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Rhody Radio episode transcription has been been made possible by the American Rescue Plan: Humanities Grants for Libraries, which is an initiative of the American Library Association (ALA) made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.


Rhody Eats: Tacos

Lauren Walker: [00:00:00] You are listening to Rhody Radio, Rhode Island Library Radio Online.


Lauren: Hi. This is your Rhody Radio crew here for another episode of Rhody Eats where we rank some of the best food in Rhode Island. For this episode, we'll be tasting some of the best tacos in Rhode Island using Rhode Island Food Fights Taco MANIA competition as a guide. I'm Lauren Walker, assistant director at Coventry Public Library.

Dave Bartos: I'm Dave Bartos, coordinator of adult services at the Cranston Public Library.

Emily Goodman: I'm Emily Goodman, Adult Services Coordinator at the Office of Library & Information Services at your state offices.

Lauren: If you don't already know about Rhode Island Food Fights from our Rhody Eats Donuts episode, they host a series of fun friendly competitions between restaurants and food businesses that showcase their culinary goods to hundreds of local food lovers. Food lovers purchase a passport full of coupons, taking them on a culinary road trip to 15 to 20 participating restaurants to sample the best pizza, burgers, wings, and more. Participants vote online for their favorite and the winner is declared after weeks of delicious competition.

As of today's airing, we are nearly at the end of October 2023's Taco MANIA competition. We enlisted our colleagues around the state to help us try out all of the restaurants featured in the competition and they've recorded their reviews to guide your own taco adventures. Before we get to the Taco reviews, I sat down with Jim Nellis, the founder of Rhode Island Food Fights to talk about the competition and how it got started.


Lauren: I'm your host Lauren Walker at the Warwick Public Library recording studio, home of Warwick Radio online, a podcast featuring news and stories about Warwick's people, businesses, and one-of-a-kind culture available wherever you find your podcasts. A big thank you to Will, [00:02:00] the community services librarian at the Warwick Public Library for offering the space for us to record today.

I'm joined by Jim Nellis, founder of Rhode Island Food Fights, the largest series of culinary competitions in Southern New England. Hi, Jim. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.

Jim Nellis: No, thanks for inviting me.

Lauren: What made you start Rhode Island Food Fights?

Jim: I was building a social media consulting business back 13 years ago and if you could imagine pitching social media platforms to business owners 13 years ago, it was a little bit difficult. I like to say that Rhode Island is eight years behind every curve so bringing social media to people and to the businesses in Rhode Island was way early. As a prospecting project, I thought it might be interesting to get in front of-- Well, for me, if I were to host an event that had 12 bakeries show up with 400 cupcakes to give away to people that I sold tickets to in order to expand their brand recognition, for me to get a dozen bakeries to participate, I'm going to have to pitch 50 or 100.

The event comes and goes and I'm now going to have 50 or 100 business owners that's no longer a cold call. It's a warm call and we have something to talk about. Well, the event came and went went it was– I showed up the day of the event, we're loading in three hours before the start, and I noticed that there were people in line with tickets to get into the event. I'm thinking, okay, so this might be something a little bit bigger [00:04:00] than a prospecting project, and it became that. The in-person events were the first.

Lauren: That's very cool. That was actually one of my other questions was, it sounds like maybe during the pandemic or after the pandemic it became passport-based as it is now. Do you have plans to have any in-person events in the future?

Jim: Well, the passport events, we're into our 10th year with the passport events. That was even before COVID. The passports came about when, well, before the passport, I hosted a cupcake event in March and then figured, "Okay, that was cool. What do I do now?" Hosted an ice cream event in August and, "Well, that's cool. What do I do now?" Hosted a cookie event in December. All the events sold out and all of the events worked really well for my partner restaurants, I thought, well, let's tee this up again. I did that a second year and everything continued to grow. We started with 400 attendees and we grew to 1,200 attendees in two years.

I figured, "Okay, if this is the direction I'm going, I need to figure out ways to get other food groups involved, other food types involved." It was then that I realized that the reason that cookies, ice cream, and cupcakes worked is because they can be made in advance and the integrity of the product is not going to deteriorate over the course of an event. You can't do that with burgers. You can't--

Lauren: Right.

