SoKno Taco Cantina Opens Just South of Downtown

SoKno Taco Cantina, 3701 Sevierville Pike, Knoxville, March 2017

SoKno Taco Cantina opened two weeks ago at 3701 Sevierville Pike. It’s just past the end of the James White Parkway (turn left at the end and you are there). It’s near several Knoxville landmarks. The Round-Up Restaurant, a south Knoxville institution for at least four decades, was already revered when I lived at 3716 Sevierville Pike from 1983 – 1990. Of course, the most talked about neighbor is just a block away at the Baker Creek Preserve, with bike and walking trails and a connection to the Urban Wilderness. It’s a spot poised for major growth because of its access to the trails.

The building is owned by Brian Hann, Mary Beth Tugwell, Jason Stephens and Diane Reynolds. The four purchased it about four years ago with the idea that the area was poised to grow and, as residents of south Knoxville, they wanted to be participants in that growth. Forrest Kirkpatrick, who I mentioned last week as architect for the project at 107 Commerce, served as architect, joining the project two years ago and overseeing the administration of a city facade grant. Building co-owner Jason, also did the build-out.

Round-Up, Sevierville Pike, Knoxville, March 2017

SoKno Taco Cantina, 3701 Sevierville Pike, Knoxville, March 2017

3701 Sevierville Pike Before Renovations, Knoxville, March 2017 – Photo Courtesy of Forrest Kirkpatrick

The idea behind the construction was flexible use. It had been, among other things, a television repair shop, a barber shop and a French antique market of some sort. Brian had purchased various pieces of property to donate as use for trailheads to the Urban Wilderness. He also simply wanted a cool place to eat near his house and the trails. His mother met Bryan Howington (Howie), owner of Central Flats and Taps, at a party and told him he should talk to her son about opening a restaurant in the building.

Howington had opened Central Flats and Taps in March 2012 after a chance meeting with Daniel Schuh, owner of Relix Theatre. Prior to that, he had opened Holy Taco Cantina in Johson City. By last year he was looking to take on another project and soon agreed to lease the beautifully refurbished 1701 Sevierville Pike building. The group worked together to make it the restaurant which opened recently. Chefs Matt and Billy Petro came from Central Flats and Taps and are partners in the business.

SoKno Taco Cantina, 3701 Sevierville Pike, Knoxville, March 2017

SoKno Taco Cantina, 3701 Sevierville Pike, Knoxville, March 2017

Manager, Ryan Steffe, says the response has been great. He appreciates the unique community and he feels their neighbors are truly glad to have them. As if planted for evidence, a young neighbor boy, Ethan, who is probably ten or twelve-years-old, approached the table several times to talk to his new friend, Howie, about his new Go-Pro camera and his recent biking adventures. They met on the nearby trails.

The food is prepared fresh from scratch everyday, with an emphasis on, good food, well prepared, at blue-collar prices.” Howie said, “Margaritas and tacos are in high demand in south Knoxville.” Ryan chimed in to report that the news letter for Altos Tequila, the brand they use for their drinks, had highlighted the brand new restaurant in their latest newsletter, under the caption, “What’s Happening in South Knoxville?” Howie later added that preparing their own salsas and seasonings, “is labor intensive like it should be.”

SoKno Taco Cantina, 3701 Sevierville Pike, Knoxville, March 2017

SoKno Taco Cantina,3701 Sevierville Pike, Knoxville, March 2017

Margaritas are mixed in the kitchen and available on tap, or from the frozen margarita machine, along with twenty-four beers. The emphasis on beer is craft beers with a local or regional connection or with a Mexican or Mexican-American connection. The menu contains tacos, tamales and burritos along with salads. I had the shrimp tacos, which were included in the lunch special, and they were delicious. Ryan noted that gluten-free an vegan options are available. A kid’s menu is also available and the group emphasized the restaurant is very kid-friendly.

The decor is simple, but very well done. Forrest said they wanted to touch the building as lightly as possible, though that involved replacing cement floors in the portion of the building that had floors. The concrete which was removed, was shifted outside and used to construct a retaining wall, saving landfill space and money. A roof was added to the second floor with structurally insulated panels. The interior rooms were further connected and restrooms and a cooler were added. The interior features 120 seats.

SoKno Taco Cantina, 3701 Sevierville Pike, Knoxville, March 2017

SoKno Taco Cantina, 3701 Sevierville Pike, Knoxville, March 2017

Many of the features found inside were made locally. The beautiful door separating the rooms was made during construction. The metal in the restrooms and elsewhere was made by Bently Bracket of south Knoxville. Cherokee Porcelain at the Forks of the River manufactured the striking bar top of enameled steel.

The exterior modifications are also impressive. Outdoor seating, not something generally seen in south Knoxville, lines two sides of the building, accommodating up to 65 additional customers. Parallel parking was added and a sidewalk was constructed. Landscaping will soon be added, as well as a flagstone area with lounge chairs. Bike racks are provided and a bike-washing area is planned. The group felt strongly about the sidewalks, though they do not connect to other sidewalks, as there are none in the area. Neighbors have begun mentioning the absence of sidewalks elsewhere, so they may have started something.

