Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, August 21, 2020

Cheese Dip Mexican Grill proves as good as its name

Cheese Dip Mexican Grill’s chicken taco is Chattanooga’s best taco, according to a majority of the people who participated in La Paz’s annual Taquiza Taco Tour. - Photo by David Laprad |Hamilton County Herald

No matter how much skill goes into preparing food, the reaction of those who eat it boils down to preference. Case in point: The taco.

You might be a native El Salvadoran who owns a restaurant in Chattanooga and prepares tacos like mother did in the old country. (I’m thinking of you, Conga Latin Food.) But no matter how much love you pour into your homemade tortillas and fresh-grilled steak, someone is going to wish they were eating at Taco Bell instead.

That might be inconceivable to you foodies out there, but it’s true. It’s also why the results of contests to declare the best of any food – including tacos – should be taken with a grain of salt.

Still, the virtual version of La Paz Chattanooga’s annual Taquiza Taco Tour, which serves as both a taco contest and a fundraising event for the organization, piqued my interest. While I have my favorite local tacos (namely, the Taconooga with steak at Taconooga in downtown Chattanooga and the fish tacos at El Cactus in Fort Oglethorpe), I’m always on the hunt for something new to try.

The Taquiza Taco Tour, which ran July 27-Aug. 2, was an ideal platform for learning about local eateries, as a heaping plateful of restaurants joined the fray.

These included (deep breath): Cheese Dip Mexican Grill; Conga Latin Food; El Arca de Noe; El Mesón Hixson; El Mesón Hamilton Place; El Rey Restaurante & Taquería; Guacamole; Las Morelianas; Los Potros East Ridge; Los Potros Ooltewah; Mexiville Downtown; Mexiville Northshore; Mezcla Cocina & Cantina; Molcajete Mexican Restaurant; Politas Mexican Food; San Marcos Restaurant; Super Carnicería Loa No. 6; Super Carnicería Loa No. 7; Super Carnicería Loa No. 11; Taconooga; Taco Town; Tacos y Tortas Don Beto; Taqueria Jalisco; and Restaurante Tienda y El Gallo Giro.

Unless you’re a taco lover unlike any I have met, you probably just read a few names that were new to you. That was probably true of everyone who cast a vote in the taco tour, as well.

Usually, the Taquiza Taco Tour is held in a single location, and members of the public are able to try out as many tacos as they can hold and then vote for their favorite. (I’m convinced tacos are one of the few foods that shrink on their way down, as I seem to be able to eat what would appear to be my weight in them in a single sitting.)

La Paz then crowns the taco with the most votes The Golden Taco.

However, in light of COVID-19 and to ensure safety, individuals participated independently this year by following a printed tour guide of more than 20 taquerias and Latino-owned restaurants throughout the city. They then voted for their personal favorite online.

It was a good way to tackle this year’s tour. La Paz’s Taquiza is not just a contest and a fundraiser, it’s also a celebration of the Latino community and culture, so I can image veteran taco tourists missed immersing themselves in the true flavors of the festival. However, by moving forward with the tour, La Paz was able to give what must have been much-needed publicity to some struggling restaurants.

La Paz received nearly 1,500 votes over the course of the week, with the chicken taco at Cheese Dip Mexican Grill pecking its way to the top with 662 nods. (In good news for the participating taquerias, there were no write-in votes for Taco Bell.)

Runners-up were El Mesón, Politas Mexican Food, Guacamole, and Restaurante y Tienda El Gallo Giro.

That’s a lot of votes for a single taco, so during a recent trip to Hixson, where Cheese Dip Mexican Grill is located, I stopped in and tried the winning entry.

Before I get to the taco, can I just say I love their name? “Cheese Dip Mexican Grill” cleverly captures one of the things people love about Mexican food and has the ability to stoke appetites. Just thinking about cheese dip makes me hungry.

It’s also a more creative name than that of a neighboring restaurant, which is dubbed Asian Food of Chattanooga. The owners of that establishment can’t be faulted for wanting potential customers to know what they would be eating and where they would be eating it, but I like the simple flair of “Cheese Dip Mexican Grill.”

Cheese Dip Mexican Grill is not the kind of eatery where a server takes your order at your table, but the kind where you move Subway-style through a line, telling the preppers what you want and how much of it you want.

I didn’t even look at the menu; I just stepped up to the counter and said, “Two chicken tacos, please.”

After choosing flour tortillas, which the girl behind the counter placed on a grill, I said yes to everything the server suggested except pico de gallo. (I know this also will be inconceivable to you foodies out there, but like I said, food boils down to preference, and I don’t like pico.)

As I walked to my table, I took stock of what the server had stuffed within the folds of those tortillas. In addition to moist pulled chicken (not dry chunks, like I have seen at wrap chains), the ingredients included rice, black beans, thick chucks of grilled onions and peppers, cheese and sour cream.

You might be thinking these are stock ingredients for many varieties of taco. And you would be right. But Cheese Dip Mexican Grill prepares each of the fresh ingredients well, and when combined, they make a delicious and satisfying taco.

Did Cheese Dip Mexican Grill’s chicken taco supplant either of my personal favorites? Nope. But since opinions about food boil down to preference, 662 people can’t be wrong, so if you try this year’s Golden Taco, it just might take the top spot on your list of favorites.

To try one, two or three (or to attempt to eat your weight in them), visit Cheese Dip Mexican Grill at 3643 Hixson Pike.

While you’re there, congratulate owner and Rocío Chavez, who graciously invites everyone to try all of the entries.

“I feel blessed and thankful to have received this recognition this year,” Chavez said after winning. “And I would like to invite everyone to visit every one of the participating businesses, all of which are all struggling during this time.”