Jim: I thought, I tried to figure out a way to get the burgers. Burgers were the first event, the big burger blowout. [00:06:00] That was with the passport, with the coupon platform.

Lauren: It seems to work very well.

Jim: It works incredibly well. It works well for both sides of the field. One being my restaurant partners and the other being the consuming side. The consumer side, the value proposition is unbelievable. We're hosting this 9th Annual Taco MANIA in October. We have 23 taco shops participating and participating taco shops agree to offer two complimentary tacos to folks that come in with a coupon. We put together the bench of partners and there's 23 of them. The coupon books are sold for $30.

Folks can get 46 tacos for $30 during the month of October. The value is there. The value for the participating restaurants is also there and that is that 70% of the folks that come in with a coupon during the month of October will be brand-new customers. It's a new customer acquisition. With a new customer acquisition, there's a new customer acquisition cost, which is your marketing spend over the course of a year divided by the total number of new folks that come into your place. In Rhode Island, that averages $26 to $28 per person. Using this platform for Taco MANIA, it's the restaurant's cost of two tacos-

Lauren: Interesting.

Jim: -which is less than $26.

Lauren: Yes, definitely. [laughs]

Jim: Right. That's the value proposition [00:08:00] that is so strong. When the business owners or the decision-makers see that data, then it makes it easier for them to participate.

Lauren: It works out for those of us who like to eat free tacos.

Jim: That's the proposition on both sides. It's not necessarily something that- I didn't realize when I first started the passport platform that 70% of the folks would be brand-new customers but that's the data that I draw after every event. I do a data dig after every event and the numbers are bizarrely similar after every event.

Lauren: It makes sense because it's Rhode Island. I'm originally from Mass so I feel like I can look at Rhode Island as an outsider and say that people really do not want to leave their 15-minute driving radius. [laughs]

Jim: Well, that's okay. I'm from Georgia. When I first started coming to Rhode Island, I stayed down in South County, down in Narragansett. I didn't go to Providence because people don't go past the tower.

Lauren: Road trip to go to Providence.

Jim: You don't go past the tower. People were telling me people won't travel. They do. They travel to Westerly for a donut. They come in from Boston to try things. We sell into Boston. We sell into Connecticut. We tease at the office that we're very tourism-focused because we do bring in new people but we do. Rhode Islanders are set in their ways. They're set in their ways in that they're set in their ways. You're not going to do this because we haven't done this before. [00:10:00] It's being proven to be a little bit different.

Lauren: You've discovered that they will travel for food?

Jim: They will travel for food. They'll travel for good food. Rhode Island, pound for pound has the best food in the country.

Lauren: It's really good food.

Jim: It's incredible.

Lauren: Yes. How many people participate in each Food Fights competition and is there one that seems to be the most popular?

Jim: There's a handful that are the most popular, burgers, wings-- I guess the single most popular would be the iced coffee. Burgers, wings, tacos, pizza, all big sandwiches is huge. Those are all consistently. Then iced coffee is just a little bit bigger as far as revenues. Hundreds of people come to the--

Lauren: Very cool. That's interesting that iced coffee would be the winner there because you'd think everyone gets their coffee in the morning, and then outside of that, like that might be one thing that I wouldn't travel for, would be an iced coffee. [laughs]

Jim: Well, different strokes. People are crazy about iced coffee here.

Lauren: That is true. I do drink it year-round.

Jim: It's a trip. Some places have better iced coffee than others. I'm not sure why, and I don't ask why. I've been doing this now for 13 years. It's not that I don't ask why, it's just that it doesn't really matter.

Lauren: [chuckles] Sure.

Jim: This has happened. Let's see if we can replicate it. That's what I continue to try to do, to try to bring even a deeper value for both the partners and the consumers.

Lauren: That's great.

Jim: The food fighters.

Lauren: Yes. [chuckles] [00:12:00] What is your favorite quintessential Rhode Island food?

Jim: That's a good question. I don't know. It's all good. It really is a tough question. I support Mr. Lemon.

Lauren: Oh, wow. Okay, you're team Mr. Lemon.

