Updated: Jan 29
Charlotte has a weird affection for chains. Key infuriating examples include the much-hyped Snooze AM flourishing right down the street from local gem Zada Janes, and the lines that wrapped around the Park Road Shopping Center parking lot for the opening of Shake Shack. When I saw similar hype and similar lines for Dilworth new-comer Taco Mama, my usual cynical ass was actually bullish on the opening.
This fast casual taco spot has made waves in its Alabama home, as well as its Carolina spots in the increasingly hipster cities of Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Quick note: is there anything more unexpected in NC right now than the 336 area code becoming, like, cool? Seriously, it feels unholy and out of place, like when high school girls post TikToks of their moms twerking with the caption "she 40 but she still a baddie (11 fire emojis)."
But I've learned a lesson about optimism I won't soon forget. Hope is for the foolish and strict nihilism is now my religion. That's how bad this this fucking taco was.
It's not even just chain hate, because there's a level of low quality you expect when you go to a chain. You could call it "chain bad," the expectation that the food at a Taco Bell or Moe's would be a little less fresh and less satisfying than a bespoke restaurant.
But Taco Mama is flavorless, hideous, and beyond being chain bad, it's just plain bad.
Some positives are warranted. Taco Mama's interior has moments that threaten to captivate. It's a chain that's decorated like a hole in the wall. My favorite parts were the star lights hanging behind the counter and the various Latinx record sleeves adorning the walls.
But the "EAT" sign above the counter and the giant IKEA-quality chili pepper prints have got to go. This is the kind of shit you'd see on page 1 of a Pinterest search for "decor for male's first apartment."
The patio is worth discussing. Even though it overlooks about the ugliest intersection in Charlotte, its size and sunny positioning make it worth considering for your next office team-building lunch, especially since it won't be busy once people realize how horrible the food is.
Um, what else can I say was good?
The chips were salty enough, I guess. And the queso is about as good as Moe's.
But that's about it. I ordered the Alabama Redneck and Justice is Served tacos, sides of queso and "Mexican" mac and cheese, and a Big Client burrito basket. My wait was 8 minutes. I spent $21 with tip.
With the exception of the queso, I was unable to finish anything I ordered. I hate food waste, but I had to toss it all in the trash, as the textures made me nauseous and the flavors were middling and bland.
My stomach is turning a little just reliving it through the photos.
The fish taco, which was supposed to be fried, was moist and the batter dripped off the flavorless fish. I couldn't even taste the tartar sauce inside. The chili slaw had a fun sweetness too it, but it was too stale for that to matter.
The Big Client burrito basket looks like something out of a tin of cat food but tastes worse.
And forgive me if I'm missing something, but shouldn't Mexican mac and cheese have some Mexican fixings? I was expecting at least some jalapeno. All I got was penne noodles with slightly burnt cheese. And it was the best part of my meal, even though it tasted like something I'd drunkenly cook in my microwave in college at 2AM.
I know chains won't have the freshest food. I know a new restaurant won't have everything figured out yet. I know the employees there are some of the friendliest folks I've ever been served by in Charlotte.
But I also know this food is bad. Like, really bad. Bad for a chain, bad for a new opening, bad for having a line wrapped around the corner on opening.
Just. Plain. Bad.