Over the weekend, we had dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, and, as usual, it was packed. It seems that everyone likes Mexican food, and it seems that every town has a dozen restaurants to choose from. However, I can remember when you had to search to find good Mexican food.
When I was a kid, the only place in our area was a chain restaurant called El Chico’s. They had two Nashville locations, but our favorite was in Rivergate Mall, once the most popular mall around. While most restaurants are around a mall, this one was inside the mall. I always thought it was cool to walk into because it was like entering another world. We went from bright lights and mall music to a darkened restaurant with cool music.
Looking back on it, I guess it was kind of cheesy. There were fountains in the entrance and the decor was something that Americans would think was pure Mexican. The food was great because there was no competition. I have no idea how that food compares to what we have now, but the sopapillas were definitely better. Today’s restaurants have some crispy thing covered with cinnamon. The sopapillas of El Chico’s was made correctly, fluffy with a way to pour honey into it.
The other El Chico’s was on Murfreesboro Road and didn’t have the same feel. The food was the same, but it was like walking into a regular restaurant because it wasn’t it a mall. There were no fountains at the entrance, either. We didn’t go there as much, but my most memorable El Chico’s experience happened there.
I ordered my usual cheese enchiladas with rice and refried beans. They brought it out with a little lettuce on the edge of the plate to make it look like there was more food than it really was. Just before I started to eat, this green baby worm crawled out of the lettuce. It wasn’t a gross worm. In fact, it was kind of cute.
I thought about these two locations as we were eating. However, I didn’t think about the food. I thought about the places where they were located. Rivergate Mall and Murfreesboro Road were Nashville destinations for the locals.
My mom did a bunch of shopping at Rivergate, and it was the place to go for dinner and a movie. I can’t count how many times I cruised around the mall parking lots or took a date to that area.
Murfreesboro Road had a bunch of great restaurants. In addition to El Chico’s, there was The Peddler, The Fifth Quarter, Ireland’s and a bunch of other places.
Rivergate and Murfreesboro Road are no longer the places to go. Time has passed them by as other locations have gained popularity. In fact, they have in some ways become places to avoid – rundown areas where crime has increased.
All of that made me think about how cities evolve. Neighborhoods change. Commercial areas change. Cities are always reinventing themselves as different areas go through phases of transformation. Places thrive for many years before being passed up by a shinier and newer development. Then, renewal sets in as people go back to refurbish what once was a thriving area.
Currently, Nashville is an “It” city. Culturally, it is at its peak. However, many areas that used to drive Nashville’s economic engine aren’t doing that great. Rivergate and Murfreesboro Road are two of those areas. I like Nashville as it is, but I miss the days when they were the places to go.
Apparently, that’s the stuff I think about while eating Mexican food.