Jim: Huge.

Lauren: I think I'm Team Del's.

Jim: You're a loser.

Lauren: [laughs] Well, I think the competition works out for all of us.

Jim: No doubt. I'm a big fan of Mr. Lemon. It's less corporate, I guess.

Lauren: Fair enough.

Jim: Huge fan of Yacht Club Soda. Huge fan of Warwick Ice Cream. Granny Squibb's Iced Tea.

Lauren: Oh, I've never had that.

Jim: Oh, good. Granny Squibb's, they're in most convenience stores.

Lauren: I did not know about them. I'll have to give them a shot.

Jim: They're good.

Lauren: I think probably an Awful Awful for me is my favorite. Sometimes a strawberry or sometimes I have a Nutella one, I think, which is really good.

Jim: Newport Creamery is a great brand.

Lauren: I do like that on the Awful Awful cup. It says, "It's a drink just in case you weren't sure." How do people get their passport to participate in the Food Fights competitions?

Jim: We market on social media. We have, I guess, our fan base now. Well, we have huge followings on both Instagram and Facebook. Over 10 years, the folks that have bought, it's tens of thousands of people that we're able to remarket to. The interesting thing is that 60% of the [00:14:00] customers are new customers for every event.

Lauren: Oh, wow. That's really cool.

Jim: Yes, it's very cool.

Lauren: It's obviously working what you're doing.

Jim: It seems to. Yes, it seems to. That's what- if it's not broke, don't fix it.

Lauren: Sure.

Jim: It's a lot of work. It's a business. Everybody has, not everybody, but most folks have a passion for food and a passion for ice cream and that sort of thing, which we all do. RI Food Fights is a business. We pay our taxes. We want to grow. At the same time, we want to provide value to the folks that we work with.

Lauren: Sure. People can get their passport online. Then once they've tried all the restaurants, how do they vote for their favorite?

Jim: We send a voting link out to the people that purchase the coupons. We remind them four or five times throughout the course of the month. Then following that, we surveyed them. Which were the restaurants you went to, which were the restaurants you went to for the very first time, which was your favorite, that sort of thing. Did you buy an additional item while you're there? Did you buy anything else?

Lauren: Since we're doing this episode around the Taco MANIA competition, do you have a personal favorite taco place in Rhode Island?

Jim: I do, I think. Well, but they're all my favorite.

Lauren: That's fair.

Jim: There are a ton of taco places-

Lauren: There are. [chuckles]

Jim: -in Rhode Island. We have great food all over the place, and tacos is, tacos are. Tacos are one of them.

Lauren: [00:16:00] I'm definitely excited to participate. [laughs]

Jim: Okay.

Lauren: Is there anything else that you'd like people to know that we haven't mentioned yet?

Jim: We host an event a month almost starting in January, wings, donuts, sandwiches, beer. We've hosted a craft beer passport for the past two years. We're going to do that again. We have a huge craft beer community. I think we have 36 breweries in Rhode Island.

Lauren: Oh, wow.

Jim: Yes, it's crazy. Beer, burgers was the first, iced coffee, ice cream, pizza, tacos. I think I probably left something out. There's something for everybody. They're great gifts. People have bought them for gifts.

Lauren: That's a good idea.

Jim: As gifts. Yes. There's all sorts of communities that are built around. Folks meet up at Whole Foods and trade coupons.

Lauren: That's pretty cool.

Jim: Folks create Google Maps for the locations. There are those folks that will cut their coupons out, laminate them, hole punch them, and put them on a key ring, starting with the closest to the furthest.

Lauren: Wow. As a librarian, I can really appreciate that level of organization.

Jim: It's crazy.

Lauren: That's funny.

Jim: It's fun. The community is fun. For the most part, it's a positive experience for everybody. After 13 years, if you're keeping most people happy, you're doing something right, I think.

Lauren: I would say so. All right. Well, [00:18:00] thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today.

Jim: Thank you very much for having me. Well, thanks for making this happen. Call it a day.

