Flavor: Traditional Jalisco, Mexico cuisine
Ambiance: Understated and comfortable
Chances are, if you’re a devotee of the real-deal south-of-the-border flavors of the authentic taqueria, you’ve heard of Taqueria Fast. This little family-owned eatery has been drawing folks up Weaverville Highway for more than four years with its authentic Central Mexican cuisine, and for good reason.
I had my first Taqueria Fast experience almost three years ago, when a co-worker, Arturo, brought a paper sack full of goodies from the restaurant for everyone to try.
I was still a little green when it came to true Mexican food. I had learned enough to know that fake-cheese queso dip and runny refried beans made from a mix were American bastardizations – the kind best reserved for the occasional trip to (insert lousy chain restaurant here) to suck down cheap margaritas. I knew about mole, masa, achiote, and how to order my huevos: “revueltos, y con café con leche, por favor.”
I was, however, still a virgin to tripe and tongue, and may have remained that way for quite some time had it not been for Arturo’s judicious decision to wait to inform me of what I was eating until after I’d masticated and swallowed said organs.
“You like it?” he asked, as I shoved the rest of the taco in my mouth. It was a heavenly mess of soft homemade flour tortillas with meltingly tender (but curiously textured) meat, fresh onions, cilantro and hot sauce.
“It’s bueno,” I declared, my Spanglish muffled by my mouthful.
“It’s lengua, niñita!” Arturo giggled, obviously enjoying the blank look on my face. “Lengua,” he said again, sticking his tongue out at me and pointing to it while waiting for me to make the connection – and perhaps retch and spit my mouthful into the trash.
He had no such luck, as I was instantly a fan of Mexican-style tongue. After that, bags of Taqueria Fast showed up to work regularly, and I actively sought out the lengua.
Recently, the Picky Companion and I paid a visit to the restaurant to see if anything has changed. Fortunately, not much has. They’ve still got the tacos full of beef tongue, and many more fillings: pork done three ways (barbacoa, pastor adobada, and carnitas), chicken, grilled beef and a vegetarian mix, to name a few. The tacos are stuffed in warm, soft flour tortillas, and topped with fresh ingredients.
We had the good fortune to find fish tacos on the specials menu, and I have to say, theirs is one of the best fish tacos I’ve encountered in Asheville. The fish, which I assumed to be tilapia, was fresh, and it had a distinct grilled flavor. It was topped with grilled onions, cilantro and tomato, and the taco was perfection in a tortilla when drizzled with the house-made salsa picante. I wolfed mine down, and Picky Companion had to shield his order from me, lest I pilfer it.
The burritos, sizeable enough to be a full meal for a standard eater, are quite a deal at just $5. The grilled beef we chose to supplement the massive package of subtly seasoned rice and beans was delicious, but we had trouble locating some of the promised fillings, most notably the avocado.
We sampled a couple of pork tamales, and these were my partner’s favorite aspect of the meal. What little I was able to snatch from his plate without losing a finger was quite good and decidedly unique in flavor. I likened it to a spicy and savory Nilla Wafer stuffed with pork. (Try and wrap your mind – and palate – around that one.) Given the labor-intensity of tamale-making, I have to wonder how Taqueria Fast can afford to charge only $1.50 for these tasty little treats.
The shrimp cocktail, likewise, is of very high quality for the price. This is not your garden-variety shrimp cocktail – the kind with overcooked shrimp resting on a pallid leaf of iceberg lettuce with some ketchup and horseradish concoction on the side. For $7.99, you get about a dozen appropriately firm and fresh camerones with avocado, cucumber and onion floating in a sauce that can be compared to a chili-infused gazpacho with a very light acidity. Light and satisfying, this is an excellent warm-weather dish.
On a subsequent visit, I tried the Camerones a la Diabla, a plate of shrimp in a spicy, somewhat pasty chili sauce served with refried beans, rice, avocado, a little cheese, rice and a covered dish of warm tortillas for $7.50. The dish certainly lives up to its moniker; this is not gringo-fied food. The refried beans were the genuine article, with a texture far from the baby-food consistency many might be used to, and as devilishly spiced as the shrimp.
For a dish such as this one, I highly recommend one of the aguas frescos – subtly sweetened fruit juice and water drinks that offer an excellent counterbalance to strong and spicy flavors. Taqueria Fast carries three varieties: cantaloupe, tamarindo and a rice/coconut milk concoction, all of which are wonderful.
On weekends, the restaurant serves menudo. Menudo (no, not the Puerto Rican boy band) is a traditional stew made from “honeycomb meat” (cow stomach lining), hominy and various aromatics, and is reported to be an antidote for hangovers. (I’ve yet to test the theory.)
Taqueria Fast obviously offers the real thing, and does it quite well. As the Picky Companion so helpfully summarized at the end of a meal: “Just don’t go expecting Chi Chi’s, or you and your gastrointestinal tract will be sorry.”