Jason Stephens (Builder and Building Co-Owner), Brian Hann (Building Co-Owner), Forrest Kirkpatrick (Architect), Bryan Howington (Business Owner) and Ryan Steffe (Manager), SoKno Taco Cantina, 3701 Sevierville Pike, Knoxville, March 2017

The initial response has been so strong they have filled the restaurant at dinner and have run out of food most of their first days. Howie said, “We were staffed for a normal restaurant opening and that wasn’t enough.” They are now up to thirty-five employees (ten more than Central Flats and Taps), a number of whom have come from the immediate area and bike or walk to work.

You’ll find a larger version of the menu pictured here at the SnKno Taco website and you’ll want to follow the business at their Facebook page (and give them a “like.” Their hours are from 11:00 AM to 1:00 AM Sunday through Wednesday and 11:00 AM to 2:00 AM Thursday through Saturday. The kitchen is closed after 10:00 PM on weekdays and 11:00 PM on weekends.


  1. You’ll want to correct your 2nd photo’s caption, Alan.

    • So apparently if they don’t like your comments, owners can delete. Ryan is a jerk along with waitress that treated us like we had the plague! Close your business Ryan! You want all of the others to stay closed! You’re putting them at risk! Also, your education just shows your stupidity! Won’t be back! Keep it posted so everyone can make their own viewpoint.

      • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

        Missy, there are no “owners,” other than one guy who is trying his best to keep this site civil. I don’t care what your opinions happen to be and if they are the opposite of mine, that is fine. But, yes, I “censor” comments that are simply rude or call names. Like “jerk,” and “stupid.” You say you were treated poorly, but you don’t say what happened. How were you treated like you “had the plague?” Say what happened in a rational way and don’t call people names and it’s fine. Call names and make claims without explaining and it will be deleted. Be nice. That’s all I’m asking.

        •  “Get your heads out of your asses, shut up, and let us do our jobs. This is how Ryan spoke to Mayor Jacobs and Governor Lee in an email. He also called them idiots. Is that your idea of being civil? I guess it’s okay for you guys to act like that? Ryan responded that way because he wanted businesses to stay shut down and he didn’t get his way, but his business is open. I think what Missy was saying about being treated like we have the plague is self explanatory, and you know that.

          • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

            Neal. What Ryan said in some other forum is not my business. He didn’t say it here. He nor anyone else would be allowed to say it here. That is his decision and this has been mine for the last ten years. I did not defend him in the least. And who are “you guys?” I’m not in a group with anyone else as far as I know. I see you know Ryan’s motives, as you explain what was going on in his head, but you clearly don’t know mine. Being treated like you have the plague is not self-explanatory and don’t tell me what I know. Was she asked to wear a mask and refused? Did she have her temperature taken? We don’t know. All we know is she got mad and for some reason chose to come on my blog and rant about it. That’s not how we do business. Be respectful or leave. It’s not that hard.

  2. Alan censored me so I’ll try again… this place is not shit but it’s basic and bougie which I’m sure is appealing to some but there are other better and cheaper options, la herradura blows it out of the water

    • You can’t be basic and bougie at the same time. Those are literally the exact opposite. And any new business that comes to south Knoxville is refreshing and will draw more businesses that are either more basic or more bougie. Whatever your tastes may be.

    • Thanks for the review Jacob. I’m definitely going to try it now even though I rarely go to SoKnox.

    • SoKno Neighbor says

      Hi Jacob, a quick google search tells me there is no such thing as “la herradura” in Knoxville. There is, however, a food truck called “El Herradero” which is what I will assume you were referencing. You should feel comfortable voicing your opinion here. That being said, here are a few things to consider. 1.You’re comparing a cool adaptive reuse project to a food truck. 2.Said food truck is located in North Knoxville. 3.This is a sit down bar and restaurant, of course there are cheaper options out there. You’re allowed to like this place and also enjoy a food truck or La Esperanza. 4.There is now a cool destination restaurant in south Knoxville that people are willing to drive to and it is surrounded by neighborhoods within walking and biking distance. I live a block away and love the new energy SoKno Taco is creating for my neighborhood. 5.People who believe in South Knoxville are investing in it with projects and businesses like this and I hope that effort continues. SoKno Taco is a welcome addition!

      • The El Herradero food truck at 2625 N Broadway is now known as La Herradura. Nearby business already had the original name.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      OK, I don’t really need to get into this pettiness, but since Jacob is going to call me out when I sent him a nice, private email and encouraged him to try again, I’ll just restate that all opinions are welcome, but state them nicely and please have something to back them up. When you trash someone, that’s not helpful to anyone and it’s never been what this site is about.

    • Dude shut up. Don’t eat there. It’s a brilliant addition to the neighborhood. And if you got a better idea, by all means put your money where your mouth is and start construction.

  3. Aaron Thompson says

    He probably deleted your comment because inflammatory adjectives isn’t constructive criticism. The words you use matter. I’m not sure how it’s bougie, other than the sheer fact it’s pretty cool. We brought our dogs and sat on the patio. We loved the tacos!