Lauren: [chuckles]


Lauren: Wow. It's so interesting to hear the history of Rhode Island Food Fights. I've done at least one challenge each year for maybe the last five years or so, and I didn't realize what a long history it had. Since we're talking about tacos today, guys, what do you look for in a taco?

Dave: I personally, and we'll get to this when we get to my review, but I like when there's not too much stuff so that everything really gets its moment in the sun as you're eating it. I think some people would be sticklers for it doesn't fall apart. I don't mind if it falls apart. It's like a little extra food for later, hits your plate. You just have your tacos and then you have a little extra taco. For me, it's just fresh flavors in a great combination and a modest amount.

Lauren: Nice. I agree with most of that, although I don't love when they fall apart, but I will still eat it afterwards like I said. My taste in tacos has been described as American tacos. The kind of tacos that you can make at home with the iceberg lettuce, and the shredded cheese, and that kind of thing. I did work at Taco Bell for a while when I was in college, and I was, for sure, their most enthusiastic employee.


Dave: Awesome.

Lauren: I remember one time, he must have been the regional manager or something like that, came in and was quizzing people to see what we knew and he was like, "What's in the beefy five-layer burrito?" I was like, "Well, let me tell you." I was like, so stoked. I didn't even care job-wise. I just love that burrito and I would love to talk to you about it at length. [laughs] My wheelhouse of tacos is definitely and will like [00:20:00] American taco realm. I also can't really handle spicy things. I'll also get to it in my review, but I appreciated that the tacos that I had were not super spicy, even though they had a lot of flavor. That's what- I look for Tacos that I can hold without everything falling out, and they're not super spicy. I like traditional American topping.


Emily: I feel like I'm pretty open to tacos of all varieties. I don't like them too spicy, but I do like a little bit of spice sometimes. I appreciate mostly a flour tortilla because it doesn't fall apart. I don't really like when I just have a mess of ingredients on my plate because at that point I'd really rather just have nachos. I do really like a traditional corn tortilla with just meat, onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. In that way, I want just really plain and simple and good meat.

If I'm going to eat some good American tacos, we are going hard on the cheese and the sour cream, a little bit of lettuce for crunch, some ground beef or ground turkey, open to both. I do like a little extra refried beans in there, but similar to Dave, I want a modest amount because I want all of those to be in my mouth at the same time. I don't like when I have to eat a taco top end and then bottom if that makes sense, and like two bites where I get a top bite of all the cold ingredients and a bottom bite of all the hot ingredients, that really drives me nuts.

I think that's what's so fun about a lot of Mexican places, at least many of the Americanized Mexican categories, is that you have these staple ingredients are very similar. If what I want is to be able to hold [00:22:00] my item and get all of the flavors all at once, I'm probably going to choose a burrito. If I want something that's a little bit simpler, I'll probably choose a taco that has minimal ingredients. If I just want a dirty pile with lots of cheese, I'm going nachos, I want it nice and crunchy. I feel like I have now gone on far too long about my ideas of Mexican restaurants. The thing in question today is tacos so let's get to some reviews about the delicious places around the state that you can eat some tacos.


Kate Lentz: Hi, my name is Kate Lentz and I'm the director of the Rhode Island Center for the Book. I went to La Costa on Thames Street in Newport, Rhode Island. It's about a half-mile walk from the Newport Library. This was my first time here. La Costa is a clean, well-lighted place. We were greeted right away by our super knowledgeable server Hogan, who let us know about all the different options on the menu. For tacos, they have meat, vegetarian and vegan options, and they specialize in a lobster taco.

I ordered the carne asada tacos, the chicken tacos, and the fish tacos. The tacos come on a taco tray with sides of black beans, Spanish rice, and salsa verde. I was really surprised by the depth of flavors and the layers of fresh ingredients. I'll definitely be returning to La Costa for the huevos rancheros for breakfast. They're open on Saturday and Sunday at 9:00 AM for breakfast. I would really recommend this to anybody who really wants to escape the touristy spots in Newport and who appreciates flavorful, fresh ingredients. Thank you.

