sautéed spinach that was absolutely excellent. Truly, sautéed spinach can be pretty basic and boring. I like to make it at home and occasionally order it out because it’s so full of good vitamins and nutrients. It makes me feel a little less guilty about eating that fried chicken and cheese-stuffed chiles. The spinach featured the chile as well but also had a delicious, creamy sauce to accompany it and offset some of the heat that the wilted leaves absorb. This came out to be one of the best spinach dishes I’ve had out at a restaurant, so kudos, Taqueria del Sol. If there had been a dessert, I would have been too full to enjoy it. However, next time I’m back for lunch or dinner, I’ll either go in for some Jeni’s or Las Paletas, both conveniently located on 12 South, to cool down my Mexican-spiced palate.
I left the event full and happy, mainly because I’m glad that this second experience at Taqueria del Sol flew past all my expectations based upon my initial visit early this year. We often give restaurants a “one and done” chance to impress us, but whenever a place is hyped up and new, I think it’s always wise to give it a second visit if you can. As with all new things, you sometimes have to allow for time for the business to work out the kinks and develop a groove. I’ll be back to Taqueria del Sol to enjoy the patio on a fall afternoon, order up a chile relleno, or a weekly special with a cerveza, and enjoy this affordable gem within the 12th South community.