    • During the presidential debates Trump warned that if Hillary won the election there would be a taco truck on every corner.
      Trump won but his prediction has still come to pass in Knoxville, where there seems to be three Mexican restaurants per square mile.

  4. this is bourgeois society, i.e. late capital, everything is bougie but some things are a little worse than others… Sapphire is bougie too Aaron

  5. Aaron Thompson says

    Well, Jacob, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion. Here’s to hoping SoKno also lasts over twelve years with their bougie vibe!l and continues to get supported by the proletariat. ????

  6. Love it!!!! South Knoxville is my home and I am so excited that we are finally getting some love south of the river. That being said I ate at SoKno on both Saturday and Sunday last weekend. Food is great, atmosphere is wonderful!!! My son lives just up the road and we joked that he needs to offer shuttle service due to the crowd. Happy to have you guys here and I hope you are here a good long while. Thank you for giving us an alternative to go to. Planning on coming back this weekend! Also glad to see you’ve expanded the staff we kinda overwhelmed you guys at opening. Lol.

  7. I think Jacob is saying monochromatic color schemes and rough hewn fences in a ‘white-people-make-ethnic food’ situation in a gentrified area of a city is very bourgeois; except that what is bouge is also parallel now with what is simple or straightforward–so that, now bouge isn’t resonating with the pejorative stink it once had, at least to the upper lower class/lower middle class as, say, jazzercise did; but, wants there to be awareness that every fifth patron will have an $150 REI jacket. I’m guessing Jacob is only satisfied with true opulence or deplorable honky tonks.

  8. How wonderful! My old neighborhood is finally getting the love it deserves. It would be smart to buy property in the area now, as it’s set to explode in popularity soon.

  9. I love the “before” picture. It looks like something from a ghost town or dystopian future movie. Amazing renovation.

  10. Leticia Flores says

    Ay, dios mio! Estoy muy hambre desde mirando los photos. Necesitamo muchas margaritas para los quatros anos proximo…

    Muchisimas gracias, Alanito!

    Su amiga con el malo espanol.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Quizás podamos disfrutar de una buena comida y bebida juntos. Nos gustaría mucho. Firmado, su amigo sin español

  11. Oren Yarbrough says

    I am thoroughly excited to see South Knoxville having a long overdue revival. I plan on going to eat at SoKno some time this week and I think the work done to the facade is so simple and aesthetically pleasing in terms of an adaptive reuse of a space.

    As someone who designed restaurants in Nashville for a few years I both acknowledge and also take some offense to the reference of the designs becoming bougie. Stained concrete, reclaimed & found materials, industrial furniture, eclectic lighting. This isn’t a Nashville or a Knoxville unique thing. I have been to places in Chicago, LA, NYC, Detroit, Charleston, etc that all are filled with the same materials. This is a growing trend in design because of the new generation of entrepreneurs that are opening restaurants that are designing them to attract and cater to the same generation of new clients. Putting a restaurant in an older industrial city is not cheap and many of these items are the easiest way to make a big impact.

  12. So exciting!!! Love our growing city!!!

  13. Lisa Brown says

    Terrific up-cycling of a worn-down local site. Great food, especially the fish tacos and carne asada. Friendly vibe. Kids’ menu is appreciated. Will there be a bean choice (other than Kidney beans) in the future? Seasoned black beans, or a pinto bean soup would be welcome.

    • GoVols203 says

      Ugh, Lisa, get with the times. Beans are basic and bougie, two things that are NOT welcome in South Knoxville.

      • Julia Rose says

        Wow. A nice new business is very welcome in South Knoxville. If you think it’s so basic please feel free not to go. I’m sure no one will miss you there

  14. Lezlie Raney says

    My husband and I are South Knoxville “to the core”‘and are thrilled to have a new dining option. Lunch was great! We will be back for sure.

  15. It’s starting to be a little embarrassing how often I’m there. The food is so good (love the tofu tacos) and margaritas are just right (more tart than sweet). The atmosphere is conducive to conversation and you’re going to see folks there you want to talk with. Ryan and his staff already feel like old friends. I can’t wait til the weather warms up enough to sit outside. All the months we waited for you to open were worth it! Thanks for seeing the value in this location and for investing in So Kno.

  16. I do like the place. However, my order has been wrong a few times.

  17. Always thankful for kind words for south knoxville! i do hope that some of the new patrons to the corner will try the roundup, also. it is a true south knoxville institution- even i can hardly remember when it wasn’t there. it would be a shame if all the new traffic only sees the place that has been feeding south knoxvillians their “meat &
    three” for decades as just place to sneak a parking place when snkno is overflowing. thanks again for the article!

  18. I can’t wait to visit SoKno Taco this is a welcome edition to South Knoxville. I love breakfast at the RoundUp across the street and the staff are so friendly!

  19. Randy Miller says

    After a mountain bike ride in Urban wilderness the shrimp tacos were awesome, and a margarita hit the spot!

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