Heather: Hi, my name is Heather. I'm a reference librarian at Coventry Public Library. I went to Casa Azul Taqueria on Allens Avenue in Providence where I tried two chicken Tinga tacos. The tacos smelled good and looked fresh with two soft corn taco shells holding the filling. The marinated chicken was [00:24:00] well flavored with evenly diced onions and tomatoes, shredded crispy lettuce, a sprinkle of cheese, and cilantro topping them off. I would definitely recommend these tasty tacos. For drinks, we had a hibiscus mojito and classic margarita, both refreshing and well-crafted.

Additionally, we enjoyed the al pastor Frida bowl with two house-made salsas, red and green. The second option we chose was the Diego burrito with Mexican city-style carnitas. Serving sizes were generous. There is a cheerful atmosphere here with art, honoring Frida Kahlo. Colorful interesting graphics decorated the walls. Our server was very helpful with a positive attitude and warmth that made us comfortable. Service was quick. I would definitely recommend this taco experience and we will return. Thanks.

Pam Schwieger: Hi, I am Pam Schwieger, the assistant director at the East Providence Public Library. I went to Union Burrito in Riverside. It is a quarter of a mile from our Riverside branch library. I've heard so many great things about this restaurant, but this was my first time there. I went with my husband. We loved the tacos that we got. We had one chicken and one beef, and they were soft-shell tacos. They were well-presented, colorful, and fresh in those little taco trays so that the ingredients didn't spill all over the place. They had lettuce and tomato, shredded cheese. The cheese was like a southwest blend. It was very good and all the ingredients were very fresh. I would definitely return to this restaurant for more tacos.

Union Burrito was clean [00:26:00] and it had appealing decor. The bartender was friendly and attentive. There was live music. We also ordered a few other things. We got a chicken burrito for takeout, actually, for our 13-year-old son. He ate it up very quickly and I asked him what he thought and he said it was fresh and flavorful and it had a nice kick of spice, but not too hot. He said it was not a mushy mess as some burritos can be.

We also, had, at the restaurant, we had chips and salsa. The chips they make there and the salsa of course, too. The salsa was excellent. It had a smoky southwestern flavor, very good. We tried the empanadas and they were crispy, flaky crust, plentiful, and tasty fillings. We got one beef and one chicken. They definitely were not greasy. I think my favorite thing there were the quesadillas, which were just wonderful. We got cheese quesadillas with fresh veggies. They had peppers and onions and the prices were very reasonable. We would definitely go back. We will go back. I would recommend this place to probably many, many people, but especially to my friends Missy and Andrea, who also love Mexican food. We love to try new Mexican food together.

Patricia Buffington: Hi, my name is Patricia Buffington. I'm the library media specialist at Toll Gate High School in Warwick. This past Wednesday night, my family and I ate at Taco'n Madre, located at 669 Roosevelt Avenue, Pawtucket. This was our first time visiting Taco'n Madre, but I'm sure it won't be our last. [00:28:00] Upon arriving at the address, we were surprised to discover that it was not a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant, but rather a food truck set up in an auto mechanics parking lot.

On the night we went, Taco'n Madre was a one-person operation. The menu there is small. The truck offers tacos with your choice of meat for $2 a piece or $3 with avocado. There are five different types of meat you can choose from, carne asada, carnitas, tripe, chorizo, and trompo, which is spit-roasted pork. It should be noted that there are no vegetarian options. Taco'n Madre also has available quesadillas, tatas, and tostadas filled with your choice of meat and pork tamales. For drinks, they offer bottled water and soda.

Since we were there for the tacos, we decided to order some of every variety except for the tripe. While we waited, the truck's window opened and the chef gave us cups of a spicy bean and pork fat soup for free. It was delicious. The broth had the right amount of heat, and the proportion of beans and pork fat to broth was just right. Our tacos arrived next. The shells were made of soft corn. The tacos came with the meat, raw onions, cilantro, and avocado. The beef taco also had queso fresco. They were small in size, about 5 inches in circumference, but extremely flavorful and fresh-tasting. Their carnitas was my personal favorite, and I love the addition of a perfectly riped avocado.

Our only complaint was that we had to eat them using our car's hood as a table as there were no other options available. The food is also served in styrofoam containers, which may be a dealbreaker for those of us who are environmentally conscious. Taco'n Madre is not near my house nor my library, but the food is worth a drive. The next time you are in Pawtucket, I highly recommend trying Taco'n Madre.

