It’s 1 p.m. and the lunch rush hasn’t yet died down.
Diners packing the table at longtime Nashville Mexican restaurant La Hacienda order their preferred variation of Mexican classics. There are chicken enchiladas buried under bubbling cheese and sweet chile sauce, a grilled chicken breast swimming in jalapeno cheese sauce, and a 14-inch burrito stuffed with Fajita-style chicken, beans, sour cream, and avocado. The molcajete features steak sauteed with cactus and banana peppers.
The owners say enchiladas, tacos, and fajitas are typical orders for most customers here at the Nolensville restaurant and market. For those more familiar with traditional Mexican cuisine, tacos de tripe y tacos de lengua are popular choices.
“Simple and easy,” La Hacienda Taqueria owner Carlos Yepez says of his menu.
Inside the restaurant, families gather with friends and neighbors. The decor, with its iconic motifs, brick archways, and bright coat of orange paint, is the backdrop for a lively, familiar atmosphere.
Tucked away on one of Nashville’s notably diverse stretches of street, La Hacienda Taqueria is not a destination for trendy tacos and modern interpretations of Mexican cuisine. It is a homestyle spot serving dishes like fajitas sizzling with a side of rice and beans. “This is a family restaurant with family recipes,” says Lillian Yepez.
Carlos and Lillian Yepez, whose restaurant and market remain a constant in the evolving city, maintain flavors that aren’t fussy, but are reliable. “Nothing is precooked, everything is cooked fresh, and the tortillas and chips are made daily,” Lillian Yepez says. The homemade tortillas and chips are the bedrock of the business, the stand-out items that have spread the La Hacienda name across Tennessee and surrounding states.
With their family of five and a tortilla maker in tow, Carlos and Lillian Yepez arrived in Nashville nearly 30 years ago to open a tortilla manufacturing facility that would provide the community with homemade corn and flour tortillas, the centerpiece of Mexican cuisine. The Yepezes, originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, relocated to Nashville after years in Santa Ana, California, at the urging of Lillian’s brother, who already called Nashville home. At the time, fresh, homemade tortillas were almost impossible to find in the city, and Yepezes saw this as a business opportunity.
“I had eaten a tortilla, but knowing how to make it? No,” Carlos Yepez laughs.
The Yepezes opened a market in 1992 to provide the family with income as they awaited the opening of the tortilla facility. Since then, it has expanded into a full-service butcher shop, bakery, and market, offering additional financial services on the premises, such as money orders, calling cards, and utility payments. A year later, the 130-seat taqueria became the place we know today, and in the same year, the manufacturing plant opened and grew to provide tortillas and chips to 500 customers in the region.
From the beginning, the Yepezes wanted to bring the taste something familiar to the Hispanic community with their businesses. They made frequent trips to Chicago to supply the store, which sells items like Mexican sodas and candy, freshly baked bread, and tortillas. The couple prepared to undertake the optimistic goal of being the area’s primary resource for homemade tortillas — a culinary staple that previously was impossible to find. In a short amount of time, the market saw success, and the Yepezes added four seats and a taco shop. La Hacienda Mercado sits adjacent to the taqueria and was the family-owned La Hacienda operation, which today consists of La Hacienda Mercado, La Hacienda Taqueria, and La Hacienda Tortilleria.
“We had no idea we would end up here,” Lillian Yepez says.
Now, through La Hacienda Tortilleria, the corn and flour tortillas and chips are distributed throughout Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, and Georgia. Nashville residents are likely to stumble upon the tortilla chips on the shelves of local markets, as the base layer of the best bar nachos in town and, always, in the baskets at La Hacienda.
Restaurant regular Raul Rodriguez says he can pick out a La Hacienda chip upon first bite. “I say, ‘You got this from La Hacienda.’” Thin, crisp, and perfectly salted, the chips are easily identifiable.
Lillian and Carlos Yepez have been happy to see their clientele grow more diverse over the years. “I thought we were going to do this just for the Latinos because this is Mexican food, but we have all kinds of people here, and we are so happy to see people who are not only Latinos,” Lillian Yepez says.
The modest, family-run restaurant proudly stands behind their tortillas and filling food, and has continued to grow within the community. A pivotal moment in the restaurant’s history came when President Barack Obama came to Nashville in 2014 to speak at Casa Azafrá on immigration reform. The president visited the Nolensville restaurant and famously ordered tacos, flautas, and chips and salsa (to go). His visit is commemorated in large photos that hang on the walls and by a new dedicated dish, Obama’s Plate, featuring tacos and flautas. Teary-eyed at the memory, Lillian reiterates how meaningful it was to have the president of the United States in her restaurant. “It isn’t political,” she says. “It is an honor to have someone come into your home.”
La Hacienda is an expression of love for family and culture, and its customers sense that fact. “The trademark is the good people; it is a family-oriented business, and they rely on each other. That is their success,” says Rodriguez, who started frequenting the place when it was a grocery store and small taco shop. “It is by far the best Mexican food in the city, and their reputation precedes them.”
- La Hacienda [All ENASH Coverage]