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Front Page - Friday, March 26, 2021

River City: Dance down to Bollywood for chicken shawarma tacos

The mahi-mahi taco, the fried avocado taco and the chicken shawarma taco at Bollywood Tacos on East Main Street. - Photo by David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

Drive or stroll down East Main Street in downtown Chattanooga every few months and you’ll probably spot something new and exciting to eat.

At least that’s my experience. It’s not that restaurants on East Main are always closing and making room for someone else to try their luck, it’s simply a fertile strip of South Chattanooga real estate that consistently attracts new culinary ventures.

Places like Neidlov’s, Main Street Meats, Slick’s Burgers, Bluegrass Grill and Conga Latin Food have stood the test of time – and defied the pandemic – to become mainstays, while newer establishments like State of Confusion, Southside Pizza and Alex Thai Food & Noodle Bistro are putting down deep roots.

Perhaps Bollywood Tacos will one day join that list. I noticed the new taqueria two storefronts north of Neidlov’s during a recent drive along East Main Street and made a mental note to try it.

The “Bollywood” in the name suggests a fusion of Indian and Mexican cuisine, and while that’s one of the dynamics at play, Bollywood Tacos also offers some enticing Middle Eastern options.

Before you get that far into your visit, however, a few other things will stand out – besides the colorful Indian artwork that graces the walls. First, Bollywood Tacos is quite spacious for a taqueria and there’s a decent amount of elbow room between tables, which may or may not have been done to make diners feel safer. You can also eat at a table on the sidewalk outside.

Also, when I walked in, I was offered a seat and brought a menu. I mention this only because Bollywood Tacos looks like the kind of place where you’d place your order at the cash register, but I liked being able to settle in as soon as I arrived.

Third, the more you buy, the less each item costs. So, you can buy two tacos for $7.50, or three for $9.99 (although I can’t imagine anyone being mad enough to order just two tacos).

The menu makes writing a piece about Bollywood Tacos easy because the descriptions alone sell the food. Sure, there are staples, such as queso dip, guacamole and nachos, but for every garden variety Tex-Mex offering on the menu, there’s something unique and eye-catching.

The first one that caught my eye was the fried avocado basket, which is categorized as a starter. I’ve always considered the avocado to be one of the few healthy things on a Tex-Mex menu, but lo and behold, the gastronomic daredevils at Bollywood Tacos found a way to corrupt it.

I was considering ordering the starter when I noticed the fried avocado Taco under the premium tTacos heading. This item comes on a flour or corn tortilla and includes crunchy coleslaw, pico de gallo, Baja sauce and fresco cheese. Seeing this, I knew I had identified my first of three tacos.

Loving fish as I do, the mahi-mahi taco was another quick add. Once again, coleslaw, Baja sauce and fresco cheese make the cut and join a mango salsa in creating a mouthwatering option.

(Typing “salsa” reminds me of the “Seinfeld” episode in which Jerry and George discuss how much fun it is to say “salsa.” Then again, a lot of things in life remind me of “Seinfeld.”)

At that point, I realized I was nearly done choosing, even though I’d scanned barely half of the menu. So, I slowed down and carefully weighed each option for taco number three.

Picking just one wasn’t easy, as Bollywood Tacos pulls inspiration from a variety of ethnic cuisines. From south of the border comes the Mexican street corn taco (fried corn bites, cilantro, pico and Baja sauce) and the beef bar-bacoa taco (braised beef, pickled red onions, fresco cheese and cilantro), for example.

India inspired the Bombay chicken taco, which is packed with marinated grilled chicken cooked in Indian tandoori spices and is topped with sauteed onions and peppers and cilantro.

Then there’s the chicken shawarma taco, which hails from the Middle East. Featuring chicken marinated in shawarma spices, vinegar, olive oil, garlic and mustard, topped with tzatziki (pronounced “tuh-zee-kee”) sauce and served in a fold of naan bread, it’s one of the most intriguing options on the menu at Bollywood Tacos.

Having never eaten shawarma, I decided it was time to try. After all, Bollywood Tacos might be a culinary venture for owners Sky Hinton and Deepak Kumar, but for its patrons, it’s a culinary adventure.

(Ordering the chicken shawarma taco reminded me of the post-credits scene in the first Avengers movie, wherein the heroes eat shawarma after saving world. This surprised me, since nothing in life reminds me of “The Avengers.”)

So, how were the tacos? Like most journeys, there were peaks and valleys.

The flavors were, for the most part, terrific. The mahi-mahi tastes like a sweet pop of color in your mouth, with the mango salsa defining the taco more than anything else. I suspect this was because there wasn’t enough fish to make an impression.

This was true of the fried avocado taco, too. Even after eating one at Bollywood Tacos, I’m still not certain what a fried avocado tastes like.

But the chicken shawarma taco – wow. I finally know what rendered the Avengers speechless as they munched on their after-battle meal. Not only did the taco come stuffed with ingredients but the shawarma was delicious. If I could go back in time (guess which movie just sprung to mind), I’d order three of those for lunch and take three home for dinner.

Although there’s room for improvement (or should I say room for more ingredients), Bollywood Tacos is a unique taqueria well worth an exploratory visit. Given its diverse influences, there’s a lot of digging to do, and chances are you’ll unearth at least one treasure that makes you say “Wow.”

Bollywood Tacos is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Menu