Photo by Jennifer Gray.
Manager Cameron Wallis and owner Will Haver in the newly opened Taco Mama in Crestline.
Crestline Village residents have long been accustomed to slowing traffic on Church Street, but a new arrival on this strip has folks slowing down even more: Taco Mama.
Otey’s Tavern owner Will Haver has recently opened Taco Mama at 63 Church Street in the former Crestline Seafood location.
Although Otey’s specializes in fantastic burgers, beers and music, the idea of a small taco joint had been in Haver’s mind for years.
“There’s really nothing else like this in Birmingham,” he said. “We aim to please our friends and fellow Mountain Brook neighbors but hope the word will spread to other Birmingham residents.”
The menu is thoughtfully laid out with build-your-own options on one side and standard specialties on the other. Easy choices include any one of the burritos like the Cheezy Beef, the vegetarian Tree Hugger or seafood-filled Hippie. Tacos are smaller in size, meaning you can mix-and-match several varieties to create a meal: pork, chicken, steak or fish.
Diners looking to get creative can free-form their meal, customizing each layer in the process. Taco Mama recommends starting with “The Form,” or the base model – burrito, low-carb burrito bowl, nachos or tacos. Next, select the protein or “The Cornerstone” for your meal: veggie mix, chicken, pork, barbacoa, steak, grilled shrimp or flounder. Add one of five sauces, mild Ranchero to Blistered Tomato Habanero, and then you are ready for “The Particulars.” Choose any three to truly make the meal your own: cilantro-lime rice, pinto or black beans, sour cream, pico de gallo, lettuce, guacamole, tomatoes, onions, corn, jalapenos, grilled onions or cilantro. With this much to choose from, it is going to be hard to narrow down a favorite.
Will Haver is a busy man and pretty thorough when it comes to restaurant menus. To perfect his ideal Taco Mama taco bar offerings, he enlisted the help of longtime friend Tim Hontzas. Hontzas comes from a strong Greek family, many of whom are also in the restaurant business locally, so good eating is practically part of his DNA. But to round out that natural ability, for more than eight years he worked the kitchens of Big Bad Breakfast and City Grocery, owned by culinary-rockstar John Currence in Oxford, Miss.
“Today’s diners have more to choose from and they are savvy in what they really want,” Hontzas said. “Any restaurant can serve up jarred salsa or heat up commercially-made rice, but making each item from scratch is what sets Taco Mama apart.”
The menu is rounded out with salads and house-made dressings, chips and salsas, kids choices and desserts. It would be hard to ask for more from a little taqueria on the corner, but, just like those late night infomercials: “Wait! There’s more!” Taco Mama has a full bar, including what is soon to become a legendary margarita. Made only with fresh ingredients, it is sure to inspire a following all by itself. The restaurant also offers traditional Agua Frescas, sparkling waters enhanced with orange or cranberry juice. Very refreshing.
Haver is looking forward to the next few months as Taco Mama finds its groove and puts together the perfect neighborhood mix, even if his right hand man, Rodney Davis, will stay at the grill at Otey’s.
“I haven’t found my ‘Rodney‘ for Taco Mama yet,” Haver said. “He’s really one-of-a-kind, and I wish I could clone him. But Taco Mama is unique. We make everything ourselves, from scratch, in-house.” Even the salsas? “Yes.” Even the tortillas for the burritos? “Yes. Most we’ll make with traditional corn but we can do flour ones too.”
So, while it might be cold outside right now, it is easy to take one look at Taco Mama and see yourself there, enjoying a relaxing meal with your favorite people. Those new roll-up garage doors Will installed up front are just begging to be opened to a warm spring evening. So, if the traffic starts to slow, just park the car and come inside. Come inside, order a margarita and enjoy the view.