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Taco Rico

207 E. Main Street
Chattanooga, TN
Phone: (423) 752-8102

El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America, is rich with history.   Once called Papil, “the land of precious things,” El Salvador is steeped in tradition—with holidays and celebracions spanning the year—and plentiful with exports like coffee, sugar, and camarones, better known here as shrimp.   And the cuisine…oh, the cuisine.

A while ago, Chattanooga was fortunate enough to gain a Salvadoran restaurant, Taco Rico.   Taco Rico was opened by an El Salvadorian woman who had relocated to Chattanooga.  She found a home for her Salvadoran eatery on Main Street, an area that was undergoing revitalization, an area on track to become the bohemian mecca of Chattanooga.  As time went by, Taco Rico gathered a following, fueled by great food, mostly traditional Salvadoran fares with a few Mexican dishes sprinkled in, excellent prices, and a comfortable environment to get together.  Even more changes were being made in the area, including some rehab to the building itself…and the nice Salvadoran lady who opened Taco Rico decided it was time to go home.

Enter Chris Henegar and Rene Arevalo, both patrons of the restaurant.  Rene, who is a native of El Salvador, came to Chris with the idea of buying the restaurant and keeping it open.   Arevalo moved with his family to Los Angeles at age eight and spent his formative years there, moving to Chattanooga three years ago.  After moving here, he married Angelica Garcia, another El Salvadorian who began cooking Salvadoran recipes at 12.  Needless to say, Arevalo, now manager of Taco Rico, and Garcia, who cooks every dish that leaves the kitchen, are keeping it real!

Since taking over the restaurant, Henegar and Arevalo have added a few dishes to the menu, and made a few aesthetic changes to the restaurant; but, for the most part, Taco Rico remains the same as when the doors were opened originally, in both the tastiness of the food and the easiness on your wallet.  Arevalo, Garcia, and Henegar added dishes like pastelitos, pastries similar to turnovers, filled with beef and potato; tostado de ceviche, a fish cocktail cooked in lime, and empanadas, a pastry stuffed with plantains and served with a milk pudding.  But, again—fret not, you’ll still find the items that made Taco Rico such a popular place.  There are pupusas, tortillas stuffed with cheese and pork, steak, chicken, chorizo, tongue, beans or shrimp.

I know–you’re going back and reading that last sentence again, aren’t you?  I had to, at the restaurant, reading the menu.  But it’s correct. Tongue is listed as a choice of meat for pupusas and tacos.  According to Arevalo, tongue, also called lengua, is a common ingredient in Salvadoran cooking.  Henegar, the odd man out, not of Salvadorian descent, has tried this delicacy. “The first time I ate tongue, I knew I was eating tongue, and therefore, I was a kinda hesitant.  But [Rene] was sneaky one time and put tongue in something and I didn’t know it the difference.  The way it’s prepared is a big deal with that.”

Not only can you find the tried-and-true Taco Rico dishes mixed in with a few new ones, but you’ll also find another addition to the menu.  BEER!  Henegar recently added beer, both domestic and Mexican, to the menu.  “I added beer,” says Henegar,  “just to get more of a night crowd in.”  They’re also expanding their hours to include Sundays.  Beginning in January, Taco Rico will be open on Sunday from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Don’t worry though—Henegar doesn’t want Taco Rico to turn into a cookie-cutter restaurant.  You’ll still find the TVs tuned to Spanish-speaking channels and futbol.  You’ll still find the same friendly service, the same great food and the same phenomenal prices you’ve always found at Taco Rico.

Taco Rico is located at 207 E. Main Street, downtown Chattanooga.  Hours of business are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. (423) 752-8102.

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