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Bajo Sexto in Sylvan Park

A variation on the original, Bajo Sexto Taco Lounge brings bold flavors to Charlotte Avenue.

Written By:  Nancy Vienneau

Photographers:  Danielle Atkins

Long before you sit down to a platter of the aptly named animal nachos (chicken, carnitas, and steak, oh my!) or a smoked pineapple-pasilla margarita, you’ve recognized the signs that Bajo Sexto Taco Lounge is no ordinary taqueria. There are stacks of wood alongside the building for smoking and grilling meats and containers of assorted dried chiles on shelves at one end of the dining hall, destined for salsas and moles. Baskets form a line along the bar near a bin of housemade tortilla chips, crackly-fried and dusted with salt.

An expansion of the Jonathan Waxman concept that first opened in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Charlotte Pike lounge gives chef Kaelin Ulrich Trilling room to really cook. Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, the chef learned his craft from his mother, chef and teacher Susana Trilling, who authored the seminal cookbook on regional Mexican cuisine, Seasons of My Heart. He brings some exceptional preparations to the eatery—tacos and beyond.

Keys to Trilling’s cookery are his ingredients: locally raised meats, sustainably sourced fish, organic corn for the handmade tortillas, and imported chiles that go into his bold, complex sauces and spice blends.

A salsa sampler, made up of rioja, verde, pasilla, and habanero versions, is a tasty preview of good things to come. Look for the tomatillo verde to bring a tangy overlay to the pork carnitas taco, the habanero is a fiery smackdown to the Baja fish taco, and the smoky pasilla salsa finishes the Bajo chicken taco, a terrific dish lime-marinated and cooked to a palatable char.

None of this will prepare you, though, for the Oaxacan red mole, which cloaks Trilling’s pulled chicken enchiladas, a nuanced sauce layering smoky and peppery heat with notes of fruit and toasted nuts. It is a revelation. There are sides of note, too. The papas bravas, spicy and deep-fried fingerling potatoes that are delicious dunked in the chipotle mayo, are not to be missed. With its shavings of radish and red onion, a scatter of pepitas, and a pour of Mexican ranch dressing, the chopped romaine salad is another must-have.

Check out the daily specials, where Trilling flexes his culinary muscles. That could mean yellowtail snapper in a sour orange-prickly pear ceviche or barbacoa de chivo—agave leaf-wrapped goat roasted with guajillo chiles.

5303 Charlotte Ave., 615-678-1049; bajosextotacolounge.com

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