Simple is better.
This is the guiding principle at downtown Johnson City’s Holy Taco Cantina.
Proprietor Tim Swinhart has had 25 years in the restaurant business to learn how to do it simple and do it right. His work at such restaurants as Galloway’s and Grady’s American Grill have created four simple rules that lend credence to the Simple is Better mantra.
First, the premises must always be clean, from the sidewalk and parking lot out front all the way to the bathrooms.
Second, the ingredients and foodstuffs used to support the menu must be fresh and of the highest quality. Holy Taco Cantina has a minimal pantry and cooler, but no freezer. Frozen entrees prepared so they can be used “for later” is a no-no to Swinhart. His food is made to order and of the freshest ingredients, or he will not serve it.
Third, Swinhart has an “open” kitchen. Instead of being shut away behind a set of (usually swinging) doors, customers can watch Swinhart and his team prepare their meals right before their eyes. It is Swinhart’s belief that, if you the customer can see your food is demonstrably fresh and prepared in front of you, you will not doubt its quality.
Finally, make sure your staff practices good customer service. An attentive but unobtrusive wait staff enhances the customer’s dining experience, ensuring that he will return to dine again at a later date.
Swinhart’s near-mania for freshness means that Holy Taco’s menu is remarkably simple. You can order your meal either as a Taco ($3 each) or Burrito, at $6 each the most expensive item on the menu. Fillings are shredded beef, shredded chicken, slow roasted pork and quick-steamed shrimp for your meats. You can add onions and other fresh sides to the meats along with a smooth, savory cheese sauce with red sauce (medium heat) or green sauce (medium to hot and lasts longer) on the side. A plate of Nasty Nachos ($6) gets you the above ingredients on a bed of crunchy freshly-made tortilla chips. There’s Guacamole Dip ($4) and Queso & Chips (also $4) for starters.
My latest sit-down consisted of two tacos; one shrimp, one slow-roasted pork each in a pillow-soft flour tortilla. A $2 order of yellow rice as a side and a cold bottle of domestic beer completed my order. Ms. Val was running things out front again, and had my meal in front of me inside of 10 minutes. The pork taco needed no add-ons, just the flavorful pork shoulder slow-roasted to perfection.
The red sauce was good, the green sauce was better. Dipping a forkful of the rice into each of the sauces gave the rice an agreeable taste combination no matter which sauce was used. The shrimp taco featured shrimp that were sizable and steamed to perfection, making a delicate blend of flavors with the cheese sauce topping. A quick, delicious, satisfying meal for one that’s under $11 plus tax and tip.
Take-out service is available and from what I have seen is currently in use by the downtown residents and businesses. Parking is available nearby, just a short walk from the nearest lot over on Tipton Street or the back lot off State of Franklin.
If beer is what you want, Swinhart’s collection of craft beers, both on-tap and bottled, along with a good selection of domestics in both forms means you’ll be spoiled for choice. Cocktails are available as well.
Since Holy Taco’s Margaritas are both especially tasty and deceptively potent, having a friend or two join your evening’s frivolity isn’t a bad idea if you are planning to drive home. No doubt about it, Tim Swinhart and his hardworking crew at Holy Taco Cantina are a welcome addition to the revitalization and growth of downtown Johnson City.
Holy Taco Cantina
211 E. Main Street
Hours: Sun.—Thurs. 11 a.m.—10 p.m.
Fri.—Sat. 11 a.m.—2 a.m.