Looking for dinner on a rainy Saturday night, the hubby and I headed into Taco Mama, one of the new restaurants in the shiny Twickenham development. Neither of us had checked out the build, so it was fun to so the oh-so-urban looking Publix, complete with multi-level parking garage. Happily the parking was free and Taco Mama was just steps from the garage entrance. Less happily, a second great flood was starting and those few steps were bereft of overhangs. We threw up an umbrella and made a dash for the safety of the restaurant.
The first thing to hit me, as we entered, was the noise. The place was busy, but tables were regularly opening up so no one was going without a seat. Instead it seemed to be a combination of poor acoustics (aluminum chairs, really?) and a boisterous crowd–families with kids hopped up on adrenaline and parents sampling the expansive list of margaritas. As we stood in line at the counter, I took in the decor. Taco Mama is an Alabama created chain and Twickenham is only its third location so I was surprised by how polished and sleek the decor was. The small dine in area was primarily populated with wood tables which were stained in a variety of colors and shellacked until shiny. The ordering counter extended into a small bar section, the whole thing made of concrete with embedded bottle caps. Three dimensional glass stars hung from the ceiling and a large painting of an avocado provided the focal point of one wall.
One of the staff members offered us paper menus while we waited in line, as some people find the menu board hard to read. Unfortunately, the lighting was so dim that the paper menus, while typed, were actually worse. Offerings included tacos, burritos, and nachos. We had our choice of fountain drinks, bottled beer or Mexican Cokes, or margaritas, including an enticing pomegranate margarita. After some deliberation, I chose “The Sizzler” taco basket (soft tortillas) with a side of honey chipotle corn which I chose in a fit of “you can’t have macaroni and cheese all the time” responsibility. (They also offer “Mexican Mac and Cheese”, which I am desperately curious about.) My husband opted for “The Judge” burrito basket with a side of guacamole.
We filled our drinks and secured a table. As I sat down, I discovered another disadvantage to the light aluminum chairs–they were ridiculously cold. I was glad I had kept my long coat on to offer a buffer. Our attempts at chatting were cut short as we immediately discovered that any attempt at conversation necessitated leaning in and yelling. Thankfully, our food came up quickly.
My tacos, shown at the top of this post, were generously sized. The fillings seemed to have been added unevenly, most of the meat was to one end, most of the avocado to the other. The steak was cut into large flat, roundish pieces, not strips like I had expected and they had some tooth to them, although they were tender enough that I could easily bite through them while eating my taco. The sweet grilled onions were also left in large pieces, and were also unevenly applied, I didn’t find them until my last bite. The lettuce added a pleasant crunch and the smashed avocado was happily fresh. The queso fresco and tomatoes mostly just added curb appeal, as they weren’t particularly noticeable in the dish. Confusingly, the red chile butter sauce seemed to be missing entirely. At first I had thought the sauce was served on the side, but no, that was salsa to go with the chips.
The chips were thin, with a slightly dusty taste and oddly chewy texture. Typically thin chips are brittle and crunchy, these had a bit more springback. The salsa was lovely, fresh and chunky with a mostly mild flavor, it had enough zip that diners who dislike “spicy” will probably scrunch up their noses. The corn was disappointing. With a name like “honey chipotle corn”, I was expecting fresh corn tossed in a sassy sauce, probably a bit thick and clingy (due to the honey) and with a bit of a punch (due to the chipotle). What I received was a small plastic container of off brand canned corn. The corn itself was oddly chewy with a flat flavor. I searched in vain for some hint of a sauce, stirring my cup and making sure to scoop up morsels from the bottom in case it had settled. Nothing.
My hubby declared his burrito “pretty good”, stating that the shredded chicken was seasoned nicely. He was happy to see that the rice and beans were well proportioned in that they didn’t overwhelm the meat. In odd contrast to my sauceless experiences, his cilantro pesto shone through. He was taken with the guacamole, which was smooth and flavorful. The green color spoke to it’s freshness and it was weighty enough to snap chips.
With a boisterous atmosphere and broad drink selection, I suspect that Taco Mama will draw devoted fans. It’s central location will give it a natural gravity for the lunch crowds in the medical district and downtown. Given my preferences, I found it overwhelmingly loud. The food seemed to fall short of the menu’s dazzling promises. The various sauces and flavors sounded fantastic but I was confused that they were so lacking in my meal. Even my husband, who could detect the sauce in his burrito felt that the flavor profile was much more mild than the menu would imply. I would be willing to return–especially if it were at off peak hours–to sample some of the other dishes and see if perhaps a cook simply skipped adding sauces to my meal.
Total for the meal: $22.87 (Includes one taco basket, one burrito basket, and two soft drinks)