They say people seek out the familiar when traveling, that we desire the comforts of home when in new territory. And despite how much I rag on Americans for socializing with Americans and eating American food while on their Caribbean cruises, it was this same need for the familiar that led me to Tacos Express.
That’s why, as a Detroiter visiting Chattanooga, I was drawn to the Rossville neighborhood. You see, Rossville isn’t even mentioned in tourist literature. Through the eyes of most Chattanoogans, Rossville makes a map of their city look like a Catholic’s forehead at the beginning of Lent. Rossville is so unsavory, even, that fast food restaurants have moved out and left their buildings deserted. ATMs are patrolled by rent-a-cops. You’re the only motorist not driving a Chevy Caprice™. And eventually, you come upon a mobile taquería in the lot of a tienda.
…The only thing that convinced me I wasn’t in Southwest Detroit was the pollutionless blue sky lit by that thing people outside of Michigan tell us is “the sun”.
Tacos Express is an impressive taco truck, with a full taquería menu complemented with a cache of Mexican penny candy. Made-to-order tortas, burritos, quesadillas, tacos ($1.25/ea), and the occasional tamale are on offer, with the customary protein choices of pollo, carnitas, chorizo, and barbacoa.
Now, this barbacoa tastes suspiciously of cabeza, with a watery, pot roast-y build flecked with buttery chiclets of jellied beef fat. It’s sufficient for a cabeza, although it’s about as soft and timid as the Easter Bunny in a lion’s den. A more assertive protein is Tacos Express’ carnitas, which best the carnitas from any of Southwest Detroit’s taco trucks. This fried pork is aggressively salty on the tongue, its threads succulent and dripping of brine like sap from a snapped blade of aloe. These carnitas are as tractable and giving as a skein of yarn, and form a mighty fine taco when cradled in warm corn tortillas and decorated with crisp white onion and leafy cilantro.
Sweet grilled onions, slivers of lime, and radish coins accompany any order, and enhance each bite as does cream on a fleshy midsummer peach. A meager, vinegary salsa is also given, gratis, but I’d suggest bringing your own salsa verde — or popping into the neighboring tienda for a bottle of El Yucateco®.
Tacos Express is all about familiarity. They bring a flavor of home to Chattanooga’s Mexican immigrants. They made me feel at home when I was 600 miles away. And to Rossville — the neighborhood that Chattanooga’s upper crust would prefer to squash like a pulsating pimple on a debutante’s ivory cheek — Tacos Express returns the livelihood, vigor, and breath of spirited cuisine, that has long been missing from this part of town.
*** CASH ONLY ***
Rossville Boulevard & E 40th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37407