It is the epitome of a hole in the wall. It is in a thin, cramped, shotgun space a half-block north of Broad Street on Second Street. It is too warm during the summer, has no place to sit except a rickety table out on the sidewalk, and it's in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint. It is Nate's Taco Truck Stop, and it's home to some of the best Mexican food in the region.
Tacos, a steal at $3 a pop, are the big draw at Nate's, but instead of mystery meat, you can choose from several slow-cooked, shredded and expertly spiced fillings. Beef or chicken, pork or chorizo, even a vegetarian bean — all are unique in flavor. Instead of a crispy shell, Nate's uses soft flour tortillas, and they also offer soft corn tortillas, not a bad flavor, but a little dry for my taste.
For a bigger appetite, try the burrito. Beans, lettuce and your choice of meat tightly wrapped in a tortilla is perfect for lunch on-the-go — with a surprisingly low potential for the need to grab a clean shirt. If you have access to a clean shirt, then go for the Frito Pie, composed of fresh lettuce, beans, ground beef, sour cream and salsa served in a dish and topped by a bag of Fritos — a tasty combination of flavors and textures.
What sets Nate's apart from the rest of the very crowded Mexican food field in Richmond? One part is fresh, local ingredients from purveyors like Amy's Garden. Another is the fact that owner Nathaniel Gutierrez periodically travels to the southeastern United States to handpick his own spices and chiles at the source. The resulting salsas and sauces are a little brighter in flavor and color. And if you go often enough, they'll be incrementally different from one visit to the next, depending on what's available (and Gutierrez's mood).
For years, if you wanted to sample the goodness coming out of Gutierrez's kitchen, you would have to scurry about town and hope to find his very mobile food cart. Scurry no more. Nate's has found a permanent home, and what it lacks in ambiance, it makes up for in great food at a great price. —Piet E. Jones
315 N. Second St., 562-1227
Prices: Tacos $3; other dishes $4 to $8. Orders served to-go only.
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday.