Taco Mama is ‘pitcher’ perfect
By: Jennifer Zeleski
The first time I walked by Taco Mama, the new taco bar located at 2168 Lawndale Dr. in Greensboro, the line was out the door. It spilled onto the sidewalk and into the parking lot as people passed menus down the line. It wasn’t Taco Tuesday, which should be celebrated accordingly, it was a Saturday night when any normal resident of Greensboro would have expected the crowd to have been surrounding Hops Burger Bar. That’s when I knew Taco Mama was making a name for itself.
The specialty taco bar originated in Alabama, and the Lawndale location was their flagship franchise here in North Carolina. Since the doors opened, people have been filling the tables and chairs, ordering tacos and tipping back margaritas, long before the North Carolina summer weather came back around.
But hot summer weather is the perfect time for tacos, and celebrating after a long Monday of sunny, 98-degree weather seemed like just the right time to try out Taco Mama and all it had to offer. The interior style in the new restaurant is eccentric yet still classy. Filled with old-school artwork, accompanied by large-scale paintings and an extensive, colorful menu, there’s even an old bicycle, wrapped in decorative lights hanging from the wall. The Edison light bulbs draped from the exposed-wooden ceiling creates its hipster vibe.
I was guided toward the register to place my order but was too overwhelmed by all of the options to make a choice in a timely manner. This wasn’t like ordering at the Mexican grocery store when you can just ask for your tacos “all the way.” This needed to be strategically planned. Peyton, my boyfriend, and I have had our fair share of tacos, and this wasn’t our first rodeo, but we still took our time picking exactly what we thought were unique to this location, that we likely couldn’t find elsewhere.
With so many options, how could one go wrong with anything on the menu? Luckily, it is divided into build-your-own, for the picky eater and the baskets, which are unique creations already tailored with enticing flavor and ingredient combinations. The build-your-own offers the option of two tacos, a burrito, a burrito bowl, quesadilla or nachos.
All of which get a choice of meat, anything from chicken to sushi-grade Ahi tuna, and as many free toppings as you can list.
There were so many options, I knew I was going to have to refrain from getting every free topping. Cilantro lime rice, pico de gallo, Sriracha slaw and red chile butter sauce were among the choices. And before you ask, yes, even guacamole as a topping is free. But instead of going the more custom route, I felt a little more adventurous and decided to choose two mix-and-match tacos from the pre-planned taco choices.
Under pressure of hunger and feeling like living on the edge, I settled on “The Mayor,” which featured marinated chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, creamy cilantro pesto and queso fresco. OK, so that was my safe choice. The more adventurous was the “Alabama Redneck,” which was filled with roasted pulled pork, ancho chile slaw, pickles, and Mama’s chipotle barbecue sauce.
Peyton, who always takes his adventurous palette a step further, decided on “The Sizzler,” filled with grilled steak tenderloin, grilled onions, avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, red chile butter sauce and queso fresco. He also chose the “Justice is Served,” which came with flounder (he chose fried), ancho chile slaw, avocado, tomatoes and roasted poblano tartar.
On top of our two tacos each, the baskets came with chips and salsa, and the choice of one side. Peyton ordered the guacamole after seeing the written claims of “best guacamole” on the wall, and I knew I couldn’t give up the opportunity to try the Mexican mac and cheese.
Also tempted by the colorful chalkboard devoted solely to margaritas, a frozen pomegranate margarita ended up in the midst of the order, with (hopefully) extra salt. We hardly got to reconsider what was on our tacos by the time our order made it to the table, and we were overwhelmed in an instant by the sheer amount of food. All four tacos were of decent size with grilled flour tortillas and stuffed with ingredients. Both trays were also filled with freshly made chips, a cup of salsa and both of our chosen sides. The 16-ounce margarita came with a freshly-sliced lime wedge and a deep magenta color.
I decided on digging into the “Alabama Redneck” first. I never imagined eating a taco with the word “redneck” in the name. Within the first bite, I could tell the barbecue was tender and would give North Carolina barbecue a run for its money. The ancho chile slaw was not spicy but gave the taco a good crunch, and the barbecue sauce didn’t have the overwhelming, smoky flavor that many others do.
As an avid pickle hater, I was shocked that I didn’t mind its presence, and found that the vinegar added another layer of flavor that was refreshing rather than overwhelming. After learning Southern tradition over the years, I knew I had to pair the barbecue taco with the mac and cheese, and I wasn’t disappointed. I could easily tell it was baked, judging by the mix of creamy and chewy cheese throughout, and it reminded me of picnics with Mom’s mac and cheese, taking extra and stealing the crunchy top layer when others weren’t looking. I’m still guilty of that, but this mac and cheese side was all mine, and it was delicious.
The second taco, “The Mayor,” was a little more typical, and after having the “Alabama Redneck,” it was hard to live up to the initial expectations. But the chicken was shredded and tender, and it is exactly what someone would want as an unassuming chicken taco. Still a solid choice, but not my favorite.
Peyton started with the “Justice is Served,” which he described as delicious, crisp and well-seasoned. The fish taste was mild, not overwhelming, and he found that none of the flavors on the taco were offensive, but all created a great combination. Despite the flavors, nothing could keep him from trying what he referred to as an array of “expensive and authentic” hot sauces, all of which vary in spice and flavor.
His second, “The Sizzler” had tender steak, and he noted that the grilled onions cooked with it made him reminiscent of a Philly cheesesteak. Needless to say, he couldn’t choose a favorite. The chips were too good not to mention. Light and crispy with just a sprinkle of salt, but delicate. The chips paired well with the mild salsa and Peyton’s guacamole. We made it a point to have some throughout bites of our tacos, but we filled up pretty quickly and the guacamole lacked the tomatoes and jalapeños we were looking for.
Sipping the margarita made me forget about the heat of summer, and it had an addicting flavor. The pomegranate was sweet and complex, and the triple sec and tequila weren’t noticeable. Although it is important to note that one margarita was $9, the same price as a meal, it was very filling. I crossed my fingers that maybe they’ll offer half-sizes one day, but until then, Taco Tuesdays can be celebrated with half-off their “mi casa” and skinny margaritas.
The experience was so pleasant, I can hardly wait to go back to try a customized burrito bowl and a watermelon margarita. At $30 for two, we left feeling full, satisfied and eager to return. For now, I’ll take some of Taco Mama’s advice: Take a pitcher, it will last longer.
Jenn Zeleski is a student contributor to YES! Weekly. She is originally from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Communications at High Point University.