First Bite: Taqueria y Pupuseria Lupita

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I ask for and receive a lot of restaurant recommendations from Bites readers. But one person whose opinion I always listen to is Ed King. You may know him as a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the writer of that Southern anthem, "Sweet Home Alabama." Despite the fact that in my younger day I made a lot of money $50 at a time playing that song in cover bands (I guess I still owe Ed some royalties), I know him as a resource for finding some of the region's best small restaurants and greasy spoons. If I see a comment from Ed on Bites or Yelp, you can bet I'll start mapping out a visit.

Although he is still recovering from a heart transplant back in January, Ed continues to hunt down new restaurant finds with his wife Sharon. Knowing that he grew up in North Hollywood, where he was a founding member of the Strawberry Alarm Clock, when Ed emailed me with his latest Central American restaurant find, I was confident he knew of which he spoke.

Not that he made it easy, since neither one of us actually knew then name of the place, which is located deep in the Nations neighborhood of West Nashville. It had previously been known as El Mana, but had recently changed ownership and name. Fortunately, we could find the address by the old name and agreed to meet up for lunch. Now named Taqueria y Pupuseria Lupita, the tiny four-table restaurant is less than impressive from the road, and still difficult to find if you don't have the info that it's across the street from the West Dragon Kung Fu Family Martial Arts Center. So now you know. ...

The menu could hardly be simpler or more affordable, with tacos, sopes, gorditas, mulitas and pupusas available in several varieties, none for more than $3. There are also some more traditional gringo favorites like burritos and quesadillas available, but you'll pay more like six bucks for them, and you'd miss out on the highlights anyway. If you're looking for a place to buy a burrito and gorge yourself on chips and salsa preset on the table, there are plenty of other options in town for that.

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At Lupita, the only beverages available are Jarritos fruit sodas and water — so diabetics, consider yourself warned. I'm a big fan of piña flavored Jarritos anyway, so I was set. After you place your order, the staff sets to work making each dish one at a time on a small flat-top grill in the cramped-but-clean kitchen.

The tacos cost just a buck and a quarter and are appropriately sized for you to make a meal out of two or three of them. Mix and match between your favorite fillings like beef, chicken, pork, chorizo or my favorite, an incredibly tender and flavorful chopped lengua. Yeah, that's tongue, but it's well worth the effort to get over wondering whether you're tasting it or it's tasting you.

Most of those same toppings are available to accompany the sopes, a Mexican street food from the southwestern region of the country.

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Piled on a base of lime-soaked masa flour that Ed described as tasting like "the best cornbread ever," the sopes are sturdy enough to hold up the refried beans, meat and cheese, but still pliable enough to bite through without making a total mess. Gorditas are similar to the sopes, but instead the fillings are stuffed inside a thick tortilla and deep-fried to a golden goodness.

Both dishes benefit greatly from the two sauces offered by Lupita. They are simply known as "the green one" and "the orange one." The green sauce has an intensely fresh hint of lime and a little bit of heat from some unidentified pepper. In the orange sauce, there is no kidding around about the heat. Brightly peppery and tangy, this sauce almost compelled me to slather it across everything on my plate. But then I would have missed out on the delicate flavors of the marinated meats and Oaxacan cheese in my mulito, literally "little mule."

The mulito is a flat version of a taco, sandwiched between two tortillas and seared on the grill. Make sure to ask for a side of the house-made guacamole to accompany that one. Especially considering that it costs, oh, 100 percent less than the over-the-top tableside guac preparation at Cantina Laredo.

The last dish that I sampled was the Pupusa Revuelta. My menu Spanish is generally pretty good, but I had to ask for a refresher about the fillings in a revuelta. I understood the words beans, cheese and pork. Sold! A pupusa is similar to the Central American arepa with the exception that the nixtamal cornmeal used in the tortillas is treated with a chemical process involving a weak solution of lye that you'd probably rather not know about. Forget I said anything. ...

The pork in the pupusa is ground and cooked until it is almost a paste, so the consistency of all the fillings is wonderfully creamy. The spiciness of the pork is cut with the addition of a slightly fermented coleslaw called curtido, which is served in a side ramekin for you to sprinkle on top of the dish. Not quite as pungently funky as the curtido at Las Americas, it was still a nice addition to the plate.

Three of us ate half the dishes on the menu for about 20 bucks, so you sure won't break the bank on a visit to Taqueria y Pupuseria Lupita. Ed told me that when he was growing up in the San Fernando Valley there was a little shop like this on every corner, and that he considered this one to be as authentic as it gets in Nashville. That was recommendation enough for me to try it out. My meal was proof enough for me to return soon and often. If you check it out, let us know here in the comments what you think.

Taqueria y Pupuseria Lupita
5916 Morrow Road
(615) 853-3865

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