After one meeting with Ken Hardy – affable proprietor of hideaway taqueria Nacho Mama's – it became evident that the man's giving nature was worthy of mention, or maybe an award. Over the past decade, the journeyman restaurateur has opened Tex-Mex joints on Church Street, Bennett Road and even in Myrtle Beach, S.C., only to return to Orlando to give it another go out on East Colonial Drive. That Hardy's struggles haven't deterred his generosity is a testament to his indefatigable and charitable nature. On our visit, we were given an extra order of nachos, complimentary sopapillas, homemade salsas and hot sauces and, wait for it … free beer.
That's right, I said free beer. Granted, it was Bud Light, but free beer is free beer; its quality (or lack thereof) in no way reflects on Hardy's goodwill. From our pleasant conversation we learned that: a) most of the recipes are his mom's; b) he'll happily field requests from diners craving, say, chicken mole or tofu quesadillas; c) he bakes his own tortillas; and d) he has changed the interior three times in the year Nacho Mama's has been open. He had Oblivion Taproom's Day of the Dead interior before they did, then went to a rock & roll theme, before settling on an interior befitting the down-home Mexican cantina Nacho Mama's is at its core.
An order of Nacho Mama's nachos ($9) seemed like the only way to start the proceedings. The plate of fresh-baked tortillas was gargantuan, yet we still felt the urge to dress the chips with some meat – pork or skirt steak, done al pastor, is really the way to go, and for just $1 more, well worth it. The heaping platter made regular chips and salsa redundant, but you should keep the chili-thick salsa nearby. Hardy presented another, similar salsa, this one aggressively spiced with habaneros, then offered a hot sauce made of seven different roasted peppers that had me feeling the burn well into the wee hours of the morning. Hardy even laid out a half-order of nachos with skirt steak sans the al pastor seasoning for my spice-challenged dining comrade, at no extra charge.
The Sputnik-sized chicken burrito ($8.99) was a savory satellite of love. (Hardy once served a 21-incher, but stopped dishing those out because his plates weren't big enough.) The combo plate ($8.99) was quite big enough, thank you very much, and featured a corpulent chicken enchilada, your average bean-and-queso tostada and, the real star, a taco packed with seasoned ground beef. Refried beans and yellow rice, faintly glazed and crackled, rounded out the comida gigante.
Given how stuffed we were, I'm not entirely sure how we polished off the chocolate-and-cinnamon-bathed sopapillas, given to us on the house. It certainly wasn't out of some sense of obligation, so the only logical explanation was that they were laced with some habit-forming stimulant.
Nacho Mama's may not be the easiest joint to find (it's on the northwest corner of Colonial Drive and Semoran Boulevard, near the overpass), but it's well worth the dining detour. Say what you like about Tex-Mex fare – derivative, commonplace, it's easy to disparage – but I can't deny that Nacho Mama knocked me out.
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