Fall­ing in love with a new Mex­i­can spot in Old Fourth Ward

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I think I may be in love with the new in the Old Fourth Ward

Taco Cantina (480 John Wes­ley Dobbs Ave., fac­ing Boule­vard; 404-963-2146; my­ta­co­cantina.com).

Be­fore I go loco with love, let me give you a run­down of the his­tory and cur­rent sta­tus of Mex­i­can food in At­lanta.

Dur­ing the ’80s, I left At­lanta for a few years in Hous­ton. Un­til then, I de­spised Mex­i­can food. That’s be­cause I grew up in Sandy Springs and my first taste wasn’t re­ally Mex­i­can. It was a hideous ver­sion of TexMex, Amer­i­can­ized Mex­i­can, at Taco Bell on Roswell Road. I gagged (and worse) on a few bites of the con­gealed mashed beans and the ham­burger dumped in a crispy shell. I never touched any­thing called Mex­i­can for more than 10 years af­ter­ward.

Then I moved to Hous­ton, where I dis­cov­ered the un­cor­rupted real deal on which I feasted sev­eral times a week. When I re­turned to At­lanta, I was over­joyed to watch Bu­ford High­way turn into a boule­vard of “au­then­tic” taque­rias. One lonely restau­rant, Zocalo, dared to serve such food in Mid­town.

Mean­while, some­thing in­ter­est­ing hap­pened in town. I gorged on an eclec­tic hy­brid of South­west­ern-Mex­i­can food at Ta­que­ria del Sol and Cal­i­for­nia-Mex­i­can bur­ri­tos at Tor­tillas (long-gone but res­ur­rected at Bell Street Bur­ri­tos and To­matil­los). Tex-Mex (or so-called “bor­der cui­sine”) mor­phed into some­thing I loved at Nuevo Laredo. It’s got­ten bet­ter and bet­ter at Bone Gar­den, and now, in the opin­ion of many, has reached its apogee at Su­per­ica.

Taco Cantina rep­re­sents the most in­ter­est­ing de­vel­op­ment in town. It’s the sis­ter of a restau­rant of the same name in Smyrna, op­er­ated by chef-owner Adolfo Gon­za­lez (I re­viewed it last De­cem­ber). What’s unique about him is his back­ground. He grew up in a small town in Mex­ico, but ended up at age 18 work­ing for the At­lanta Fish Mar­ket, fol­lowed by Nava, the Buck­head Diner, the renowned Coast Bar & Grill in Charleston and more. In other words, he’s a clas­si­cally trained chef op­er­at­ing taque­rias. This is also Cliff Bo­s­tock says Taco Cantina does clas­sic ta­que­ria cui­sine pre­pared with ra­zor-sharp fi­nesse and a play­ful hand with fla­vors and in­gre­di­ents. (Photo by Ryan Jung) the case with Adrian Vil­lar­real’s Rreal Taco in Mid­town. Re­ally, too, this was al­ways true of Lucero Martinez-Obre­gon of Zocalo.

The re­sult is mainly clas­sic ta­que­ria cui­sine pre­pared with ra­zor-sharp fi­nesse and a play­ful hand with fla­vors and in­gre­di­ents. You won’t find a spe­cial like steamed mus­sels with chipo­tle or a ve­gan taco wrap­ping a porta­bel­la­cauliflower con­fit on Bu­ford High­way. And you also won’t find tra­di­tional tacos filled with uniquely mar­i­nated meats or seafood pre­pared with such fi­nesse. Many of these in­gre­di­ents — carne asada, roasted pork, grilled fish, shrimp — can also be piled on tostadas and lay­ered in tor­tas (sand­wiches). Do not miss the charro beans — the best I’ve ever had.

I only have one com­plaint. The al pas­tor — pork fla­vored with an­cho and pineap­ple — is de­li­cious, but not as good as when it’s cooked on a re­volv­ing spit (as it is at Rreal Taco). I asked Gon­za­lez about that and he ex­plained the phe­nom­e­nal costs of re­quired ven­ti­la­tion. That ex­plains why so many on Bu­ford High­way like­wise pre­pare theirs in an oven!

Cliff Bo­s­tock is a for­mer psy­chother­a­pist now spe­cial­iz­ing in life coach­ing. Con­tact him at 404-518-4415 or cliff­bo­stock@gmail.com.

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