■ What: Taco Nooga, 207-A Frazier Ave.
■ Phone: 423-
■ Website: www.taconooga.com.
■ Hours: 11 a.m.- 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
■ Price range: $2.50-$3.50.
■ Alcohol: Yes.
In a city filled with taco joints, it can be tough to stand out in the crowd. In fact, this is the second week in a row that a taco spot has been reviewed by this publication, and with the fierce taco competition offered by the existing taquerias in town, it takes a stellar taco to shine.
Enter Taco Nooga, which opened about three months ago on Frazier Avenue at the former site of Urban Spoon. My girlfriend and I stopped in for a quick bite at the height of the lunch hour to test the taco prowess of a dining spot that advertises on the door that it's "Not just another (Spanish expletive) taco."
If you're in the mood for a healthy array of Mexican appetizers, then Taco Nooga has you covered. Their starters are nearly as numerous as their traditional tacos and offer four kinds of dip (queso, chipotle queso, chori-queso, Mexican and bean), two kinds of guacamole, chips and salsa offered with two choice salsas out of three options, and fried cactus, each for between $3 and $6.
If an array of tortilla-chip-themed appetizers doesn't suit your lunchtime palette, then the assortment of tacos certainly should. The traditional menu of corn-tortilla tacos served with meat, onion, cilantro and lime ranges from marinated chicken, steak and pork to the more exotic fare like lengua (beef tongue) at $3 each or three for $8. Bean and cheese tacos are available for the veggie-inclined, and tilapia and shrimp tacos are offered for $3.50 apiece or three for $10.
If your tastebuds are looking for a thrill, Taco Nooga offers a few specialty tacos as well. You could try the Taconooga, a taco with grilled steak, melted cheese and Mexican corn ($4.25), or a taco poblano, a grilled chicken or steak taco with poblanos peppers and cheese sauce ($4.25).
Just when you thought the menu couldn't be any more extensive, Taco Nooga also has a few larger plates to satisfy dinner cravings. Nachos, tortas (Mexican sandwiches), taquitos, tamales and sopes: they have it all, with the priciest item being the Fajitas Mexicanas at $13.50. A selection of bottled Mexican sodas and Aguas Frescas, water beverages flavored with flowers, fruits and more, are offered to drink.
In a grand effort to sample as much as we could, we started out with chips, two salsas and the spicy guacamole. The made-to-order guacamole, while tasty, wasn't particularly spicy, and it was creamy like it had been blended in a food processor. We tried the house salsa, which had fantastic flavor I haven't found in any other area salsas, and the spicy chili salsa, which was true to its name in heat but was also so watery that it was difficult to get onto a tortilla chip. The tortilla chips were hot, thick and flaky, definitely not your typical tortilla chip. I would come here just for the house salsa.
For my main meal, I tried a trio of tacos. The grilled chicken and steak tacos were served with a thick, spicy salsa on the side that I wish had come with my tortilla chips instead of the chili salsa. The chicken was well-marinated and flavorful, though the steak had difficulty shining past the cilantro and onions. I also sampled a taco poblano, which was so covered in the creamy cheese sauce that I had to eat it with a fork. I couldn't taste the chicken or the poblanos peppers through the rather bland sauce.
My girlfriend tried the taquitos with potatoes. The heaping plate of four taquitos covered in sour cream, guacamole, cabbage, red salsa and queso seemed to satisfy her.
Despite the lunch-counter appearance, a server quickly seated us and took our order; no need to order at the register. She was cheerful and courteous, and she answered any questions we had about the menu. Our food was prepared quickly, but after it arrived and the dining room became busier our server stopped checking on us. We were in and out for lunch in under 45 minutes.
The space is small, with only a handful of tables, but Taco Nooga makes good use of it, even using a church pew for a long bench seat along one wall. Local art dots the walls, like many dining spots on the North Shore. For the most part, the dining area is unadorned and functional.
In the cutthroat world of Chattanooga taquerias, Taco Nooga holds its own, but it also doesn't shine above the rest. One of its great boons is its prime location combined with its solid, traditional tacos. I wouldn't hesitate to stop in for a quick bite at lunch or dinner while visiting Coolidge Park or the Walnut Street Bridge when a craving for Mexican food strikes, but I'm not sure I would travel across town just for one of their tacos.
If you're on the North Shore and in the mood for a meal from south of the border, I recommend giving Taco Nooga a try.
Contact Doug Strickland at firstname.lastname@example.org.