Food & Drink

Nampa’s Mesa touts tacos and tequila, but you gotta go for the queso fries!

Downtown Nampa gets a wave of renovation to historic buildings

Businesses like PreFunk Beer Bar and Messenger Pizza have been catalysts for new development along First Street. But renovations to downtown Nampa's historic buildings remain costly, making it difficult to attract investment to the area.
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Businesses like PreFunk Beer Bar and Messenger Pizza have been catalysts for new development along First Street. But renovations to downtown Nampa's historic buildings remain costly, making it difficult to attract investment to the area.

If you want a table at Mesa Tacos + Tequila on a Saturday, expect to wait at least 30 minutes.

Since it opened in downtown Nampa in January, the newest installment in the Treasure Valley’s taco revolution has been hotter than fish grease. And when you step inside you can see why it excites diners in Nampa and beyond.

Furnished with handsome wood tables, weighty chairs and well-placed greenery, Mesa’s interior feels swanky but unassuming. On warm nights a huge front window rolls open, enhancing an already festive atmosphere. An army of young people patrols the bustling dining room.

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The front window at Mesa rolls up to give diners a breath of fresh air in nice weather. By Henry Coffey For the Statesman

The menu at Mesa is simple: drinks, appetizers, tacos and dessert. And the first two areas are where it is really excelling right now.

As you would expect at a trendy taqueria, every taco looks beautiful. They arrive at the table in a clever metal stand, almost all of them drizzled with some variety of crema.

The Thai-tanic ($4.50) is the best taco on the menu. Fresh and crunchy red cabbage slaw, spicy chili peanut sauce and a drizzle of Sriracha amplify rich cilantro lime chicken.

The aloha ($4), nearly as tasty as the Thai-tanic, piles pineapple jalapeno salsa and punchy pepper crema onto tender citrus-braised pork.

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The refreshing Thai-tanic taco, left, features chicken, slaw and plenty of crushed peanuts. El Torro tops flavorful steak with jalapeno chimichurri, chipotle crema and onion straws. By Henry Coffey For the Statesman

The buffalo cauliflower ($4) offers lovers of buffalo wings the vinegary spice they crave. Crumbles of blue cheese break up the saucy fried cauliflower.

The #Basic ($4) lives up to its name with a fairly typical combination of marinated chicken, pickled onion, cotija cheese and avocado crema.

Mesa serves every taco in substantial house-made flour tortillas, which occasionally overpower delicate toppings. For tacos without much texture or crunch, a corn tortilla (available upon request) improves the feel. Other tacos are inventive, but the flavors are still developing. And those in search of heat will need to aggressively apply Mesa’s hot sauces.

Mesa does better work with its appetizers. The stellar blanco queso fuses the zesty power of a salsa-packed queso with the subtlety of a white cheese sauce. For $8, you can order queso, salsa and guacamole with a heap of very thick, toasty house-made tortilla chips.

But there’s no reason to mess around with boring tortilla chips when you can order the unusually named “She’s Not Hungry” ($5) — a pile of crispy french fries smothered in that tremendous blanco queso. This isn’t just Mesa’s best dish; it raises the bar for cheese fries everywhere.

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Yep, there is even a salad at Mesa, with tortilla strips, avocado, tomato and red onion on a big bed of mixed greens. By Henry Coffey For the Statesman

When mountains of queso fries are too intense, you can order a hefty house salad ($6) topped with tortilla strips, avocado, tomato and cilantro ranch dressing. Or you can opt for the chicken fajitas quesadilla ($8), presented under squiggles of crema.

Finish your meal with mild and cinnamony horchata ice cream ($6), made from rice milk at nearby Stella’s Ice Cream. The ice cream boasts wonderful sweetness and a playful, almost gummy texture.

Tequila is as important as tacos at Mesa, and to that end, there’s a healthy selection to choose from. If you’re in the mood for discovery, you can sample a flight of three ($15-$100). Or you can choose from an array of margaritas and signature agave cocktails.

The Mesa Margarita ($7, $32 for a pitcher) makes a style statement with salt smeared down the side of the glass. El Camino ($9) improves on the margarita in citrusy, foamy ways. The Water Malone ($9, $40 for a pitcher) spices up fruity watermelon with a delicious smothering of Tajin. The Mezcal Mule ($10) livens up smoky Mezcal with passion fruit, lime, cucumber and ginger beer.

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You can have fun with Mesa’s agave cocktails, such as the fruity Water Malone, left, and the smoky Mezcal Mule. By Henry Coffey For the Statesman

Not surprisingly, the rapid expansion of trendy taco restaurants has created division among Treasure Valley diners. Many appreciate how these new restaurants modernize the crowded taco space, but others recoil at the notion of spending $4.50 on a single taco. That tension is on display in Nampa, where an assortment of outstanding, cheaper tacos can be found close to downtown.

But Mesa doesn’t need to make the best tacos in downtown Nampa, because it’s a stylish bar where you spend the evening drinking margaritas and demolishing delicious, delicious queso fries. The fact that it has replaced traditional bar snacks with eight intriguing tacos is simply a bonus. Even taco purists will find that the menu nicely augments their mezcal consumption.

The dining room, the drinks and the appetizers make Mesa a worthy weekend destination. It joins establishments such as Brick 29, PreFunk Beer Bar and the Flying M Coffee Garage as a pillar of Nampa’s fun and resurgent downtown.

Mesa Tacos + Tequila

Address: 1213 1st St S, Nampa

Phone: 208-899-8170

Online: mesatacos.com

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 4-11 p.m.; closed Sunday

Reservations: No reservations

Menu price range: Appetizers $3-8; Tacos $4-4.50; Cocktails $6-14

Opened: January 2019

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