So last weekend my parents and I went to the Nashville Exotic Pet Expo because we wanted to look at hedgehogs. I’ve been to Pet Expos back when we lived in California but I’d never been to an exotic pet show before and it was so cool! There were so many different and amazing animals, some of them I got to touch and others I just got to look at, some were for sale and others were just being shown off by their proud pet parents. I tried to take a lot of pictures but I couldn’t get pictures of everything. There were a bunch of snakes and a ton of lizards including iguanas and chameleons and some amphibians like frogs and axolotls. On the more fuzzy and cuddly side of things there were the expected animals like bunnies and hedgehogs and sugar gliders but also some crazy things like a baby fennec fox, monkeys, baby ring-tailed lemurs, and cutest of all a baby coatimundi–a South American cousin of the raccoon that I’m glad wasn’t for sale because I’m pretty sure all three of us would’ve had a really hard time not buying it. We went in search of hedgehogs because I’ve wanted one for a while now–and I even got to hold a baby hedgehog it was so tiny and shy!–but as an animal lover the entire show was just a really cool experience and I wanted to take home pretty much every animal I saw. Although I went in thinking I wanted a hedgehog, my favorite animals at the show–other than the coati–actually ended up being the sugar gliders. They were so cute and soft and the ones at this one booth just wanted to climb all over their people and sleep in their shirts and pockets and while I definitely need to do some serious research first, the people at the booth made them seem like great, loving pets. I wonder what the cats would think.
One of my biggest goals since moving to Tennessee has been to seek out the best Mexican food Music City has to offer, a task that, as a California girl, I set upon with equal parts enthusiasm and trepidation (Pros: finding new places to eat is always fun. Cons: no offense to any Southerners reading this but I didn’t know what to expect from whatever passed for tacos in Nashville). I haven’t tried nearly as many places as I would like—I pretty much have to save my Mexican food adventures for whenever it’s just Mom and I—but I feel like I’ve gotten a pretty good sample size thus far.
Yelp has quickly become my best friend on this journey to find all the best restaurants my new home has to offer and when it comes to Mexican food I rely pretty much exclusively on the app to tell me which places are worth trying. When I came across Fogatas while scrolling through Yelp, I was quickly swayed by its four-star rating and almost-exclusively-good reviews that raved about the place. So Mom and I excitedly went to lunch… and were seriously disappointed. I ordered a lunch combo of a chicken enchilada and a chicken taco (don’t ask me to tell you what Mom had, I barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning—or for lunch a couple of months ago as the case may be—let alone what someone else had) and it was fine, I guess, it certainly wasn’t bad anyway but I don’t know it just kind of lacked flavor and considering I had just read these raving reviews it just didn’t live up to the hype. Now, this was at their newer location about a week or two after they had opened and many of the reviews referred to their original location so it’s possible that it was just a case of a new restaurant working out the kinks. Still, with so many places left on the never-ending list to try, it didn’t inspire any desire to try again any time soon.
Las Brisas was not a Yelp find but a place that we found while driving and impulsively decided to try. Overall, it was a better experience than Fogatas, the chips and salsa were good and I ordered a combo of a chicken enchilada and a carne asada taco. Flavor-wise it was pretty good—better than Fogatas though not nearly as good as other places I’ve tried either in California or here in Nashville—however, the ridiculously small portion sizes ruined it for me. While it’s true that sometimes Mexican food—particularly sit-down (as opposed to fast/counter order) which is what Las Brisas is—can be almost too much food at times with large portion sizes of heavy carb-loaded food plus rice and beans plus the chips and salsa before the meal, but a single street taco and one tiny enchilada that was barely bigger than the street taco is just not enough food when you’re paying the same price you’d pay for a huge meal at another restaurant.
When I visited Nashville a few months before I moved here, I found a small counter-order taco place called Bajo Sexto in downtown Nashville that looked and smelled amazing. Unfortunately, when I found it, it was five minutes before closing so I had to leave empty-handed. mouth-watering thoughts of street tacos plagued me for months before I finally had the opportunity to try Bajo Sexto. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have hyped the place up so much for myself. The pork in the carnitas street taco was completely unseasoned which was unfortunate but the chicken one had really good flavor and the chips and salsa were great. I’d definitely eat there again but I think if I’m looking for tacos in downtown Nashville I’d rather just go a couple blocks up the street to Bakersfield instead.
Pueblo Real, at least the location I went to, is one of those places that unless someone personally recommends it or it has really good yelp reviews you would probably never set foot in it. From the outside it looks like this tiny little hole-in-the-wall place located in one of the sketchier parts of town. Inside, however, the place is plenty clean and when I was there many of the booths were filled. Of the mid-range sit-down Mexican restaurants I’ve tried since being here, Pueblo Real is definitely my favorite. I had my usual first-visit order of a chicken enchilada and beef taco combo. The meat was well seasoned and the sauce on the enchilada was delicious. I haven’t had a chance to go back there yet—or tried their sister restaurant Tito’s—but I definitely plan to.
Oscars Tacos has two locations near me: one bigger, newer-looking location that at least every time I’ve been there has been mostly empty and a smaller one that’s a lot farther out-of-the-way that is usually full of people. The farther one is significantly better than the bigger one, strange for a chain restaurant to be so different store-to-store but having eaten at the closer location twice I can say with absolute certainty that the longer drive and larger crowd is worth braving if you’re looking for quality tacos. Oscars Tacos is a fast-casual counter order restaurant that boasts “California-style” Mexican food. I haven’t had a chance to try any other counter order taco places other than Bajo Sexto in order to compare Oscars to other local options but on its own, Oscars is pretty good. I’ve had the carne asada and carnitas street tacos as well as the shredded beef crispy taco. I prefer the carne asada and beef tacos but the carnitas are good too. They’ve also got two different house-made hot sauces that go really well with the tacos. My biggest complaint is that they have Pepsi products—usually a deal-breaker in my book so it’s a good thing they’ve got fast, cheap, and tasty tacos.
Uncle Julios, on the fancier side of Mexican sit-down restaurants, was a birthday meal for my mom. The waitress told us that they were famous for their fajitas so rather than my usual enchilada/taco order I went with the “Carnitas Azteca” fajitas which were described as “savory braised pork with honey chipotle glaze, lima crema, and fresh cilantro.” While they weren’t necessarily the most Mexican tasting fajitas, they were fantastic. The combination of sweet and spicy is one of my favorite flavor combinations and these fajitas really delivered. Uncle Julio’s is also known for their chocolate piñata dessert, which we didn’t end up ordering but we did see it being served at several other tables. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a hollow ball of chocolate filled with fresh fruit and homemade churro pieces hanging from a little metal stand like a bunch of bananas that you break open with what looked like a wooden rolling-pin. Probably the most fun looking dessert I’ve ever seen at a restaurant.
In downtown Nashville, a few blocks up from Bajo Sexto, Bakersfield is a small taco place that looks more like a nice bar than a restaurant. They serve street-style tacos a la carte on a metal pan and stand like you’d see at a pizza place. Easily the best tacos I’ve had since coming to Nashville. I ordered the “pollo rojo”, “al pastor”, and “cochinta pibil” tacos all of which had great flavor and quality meat and left me genuinely disappointed when I had finished and realized there weren’t any left. Both of their salsa options—a mild green citrus-y one and a medium heat smoky red one were fantastic as well. I wish Bakersfield weren’t so far from where I live; I’ve been craving it since almost the minute I left, although I supposed it’s a good thing for my wallet and my self-control that they aren’t super close by.
Overall, I feel like my search for quality Mexican food in Nashville has been surprisingly successful and I can’t wait to taste what else Music City has to offer.