With the price of EVERYTHING skyrocketing, when I want a good cheap lunch, I head for Mas Tacos Por Favor in East Nashville.
It is my comfort food – with the same yummy tacos and tortilla soup at very low prices.
Going there is almost like going to lunch in a time machine, where almost nothing has changed in the years I have been a patron — the blackboard menu, the mismatched chairs around well-loved tables, and the food that is consistently wonderful.
Of course, there have been some changes – Mas Tacos is now twice as big as it once was, there is a cantina serving up beers and frozen margaritas, there is a patio for outdoor eating, and now tax is added to the menu price instead of being included like it was previously.
And get this, the once cash-only eatery now accepts credit cards as payment.
Owner Teresa Mason, a Nashville native (proud graduate of Hunters Lane High School and MTSU), says the challenge of rising food costs have forced her to slightly inch up her prices, but that the consistency of the food and keeping prices low have been two of her top touchpoints all these years.
Mason, who had worked in restaurants in New York where she lived for 10 years, said she toyed with the idea of opening her own restaurant there in the 2000s. But the idea of getting started in New York, where opening a new restaurant would require huge investments, big plans, large staffs, investors, etc. was daunting.
“In New York, you have to go big,” she said.
But on her frequent trips to Mexico, where she marveled at the wonderful food being served by small, independent vendors, the idea of a small business – like a food truck — began to take shape.
In Mexico, “there was great food with a flame and a folding table.”
Mason came back to Nashville and in 2008 rolled out her Mas Tacos food truck operation with the goal being to “keep it as simple as possible.
“I had always worked in the front of the house, never in the kitchen, so when I told my restaurant friends I was starting this, they were skeptical, saying: ‘OK, but who is going to cook?’ ”
“At first I just had two tacos and a juice,” she said of her limited menu food truck which she started operating at night at Five Points in 2008. Her Mas Tacos truck may have been the very first roaming food truck in Nashville.
Two years later, she found the McFerrin property and opened the restaurant with 16 seats and a few employees. These days, she has 23 employees and has more than doubled the space, added the cantina and a patio for outdoor seating.
And she clearly figured out the cooking part of the business, from the looks of the line of eager patrons that snakes out of the quirky McFerrin Street restaurant daily.
Among the more popular items on the simple blackboard menu is the Mexico City Tortilla Soup which is $5 for hearty bowl of wonderfully seasoned chicken broth filled with chunks of chicken, and topped with fresh avocado, cilantro and lime and strips of crispy tortillas that you add at the end. It could be a meal in itself, but the tacos, at $3 or $3.50 each, are too delicious to pass up — choices include Pulled Pork, Cast Iron Chicken, Spicy Carne Molida, and Fried Fish Taco.
And since I usually drink water when I go out, my lunch tab at Mas Tacos on a recent day was $8.87 – with tax.
Oh, and that is with the 3 percent cash discount that Mason has offered ever since she started accepting credit cards during the COVID crisis, when her business was strictly take-out.
This quirky taco joint, which has received multiple awards for the quality of its food and its affordability, is almost too good to be true.
Yes, there have been some big changes, but the great food and the “Ms. Cheap” prices will surely keep me going back for more.