Peter: My name is Peter Fallon. I am a circulation assistant at Brownell Library in Little Compton. [00:30:00] I was sampling tacos at the Sports Kitchen, which is a restaurant in Tiverton. For those of you not familiar with the East Bay of Rhode Island, Tiverton is one town north of Little Compton over in our little slice of heaven here on the East Bay. Sports Kitchen is a fairly new restaurant that is part of the Longplex complex, which is a new and very large indoor sports complex, made up of a huge warehouse-type structure, and there's multiple fields inside.

While I was there, there were multiple basketball games going on. There was indoor soccer practice. There's, also, adjacent to the restaurant, a large room with many video games and arcade-like activities for kids. It was quite active and noisy, which was fun, actually. It's a fun and energetic place to go. The restaurant is huge. They have a menu that has most of the things you might expect at a sports-themed restaurant: burgers, sandwiches, wraps, pizza.

They have three tacos, chicken, mahi-mahi, and pork. I chose the chicken tacos, which consist of grilled chicken tenderloins served over a bed of lettuce with pico de gallo and top with shredded jack cheeses and chipotle aioli. It sounds wonderful, but it wasn't wonderful enough so I had to add the mango pineapple salsa. The tacos arrived looking great. They were presented very well. The service was good. They came in a timely manner. Everything was hot. They come with a choice of a side. I chose French fries because that's the way I roll.

I have to say that everything probably exceeded my expectations. I'd never been there before, but they were very good. [00:32:00] The chicken was grilled and cubed so there were chunks of chicken, not shredded chicken like you often see in tacos. Everything was really fresh. If you could consider a taco healthy, it actually seemed semi-healthy, not including the French fries, of course. I give it a wholehearted thumbs up. Should I need energy, and some excitement, and some good tacos, I would definitely make my way back to Sports Kitchen in Tiverton, Rhode Island.

Heather Field: I'm Heather Field, the director at the Ashaway Free Library, and I went to Tio Mateo's in East Greenwich. My husband and I had attended the fun and fascinating annual Yankee Steam-Up event at the New England Wireless & Steam Museum. It was a quick 10-minute ride from there to Tio Mateo's. Our GPS got us there with no problem and there was ample off-street parking. I had looked at the menu online ahead of time so I knew that Tio Mateo's serves authentic street tacos which I'd never had before. Most of my experience with Mexican cuisine has been of the Taco Bell variety or similar. I was pretty excited to try a new kind of taco.

Tio Mateo's offers three kinds of protein filling for their tacos, Adobo marinated chicken, pork, or steak. I very wisely chose the three taco platter so I could try one of each. They also have three levels of salsa, mild, medium, and one called del diablo for the true heatseeker. I have the palate of a toddler, and no better than to even consider testing myself against something called of the devil, so I stuck with a very mild tomato fresca for all three of my tacos.

The ordering experience was efficient and friendly. While we waited, we had a chance to ask about the unique building. It turns out it used to be an auto mechanic shop and our server told us that they could still open the bay doors on nice days. It's a smaller space, but it has a lot of personality and a really welcoming vibe. Tio Mateo's has both indoor and outdoor seating. After we ordered and I grabbed a Dr. Pepper from the cooler [00:34:00] to create the ideal food and beverage pairing, we opted to wait for our food outside at one of the picnic tables.

It only took a couple of minutes until our server brought our meal to us. I was so pleasantly surprised to see that everything was served on reusable plates, and came with real cutlery. The tacos were presented flat with the meat, salsa, lettuce, and cilantro piled on top of slightly warmed corn tortillas. The taco plate came with refried beans and delicious savory rice. I had also gotten a side order of sour cream which I often use to balance any extra heat in my tacos or other spicy foods.

I tried the chicken taco first as presented without the sour cream, and it was perfect. The meat was so tender and zesty, and I think I'm, honestly, a convert from flour to corn tortillas now. To be honest, I didn't think I was a fan of cilantro, but it absolutely worked for me in these tacos. I did add a bit of sour cream to the last couple of bites just because I enjoy sour cream.

