The prevalence of fast food, even in Asheville, can be tempting for anyone who has a busy day and not a lot of time to plan what they want to eat. Having a go-to order at one of your local fast-food places may be the difference between fitting in soccer practice, homework, and nutrition before bed!
However, for me, the fast-food options near me tend to have low appeal for nutrition, and I end up being annoyed at myself that I didn’t bother to spend the extra few bucks and get takeout from a local place. It’s a value here in Asheville – if I can manage to eat local or cook myself, it’s just going to be a better day.
Finding a local spot that also offers some convenience options, though, is the best of both worlds. I love a place where I always know what my husband would most likely order, and I can order ahead on my phone to speed up the process, but the food I get is brimming with flavor, freshness, and vitamins – it’s always good to eat some green things!
For us, that’s Taco Temple, the sister restaurant to Mamacita’s Taqueria. While Mamacita’s is a recognizable feature of the Biltmore Avenue corridor in downtown, Taco Temple is inside a historic-looking building on Charlotte Street that might not immediately make you think Mexican restaurant.
Their appeal is many-sided, but the convenience features are big. They have a drive-up window, which, as far as I can tell, is only used to hand out takeout orders through the window, not to order anything, but when you have a kid strapped into a car seat and don’t relish the idea of wrestling him both in and out of the seat just to pick up dinner, the drive-through pickup window gets very appealing.
They’ve had online ordering the whole time I’ve lived in Asheville, and it works smoothly as far as I can tell – I can be grocery shopping a few streets away and remember I want to buy tacos for dinner, place my order on the website, and then finish grocery shopping while it gets made.
Another great feature is that they are open early, with a breakfast menu available from 9 am to noon at the time of writing. Between being open at 9 am and not closing till 9 pm, I’m very rarely hungry and also unable to get some Taco Temple. It’s structured to bring me back again and again.
How’s the food though? Glad you asked.
The breakfast menu is simple, with a tasty vegan taco that features sweet potato, black beans, and in-house salsa. Or choose between three different scrambled egg breakfast tacos: one with sweet potatoes, one with chorizo, and one with bacon. They also offer their signature chips and dips, including salsa, guacamole, and queso.
I remember that one magical thing about the summers I spent living in Texas was that most taquerias that were open in the morning would sell you chips and queso as part of a breakfast, and I still dream of those tasty meals. At Taco Temple, you can complete your breakfast with a Mexican hot chocolate or a cup of coffee, making it a solid choice for every part of an on-the-go breakfast.
For the rest of the day, there’s a huge variety of tacos and tortas (fresh sandwiches) available. Browsing the menu, you’ll find a fish of the day taco, tangerine-chili shrimp, rotisserie chicken tacos, and brown sugar-and-chile-rubbed steak tacos.
You’ll order at the front counter and then sit with your number or hang out while they prepare a takeout order, streamlining the line even at peak lunchtime rush. Around you, you’ll see people with their tacos and tortas on simple metal trays.
Tortas are these incredible fresh sandwiches, like the Pepito, covered in chile-rubbed steak, quesillo cheese, roasted peppers and onions, chipotle mayo, and avocado, and accompanied by these great pinwheel-shaped spicy chips. Probably not the spot for pinky-out eating, but you’ll see everyone eating with gusto!
On my most recent visit, I noticed the simple, rustic vibe of the space. The front porch is a large picnic-table-filled patio, where people eat their tacos and watch the busy traffic flying past on Charlotte Street. Inside, the exposed-brick walls have cool vintage-looking murals and signs with a general splashy, colorful look, and the tables in the small dining area are covered in vinyl that is brightly printed with tropical flowers.
I started with hibiscus lemonade they make in-house. I’m a huge fan of straight hibiscus tea, which tastes like a nearly-sweet lemonade because of its puckery citrus flavor, so those flavors made tons of sense in a sweet lemonade, too.
It was a perfect refresher for an unseasonably warm October day, but I can definitely tell that I’ve not been drinking many sugary drinks lately – my sipping has skewed toward unsweetened things, so this one tasted very sweet, not cloying, but out of my own standard experience.
