The growing pains experienced by Chiwawa since it opened last spring have included a lot of two-steps-forward, one-step-back improvements. I first visited the cool-looking taco and hot dog restaurant in the old Chicago Pizza Factory building during its soft opening last spring when the dining experience was a total comedy of errors.
I have loved witnessing the ongoing revitalization of Overton Square, which is a short bike ride distance from my house. Chiwawa is such a neat space that I really want to see it live up to its potential. On a visit last I had some tacos that made me think the restaurant was finally hitting its stride. The owners brought in a new head chef, Brown Burch, a few months ago and he had been steadily improving the menu and creating interesting specials. Then I heard that the restaurant's owners got rid of him before I could even write my post about the improvements. Like I said, two-steps-forward, one-step-back has been an ongoing theme here. So this post represents my positive experiences with food from a new chef who is already gone.
The patio is the main draw at Chiwawa, but even if you are just stopping in for a drink you still want the option of ordering some good food. This can be a problem at Overton Square drinking establishments. My friends and I frequently hang out together at both Boscos and the Bayou, since both are great places to have a few drink with friendly staffs and fun atmospheres. Because of that we often end up eating the generally mediocre-at-best food that both places serve.
When a kitchen has underwhelmed you enough times you learn to find something safe and foolproof on the menu, like the hot wings at the Bayou. At Chiwawa that food was the corn dog after several experiences with ultra-dried-out pork tacos and fish tacos that tasted like they had reheated frozen fish sticks on them. But when we noticed a new lineup of tacos on the menu on a recent visit I decided to order several and ended up being glad I did.
I ordered three tacos. The Memphis Mercado has smoked pork shoulder, guajillo chili sauce, cactus, avocado, pineapple and cilantro. The El Patito features confit duck leg, pineapple-mango habanero sauce red cabbage. And the Tacos de Madre contain smoked brisket seasoned with cumin and oregano and topped with caramelized onions, roasted tomato chipotle sauce and cotija cheese.
All three tacos were delicious. The barbecue tacos had tasty, noticeable smoke in the meat and the flavor combinations were all well though out and balanced. They represented the exact type of fun, creative food I had been hoping for since the restaurant opened. I tried them again a couple days ago and they were as good as before, so I'm hoping the big improvements made by Chef Brown will last after his departure.
Fun and creative should be what people are looking for from the tacos at Chiwawa, not traditional. I've heard some people complain that the tacos there aren't real, traditional ones but real traditional tacos are already available all around Memphis.
A lot of people argue about the best place to get authentic tacos around town. The reality is that there are countless places that are all uniformly good. I routinely stop at taquerias while driving around town for work and the main reason I don't blog about them is that they are all so consistent. Particularly in the southeastern section of the city; from the airport through Oakhaven, Fox Meadows and Hickory Hill; all you have to do is look for a place with a sign announcing "tacos" or "taqueria."
Tacos Borolas is a place I tried a couple a few days after my first experience with the new and improved Chiwawa tacos.
If all the exterior signage is in Spanish and the menu options include lengua (tongue) you can pretty much count on some good tacos.
Lengua tacos are my favorite but Tacos Borolas was out during my visit so I got fish, spicy pork and chorizo tacos.
The fish taco comes already dressed and there is a little topping bar in the restaurant for dressing the other tacos. Taqueria La Guadalupana on Summer is the most well-known authentic taco place in Memphis, and the food there is great, but it is actually hard to go wrong exploring the little mom and pop places. Just look for restaurants that are fairly spartan. The more heavily decorated around a contrived "Mexican" theme a place is the more likely it is to serve bland meats on flour tortillas.