I did the same with the pork taco which was similar in flavor profile to the chicken. The steak taco was also heavenly but spicier so I deployed more of the sour cream to cool it down a bit. I'm glad it's not too long of a drive for us to get to Tio Mateo's because I'd love to go for more of their delightful authentic street tacos or maybe try one of their burritos. My husband had the El Mateo supremo burrito and really enjoyed it. Tio Mateo's is also home to a sister restaurant called Greenwich Bay Gourmet, and that menu was really intriguing too.

We loved Tio Mateo's food, the interesting space, excellent service, outdoor seating, environmentally conscious food service, and the easy parking. I would recommend Tio Mateo's to anyone who, like me, is ready to branch out from a fast food place tacos to something fresher and more delicious and authentic or really to anyone and everyone. Happy Taco MANIA friends.


Dave: Well, I'm definitely hungry after hearing about all those tacos and places to go. I'm going to continue talking about tacos. [00:36:00] I went to OZ Tacos & Tequila, which is in Lincoln. What I loved about it, and I think going back to our Donuts episode, I'm big on place, that affects me. I do love a greasy spoon. This was the opposite of a greasy spoon, very classy, very kind of new vibes. I really enjoyed it, like a trendy feel, lovely outdoor seating. If it's a nice day, because we still have some nice days left here, I'm definitely sitting on their patio with a taco and a margarita.

I went during my lunch at work, so I did not have a margarita. 100% I have to go back for one of those. The taco I went with was their chicken al pastor, that was with grilled chicken, avocado, green salsa, and smoked pineapple. That last one, that smoked pineapple, is what really drew me to it, something about a grilled caramelized pineapple, that was just perfect. Going back to simple ingredients done super well, that's exactly what happened here. These tacos hit the spot. I will definitely head back here.

Lincoln is right in between home and work, so I can just stop for a taco, and like I said, go back for that margarita because they all sounded fantastic. Definitely a cool place to check out. It's not surprising, as I went in there that they are the winners of Taco MANIA for the past two years, the Judges' in 2021 and the People's Choice in 2022. It shows it's that good so definitely worth checking out.

Emily: [00:37:44] If Dave's family is listening, he's going to have a lot of after-work meetings.


Dave: Yes. I got this meeting that goes till 7:00. I'm sorry. It's just me eating tacos. It's the most innocent thing ever. [laughs]

Lauren: If you were to combine [00:38:00] the words me eating, it does look like meeting.

Dave: Yes, me eating. It's just me eating. [laughs]

Lauren: I have a meeting after work.


Dave: Fantastic. How about you, Lauren? What did you think of your place?

Lauren: I went to Terra Negra Cantina in Providence, and I really loved it. It's right in De Pasquale Square. There's an outdoor area that overlooks that fountain courtyard. I went on a chilly night, but I can imagine that in the summer, it is super fun. There's an outdoor bar out there too. The whole place, it was very colorful, but then with black accents which made the neon colors pop. I got a very Miami vibe about it, which I thought was cool. The other thing that reminded me of Miami is that they do have a 15% built-in service charge on the bill. That's a word to the wise for people who are going there.

Their menu was extensive. It was like a book. [laughs] For the taco promotion, I was offered any two tacos from the street taco menu. This included shredded beef, roasted pork, carnitas pork, shrimp, shredded chicken, pork belly, or al pastor. All of the options came with pico de gallo, cilantro, and guacamole on soft corn tortillas. There weren't any vegetarian or vegan options on the street taco menu, but the regular menu did have some vegetarian options. It seems conceivable to me that you could do a substitution or something.

I went with one shredded beef taco and one shredded chicken taco. They were very neat. As we discussed, there was not a mess to pick up, so I really liked that. The meat was really well seasoned. The guacamole was really good and [00:40:00] they weren't too spicy. I would say if you are a person who wants more heat, you could probably ask for a hot sauce or actually they gave us complimentary chips and salsa when we sat down. That salsa had more heat to it than the average restaurant salsa does. You could probably ask for some of that.