The tacos arrived, and let me just say… go get napkins! There’s a station inside with forks and napkins that isn’t far from any table, but I ended up having to set a taco down mid-chomping because I realized I’d made a mistake by not getting myself ready first. The first taco I tried was a special of the day, a fried chicken taco covered in bright, spice-forward green salsa and a real mountain of cilantro.
The fresh flavor of the cilantro and the crisp crunch of fried chicken bits (about the size of nuggets, but clearly fresh-fried in-house) was one I hadn’t had, and it was lovely – a festival of texture that helped to distract me from the spice level, which was basically one notch higher than I’d personally choose but I am admittedly a low-spice person. When there’s enough going on in a fiery dish, I can always soldier through.
The second taco is one I’ve had before, but only as takeout – Taco Temple offers a really great drive-through window that has prompted us to do takeout from them frequently. However, with this many fresh salsas, veggies, and bread products like tortillas, we’re usually eating our tacos and tortas with a fork when we get home.
Tacos are not exactly made for travel, even if every bite is still tasty. The Panela taco is a great example of how eating something 30 seconds out of the kitchen is an absolutely distinct experience from takeout, even if the takeout is good.
Ironically, I think this one was made incorrectly, since the menu doesn’t list arugula on it, but there it was, spicy, perfect arugula layered with roasted poblano peppers, pickled onions, and a base of whipped/smushed black beans. In the middle was the pièce de résistance, a perfectly grilled slab of panela cheese. This is an example of a phenomenon that I’ve really gotten into as I try to make sure my diet includes more and more veggies.
I’ve found that if a big pile of veggies is punctuated by one or two absolutely delectable, extravagant bits of richness (like grilled cheese), I enjoy the entire thing even though each individual vegetable gets a pretty low rating in my book. I’d never look at a pickled onion on its own. In this context, though, it’s a bright, vinegary note in a symphony. Yum.
I was excited to try the dessert I picked, too, called Churro Tots. I wondered if they literally fried up tater tots and covered them in cinnamon sugar, which would be an impressive salty-sweet combo, but in this case, the tots were simply actual churros snipped into tot-sized bites – still a delicious, hot, and crispy dessert.
They reminded me, though, that the best deal on the menu (or at least at the time of writing) is the $2 Temple Tots – these tots are covered in a magical elixir of tajin spice (lime, chili peppers, and salt) and may be a perfect food.
I’d also never turn down one of their avocado melt tortas, one of the aforementioned foods I’ve ordered as takeout and then proceeded to eat with a fork. They start with a telera roll, a big and puffy bread that, if you eat it quick, can definitely take the moisture of this sandwich.
Inside, though, they layer it on: quesillo cheese, avocado, black beans, roasted peppers and onions, pico de gallo, and mixed greens, all blessed with an additional source of moisture, chipotle mayo or pistachio crema. What ensues is like if the best, heartiest salad and the meltiest fancy grilled cheese had a baby… you can see why it’s half soup 40 minutes after it’s prepared, though.
Taco Temple also maintains a simple but mighty bar. They have a tequila list and serve a variety of specialty drinks, including the House Margarita, Temple Margarita, a Simone Limone (made with luksusowa and limeade) and a Tamarindo Tempest, made with goslings rum, tamarind syrup, and mineral water.
They also have the well-known paloma and cuba libre, all drinks that tend to have a citrus freshness to them while catering to different people’s liquor preferences. There are also beers on draft, organic wine, and two kinds of sangria, rounding out options for a variety of tastes.
If you’re in the mood for a non-alcoholic drink, but don’t want the hibiscus lemonade, there are soft drinks, Topo Chico mineral water, and horchata, a white-rice-and-cinnamon drink that is light and refreshing.
I’m a big fan of celebration meals that are a little unorthodox; my husband and I have made margaritas while we eat our weight in chips, salsa, and queso a longstanding tradition whenever something big in our life goes our way.
If you like queso, you will love the queso and always-fresh chips at Taco Temple. While I tend toward mostly vegetarian dishes on the Taco Temple menu, my husband swears by the fish tacos, the house-made chorizo in the Toluca taco, and the Al Pastor torta, all of which he’s eaten with great delight, often with a fork, often while standing at our kitchen counter (life with a toddler hasn’t really lent itself to leisurely meals at the dinner table as often as one might envision in a Norman Rockwell painting!).