A friend and I paid our first visit to Holy Taco and Cantina in downtown Johnson City. The restaurant opened in the summer of 2012, joining other downtown locations such as the Main Street Pizza Company and Freiberg’s German Restaurant in providing some eclectic dining destinations.
We visited on a Saturday afternoon. A man behind the bar invited us to have a seat at the table of our choice. The eatery wasn’t terribly crowded, but I suspect that changes on weekends when the late-night crowds gather. We seated ourselves at one of the tall tables, which are equipped with four-legged stools. There’s also a long bar equipped with chairs along one wall of the dining area. Each tabletop also featured silk flowers arranged inside stylish old liquor bottles doubling as vases.
Vintage beer signage, framed photographs and metal sun discs are displayed as decorative items on the chili-pepper-red walls that are bordered with sienna-brown paneling and exposed brickwork. Recorded reggae-style music played in the background, competing with the televisions placed in different locations around the dining area.
After a short wait, the man at the bar arrived to take our drink orders and provide menus. He also extolled the bar’s inventory, making note of the fact that Holy Taco and Cantina keeps 18 beers on tap, more than half a dozen types of tequilas and also offers a variety of mixed drinks, including margaritas.
The few servers on hand seemed to be skilled at multi-tasking, and were doing double duty behind the bar. They were attentive, but we did experience a few waits on getting drinks refreshed.
The Holy Taco menu is refreshingly spare and simple. The available items include appetizers, tacos and flat iron burritos, as well as a few sides.
Appetizers include The Nasty Nachos, Our Kind of Queso and Chips, Holy Guacamole and Holy Chips and Salsa. We chose to try the guacamole, which was recommended by the server, with some chips. After a brief wait, a basket of toasty tortilla chips arrived with a small bowl of guacamole. There wasn’t a lot of the guacamole, but it was tasty and lasted long enough for us to finish off the chips.
By then, we were ready to make our main orders. I decided to try two of the tacos — the Fish Taco and the Mezclar La Carne, a combination taco that featured ground chorizo sausage and ground beef infused with Holy Taco’s house blend of seasonings.
Other tacos on the menu include Carnitas (Pork) Tacos, Tofu Tacos, Pollo (Chicken) Tacos and Carne Asada (Steak) Tacos.
My friend decided to try one of the Flat Iron Burritos, which can be ordered with shrimp, pork, beef, chicken and tofu. He chose chicken.
His well-wrapped burrito arrived at the table stuffed with an ample amount of grilled chicken, rice, beans, onions and cilantro, all topped with queso sauce. Despite the generous amount of ingredients, the burrito tasted somewhat bland to both of us.
On the other hand, my tacos, while somewhat small, tasted sensational — extremely flavorful and skillfully seasoned. The Fish Taco featured blackened tilapia accompanied by queso, cilantro and onions on a blue corn shell.
I also liked the zesty Mezclar La Carne Taco.
Tacos and burritos are wrapped in foil and served in plastic baskets at Holy Taco, and can also be accompanied by a choice of the three house salsas — House Green, House Red and Pico de Gallo. My favorite was the House Green Sauce, which is made from tomatillos, cilantro, roasted garlic and jalapenos, infused with lime juice and honey.
Customers can also choose to pair their orders with such sides as Pico White Rice or Cast Iron Beans.
While I found the tacos somewhat small, I kept in mind that they are also inexpensive. It would not be exorbitant to add a third taco to your order. They were bursting with flavor, which made the comparatively bland chicken burrito a bit of a mystery.
We would still like to go back. Holy Taco would be a good destination for snacks and drinks or for a full-fledged meal with a group of friends. It’s certainly an interesting addition to dining options in downtown Johnson City.
AT A GLANCE: Holy Taco and Cantina, 211 East Main St., Johnson City. 434-0799. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 1 1 a.m.-2 a.m. Menus items $7 and under. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available. Full service bar available.