Northshore’s TacoNooga’s food is outside la caja—and so good.
Let’s face it: Chattanooga is up to its huevos rancheros in Mexican restaurants. Every street corner that isn’t occupied by a church, e-cig shop or payday loan business seems to have a new “Mexican” restaurant hanging its hopes on what ends up being the same tired combination of tortillas, cheese, meat and vegetables.
My cynical skepticism about our city’s Latin food choices was in full bloom when I first visited TacoNooga. Little did I know that my skepticism was about to be proven so wrong—so beautifully, deliciously wrong.
TacoNooga sits just across from BrewHaus at 207A Frazier Avenue and is one of the few businesses in that area with dedicated parking just behind the building. The restaurant is brightly decorated with works from talented local artists, and has a great view of the tourists, post-hipster youth and other Northshore fauna that stroll by, thanks to the huge windows that line the front of the eatery.
But I did not come for the décor, I came for the food, and as I read through the menu I could feel a twinge of optimism begin to form in my cynicism-hardened heart.
This was a Saturday, so along with TacoNooga’s regular menu, my wife and I were handed separate menus delightfully titled “Mariscos—Saturdays and Sundays only.” Mariscos, you may remember from high school Spanish, means “seafood” and these additional dishes were about to make me a very happy Noogan.
With a dozen items to choose from, the weekend seafood menu showcases the variety of Mexican cuisine we rarely see here in Chattanooga. The “Vuelve a la Vida” cocktail with shrimp, octopus, raw oysters, ceviche, spicy tomato juice and avocado certainly sounded promising, as did the “Tostada de Ceviche,” with its tangy fish cured in citrus juices, then topped with jalapeno, onion and avocado.
But this morning, co-owner and chef Armando Castro suggested I try the “7 Mares” (7 Seas) soup since I self-identified as a devotee of all things seafood. The 7 Mares is not a dish to order on the side; this is a meal unto itself, overflowing with steamed crab legs, shrimp, octopus, scallops, fish, mussels and vegetables, all lounging in a flavor-packed broth that is beautifully seasoned with traditional flavors such as epazote.
Castro took a few moments early in our visit to explain that everything on the menu is made from scratch, and many items are even made to order, including the tortillas. Yes, you heard right: When you order an item served on or with tortillas, they are made to order just for you. This makes an enormous difference in the taste and the texture of the tortilla.
My wife ordered Huarache with tender, marinated steak, house-made beans, finely shredded cabbage, queso fresco and TacoNooga’s signature red salsa on a handmade corn tortilla.
Huaraches are not unique to TacoNooga, but the quality and flavors of their take on this dish may be the best in town. The thick, corn tortilla that serves as the base is crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and seasoned just right. Castro’s house-made beans are also particularly tasty, thanks to an added depth of flavor from avocado leaves, arbol and guajillo chilis.
The coolness of the queso fresco and the creaminess of the crema rounded out this generous entrée that continually lured me into stealing bites every time my wife made the mistake of looking away.
I also ordered “Taquitos Mexicanos,” which are quite similar to the classic flautas we’ve all come to love, except these are assembled with TacoNooga’s made-to-order tortillas, house-made beans, freshly made guacamole and house red salsa, with your choice of chicken, potatoes or my favorite, chorizo and potatoes.
These also come topped with queso fresco and crema so that every part of your palate gets some love from this crispy, sweet, savory and creamy delight.
Beginning this month, TacoNooga will be cooking up special fall treats, such as pumpkin tortillas, pumpkin tamales and agua de chilacayote, a drink made from the chilacayote squash mixed with brown sugar, cinnamon (and sometimes pineapple) that can be enjoyed cold or hot.
There are so many more reasons to visit TacoNooga, from their beers and beer cocktails (Michelada anyone?) to their duritos, fried cactus or roast-beef tender lengua.
Grab your friends, family and get to TacoNooga now. They are definitely not just another pinche taco!
207-A Frazier Ave.
M-Th: 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Fr-Sa: 11 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.