In addition to the tacos, I got the guava margarita, which was really good, and our server recommended the flan, which was definitely worth mentioning. It is the best flan I've ever had. It was rich, creamy. It had the perfect balance of flavors between the vanilla custard and the salty-sweet caramel topping. It was so good. If you wanted to just go there for the flan, you would not be disappointed. [laughs] I will definitely return to Terra Negra Cantina for the food, the good service, and the vibe. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys good food and a fun atmosphere.

Emily: Lauren, I amended my review while you were speaking. You'll find out why in a second.

Lauren: Okay. [laughs]

Emily: For my part of the competition, I went to Lost Valley Brewpub on Sims Av in Providence, which is home to, and at least for me, better known as Revival Brewing. It's right next door to the Farm Fresh building. Because they are so close, and also, because they are wonderful people, Lost Valley partners with a number of the local businesses, both part of Farm Fresh and elsewhere throughout Providence to be, in their words, trustworthy.

Most notably, when you visit their location, you're greeted, as you walk in, by this large artsy bar in an industrial building. They have inside seating, outside seating. They've got couches for seating and tables and bar seats and it's all a very good vibe. It is worth mentioning that it is not a Mexican restaurant. It is a pizza and brewpub that also has some tacos on the menu. Though the bar is the first thing that you see, they also have a [00:42:00] large brick pizza oven that at one time in that building's history served as a giant fireplace that fueled blacksmith kilns back in the early 1900. It's really something to behold. Like Lauren said about Terra Negra, they also have gratuity included, which I think is a really exciting move for restaurants and I hope to see it spread to some other locations.

Once inside, I sat at the bar and I ordered a beer. The taco options I was given were beef and vegan. I did note that there was a buffalo chicken taco on the regular menu, but for the challenge, it was just beef or vegan. I was told that there wasn't a significant difference between the flavoring of the two so I opted for the vegan option. The two tacos came in soft corn tortillas that were dusted on either side in, what I believe to be, a smoked paprika seasoning. Inside the taco was a very good portion of protein topped with some chopped peppers and onions and Cotija cheese. They were a little bit spicy, a little bit smoky, and just entirely delicious. The seasoning on the outside definitely added to the flavor in a way that I appreciated, but it is worth mentioning that it made for a very messy eating experience that I didn't personally love, but I would still order them next time .

After I finished my tacos. I also ordered the street corn nachos, which were delicious. I will definitely be returning to Lost Valley again in the future, and I'm excited to explore more of their food menu, which, notably for any of our listeners who are vegan or vegetarian, they have a lot of vegan options or vegan modifications to the things on their menu. I feel confident recommending it to anyone that likes a good food paired with delicious beer. They also have ciders and a small-scale full bar, which means that they also have a cocktail menu, so there's really something for everyone. I bet if you wanted, they could make you a margarita.

Dave: I definitely missed the boat going during my work lunch. That's a mistake [00:44:00] that I made with my choice because both of those, the pairings, that's another part. That sounds fantastic.

Emily: If I had gotten a lunch break, I would have just gotten water, I think. I appreciated having a different flavor than just water to counterbalance my taco.

Dave: Missed opportunity. Oh, to live in the madman era.


Emily: Well, we'd love to hear your favorite taco place in Rhode Island, so please send us an email at or find us on social media and send us a direct message with where else we should have gone to get some delicious tacos.

Lauren: You can find more info about Rhode Island Food Fights on their Facebook page,, or on their website at There are several Food Fights competitions each year. We encourage you to participate in one or more of these and show your local restaurants some love.

Dave: Rhody Radio is proud to be a resident partner of the Rhode Island Center for the Book and is brought to you by library staff and community members all around the Ocean State.

Emily: Rhody Radio is honored to have been funded in part by grants from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Library Association.

Lauren: You can find more from Rhody Radio on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you enjoyed today's episode, subscribe to Rhody Radio and rate or review us on Apple podcasts or Spotify to help us reach more Rhode Islanders. Thanks for listening.

Emily: Thanks for listening.

Dave: Thanks for listening.


Lauren: Hungry for more reviews? Don't miss our bonus episode dropping this Friday.

[00:45:39] [END OF AUDIO]

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