We’re defining taquerias as those places serving tacos and other Latin American dishes primarily to an immigrant clientele—in other words, those hole-in-the-wall places where English is a second or third language and the food is not adapted much to gringo tastes. Knoxville’s taqueria scene is ever-expanding, and if you know some that we’ve missed, we would love to hear about them. But here are the ones we’re aware of and have visited.
La Esperanza (2412 Washington Pike; 637-9292)
If there’s one taqueria that’s been embraced by its whiter neighbors, it’s this one on the corner of Whittle Springs near the fire station. North Knoxville residents often pop in for the cheap tacos—the chorizo is especially tasty—or the seafood dishes.
El Herradero (5509 N. Broadway; 688-1661)
Just past downtown Fountain City, you will find this hole-in-the-wall of all holes-in-the-wall. El Herradero is a small market with a taco truck parked outside; there’s a small menu, and you eat inside at one large table. No chips. No beer.
La Huasteca (2525 Chapman Hwy.; 609-6188)
Located in the same shopping center as the Disc Exchange, La Huasteca is one of the few taquerias where you’re likely to see someone non-Hispanic dining. The micheladas and huevos Mexicanas are the perfect hangover cure, and if you ask nicely, they’ll make you shrimp tacos, which aren’t on the menu but are delicious. Another thing: The salsa is different every single time.
La Tortilla (3603 Chapman Hwy.; 577-7989)
There are a few tables inside the La Tortilla market, and at lunchtime they’re often all full. The menu is tacked up next to the tiny kitchen, and there are no vegetarian or pescatarian options. You don’t get chips, but the cachete tacos and weekend menudo are worth checking out. No beer.
Las Amigas (4550 Chapman Hwy.)
This taqueria near the South Knoxville library just opened a few weeks ago, but if there’s any justice in the world, they’ll soon corner the market. The tortillas are handmade. The rojas con crema tacos are perfection. The mole may be the best in town. The horchata is delicious. And the service is excellent. Meals come with a tiny cup of soup as a starter, not chips.
El Tocayo (4516 Airport Hwy., Louisville; 984-2202)
El Tocayo, which is inside the El Noa Noa market, is an ideal place to hang out and watch a soccer game. Its large space provides a little more ambiance than some of the other taquerias, and if you’re there by yourself, you just might be sent a beer by a table full of rowdy soccer fans. But the real reason to head this far outside of town is the food—the chips are handmade, the fish tacos are exquisite, and the tortas? Well, if I could marry a sandwich, this would be the one.
La Lupita (2700 E. Broadway Ave., Maryville; 984-0806)
There’s zero ambiance at the tables in the back of this shiny new market, but the tastiness of the huraches—think a giant taco in a handmade tortilla—make up for it. The homemade candy for sale next to the register is also highly recommended. No chips. No beer.
Green Acres Flea Market (908 Hillside Drive, Louisville; 681-4433; Sat. & Sun only)
Green Acres is a longtime flea market where sellers set up shop on blankets in the parking lot. But in recent years, it has also developed into an international bazaar with a Latin flavor. Several food stands and taco trucks serve up authentic Hispanic fare. No beer.
El Girasol (4823 Newcom Ave.; 584-4906)
Kind of cattycorner from Eath Fare, El Girasol has a giant market and a small taqueria inside. It seems to always be busy, especially at lunch. The tortas and tacos are the menu staples, but other dishes deserve checking out too.
Lorena’s (4329 Lonas Dr.; 583-4008)
It may be in a somewhat random location, but Lorena’s is worth seeking out. The tiny market has a chalkboard menu with specials in addition to the regular menu, and the food is more authentic than not, with fresh cheeses and some of the best shrimp we’ve had.
Los Paisanos (8078 Kingston Pike # 151; 470-0992)
Tucked away in the second row of the strip mall on the corner of Downtown West and Kingston Pike is this tiny market. There’s a lot more Honduran food than Mexican food on the Los Paisanos menu, but that’s no cause for complaint. Pupusas! Plantains! The menu is extensive and more vegetarian-friendly than most. No chips. No beer.
Mi Pueblo (1645 Downtown West Blvd. # 17; 560-0411)
Mi Pueblo is a supermercado indeed—if you need Western wear or wedding decorations, this giant store has you covered. But the taqueria inside is always busy, especially on the weekends, when it’s full of families eating menudo and other caldos (brothy soupy meals). The menu is almost the same as La Esperanza’s, but the salsa is different.
Taco Mex taco truck (generally parked at the Conoco Station at 8313 Kingston Pike during the day)
This is as close as Knoxville gets to the food truck trend. There’s a limited menu of tacos, tortas, quesadillas, and other items, and a few seats on which to eat them.
Note: There is supposedly a taco truck often on Sutherland and/or parked near the Bearden Beer Market on weekends. We aren’t sure if it’s the same truck or two different ones; in any case, we couldn’t find either when we looked. (But we’ll keep trying.)