by Sean Maloney
Episode 2: La Hacienda
Address: 2615 Nolensville Rd.
Do I really even need to review La Hacienda? If you've been living in Nashville for more than 15 minutes then you've already been there, you already know. It's an institution, the flagship shop for the entire neighborhood, the longtime favorite of all your friends and a cornerstone of the community. But then again, it's also the very next restaurant down the street from Dunya Kabob, and I'm trying to be very thorough with this project. You can't tackle Nolensville Pike without mentioning La Ha. That, and my wife nixed the idea of eating at Mixed Grill Cafe. (Insert joke about headaches and hot beef sandwiches.) So, um, yeah, La Hacienda is this week's installment of The Road.
Just to be upfront: La Hacienda is not my favorite Mexican restaurant in town. I also don't have a favorite, because that would be like picking a favorite child, and the reality is I love them all. But I've probably been berated more for my non-allegiance to La Ha than just about any other contrarian opinion I've expressed in this town — even more than for that "Radiohead is dumb" comment I made at Bonnaroo. People love this spot like it was their own kin, and admittedly, had I been around when they opened, I probably would, too. As it stands, I just really enjoy the place. No harm in that, right?
This was possibly my first trip back to La Hacienda since their fire and remodeling in 2009 — there are about six billion Mexican spots between my house and theirs, I'm lazy and hate driving, sue me — so I was pleasantly surprised to find things better than before. The food has always been good, but the atmosphere is a bit quieter and more low-key, more toward my liking. It used to get real loud, but we also arrived only two hours into happy hour, so maybe it gets louder? I would assume it gets louder, considering they have 45-ounce margaritas for $9.49 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday — and all day all weekend! — and big margaritas make for big mouths. The decor looks great — they've got one of the better murals on the strip — and the staff were speedy and friendly, the cooks smiling and cutting up back in the kitchen. All around, it's got a great vibe, even if it's more blanco-friendly than I typically look for in a Mexican spot.
(In other news, my job-site-Spanish-speaking wife informs me that "blanco" is the polite way to call a honky a gringo. The more you learn!)
The food was spot-on, even if I should have gone on the weekend when they have a more offal-leaning selection of specialties. As it is, when our waiter came to the table I just blurted the first two words I saw on the menu and ended up with enchiladas supremas with chicken and green sauce. I'm eating the leftovers as I type and I gotta say, for a random thoughtless choice, it was a damn good one. Their chicken actually tastes like something — it's spicy, moist and shredded (but not too shredded) — and the green sauce had just the right amount of zing. The missus ordered the chili verde and had nothing else to say other than, "This is really good." Considering how many times I've seen her rip apart other people's chili verde, I'd say that's a five-star review. Also, Mr. M himself, Lambchop's Kurt Wagner, was sitting at the table next to us reading The New Yorker. If that's not an endorsement of an eatery's hipness, I don't know what is.
Overall, it was — as always — a pleasant and satisfying trip to this Nolensville Pike classic. The only downside? I didn't realize that they serve breakfast all day until I had already blurted out my order. If I had known I could get chorizo con papas for dinner that would have totally made my day. Ah well, that's a great excuse to go back real soon. Like probably this weekend, somewhere around mid-afternoon, when I really need a giant margarita and a plate full of chorizo.