A taco is a moment of joy in three bites. A moment of discovery, of nostalgia. A moment to sweat in the heat before taking another bite.
Monday is National Taco Day, which makes it the minimum excuse to scavenge for a plate of one of the most popular foods in the world.
Naming the best tacos in the entire Triangle is a staggering impossibility. The taco trucks that line the bustling streets of Durham and Raleigh, the icons of family-owned malls and restaurants that have served for generations, the modern downtown joints – all make up an exciting and rich local taco scene.
If our barbecue scene is tied to our past, perhaps our taco scene is a reflection of our leadership and the central role the North Carolina Latin American community plays in the state’s culinary landscape. Watching our taco scene gives a glimpse of who we are and how we grow in all directions.
Here are 17 of the Triangle’s most popular, influential and weirdly delicious taquerias, food trucks and restaurants, which are only scratching the surface of all there is to offer in the local taco scene. .
711 W. Rosemary St., Suite 2315, Carrboro. 919-933-8226 or carrburritos.com
Located on the blurred border between Carrboro and Chapel Hill, this beloved neighborhood spot has nurtured students and residents of UNC for over 20 years. You don’t last a generation in Carrboro without doing everything right, and tacos are at the top of the list for Carrburritos. Nostalgic Tar Heels living in Raleigh may rejoice soon, as Carrburritos plans to open a new RTP site this year.
106 S. Wilmington Street, Raleigh. 919-835-3593 or centroraleigh.com
One of the best restaurants in downtown Raleigh, Centro has reduced its menu in the wake of the pandemic, but the tacos remain excellent. Freshly made corn and flour tortillas, filled with fried salmon, grilled steak, or bright orange cochinita pibil, honor tacos as mixed dishes.
2330 Bale Street, Suite 100, Raleigh. 919-594-1930 or chidotaco.com
This place will remind you how fun it is to eat tacos. The dining room is brightly lit by skylights above, the micheladas are large and refreshing, and there’s a taco for everyone. While the classics are solid and the pineapple is charred well for al pastor, Chido is a place to consider ordering something new. There’s mezcal grilled shrimp or a pair of chili relleno tacos, where the peppers are stuffed with steak and cheese.
4711 Hope Valley Road, Durham. 919-489-4636 or chubbystacos.com
2444 Wycliff Road, Raleigh. 919-781-4480
There’s no getting around it, Chubby’s is a Triangle institution. It’s like a friend you can always count on, except it’s the heartwarming embrace of a taco. It’s one thing to promise the best salsa bar in the world, like Chubby’s does, and deliver it, which Chubby’s also does, with freshly made and spicy options that make any taco pop.
911 S. 5th Street, Smithfield. 919-938-0338 or facebook.com/crazytacossmithfieldnc
A true taco paradise, where picnic tables are shaded by palapa umbrellas, Crazy Tacos has arguably the biggest draw of any taqueria in the Triangle. The little outdoor taco shop is just off Interstate 95, and travelers heading north or south regularly make a stop in Smithfield just for the tacos.
4910 Hillsborough Road, Durham. 919-309-9390 or eljefecitofoodtruck.com
This popular taco truck recently opened its first brick and mortar store in Durham. The toppings are the familiar blend of chorizo or chicken, but everything else goes beyond the classic garnish of cilantro and chopped onion. On the menu, al pastor is made with green apple instead of pineapple, roasted cauliflower is balanced with goat cheese and Romesco sauce.
Gonza Tacos and Tequila
7713 Lead Mine Road, Suite 39, Raleigh. 919-846-5478 or gonzatacosytequila.com
2100 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh. 919-268-8965
1849 S. Main St., Wake Forest. 919-205-2500
525-105 New Waverly Place, Cary. 919-653-7310
One of the busiest restaurant clusters in the Triangle, Gonza is always bustling and you’ll want pitcher margaritas. It’s the perfect spot for shrimp tacos topped with coleslaw, rich braised ribs or for real treat, scallops and pork belly.
220 E. Six Forks Road, Raleigh. 919-600-9449 or instagram.com/gymtacos
It’s easy to find Gym Tacos, the bright orange truck with the long line winding through a parking lot at the Valero gas station. In just a few short years, Gym has become a taco phenomenon in Raleigh and plans to add two new physical locations in 2021. Lengua fans take note that beef tongue tacos are only offered on weekends.
José and son
4112 Pleasant Valley Road, Raleigh. 919-571-1188 or joseandsons.com
A unique restaurant in North Carolina, Jose & Sons is the story of the second generation of one of the Triangle’s most influential restaurant families. Brothers Charlie and Hector Ibarra come from the family who helped found several El Rodeo sites in Raleigh. With Jose & Sons, named after their father, they take classic Mexican dishes and update them with Southern ingredients. Coupled with their other restaurant, The Cortez, and the vast talent of chef Oscar Diaz, this is one of the most powerful restaurant ideas in the modern South.
3325 N. Roxboro Road, Durham. 919-220-3588
You’ll see towering stacks of freshly made corn tortillas and plastic trays of conchas coming out of this grocery store, butcher, bakery, and tortilleria built in a former car dealership. The tacos are some of the best in Durham, with the tomato chicken tinga in exceptional order.
La Vaquita Taqueria
2700 Chapel Hill Road, Durham. 919-402-0209 or lavaquitadurham.com
Known for the large fiberglass cow at the top of the building, but famous for its tacos, La Vaquita is the first name for Durham’s taquerias. Expect, as it often gets crowded, but such tasty crispy carnitas are worth the wait. Plus, when available, cochintia pibil sprinkled with habaneros and picked onions is an easy order for those craving heat.
4524 Old Wake Forest Road, Raleigh. 919-872-6012 or facebook.com/loscuatesraleighnc
Just over the Beltline, in a corner mall store, is one of North Raleigh’s best taquerias. Tacos are big or small, which matters more to what goes with them than the size of the tortillas, with the small ones given the traditional cilantro and onion treat and the large ones topped with pico and guacamole.
5420 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham. namudurham.com
One of the most beautiful and tranquil restaurant buildings in the Triangle, the former Straw Valley artist campus, is the setting for one of Durham’s funniest restaurants. Namu is a beer garden, cafe and supplier of the best Korean tacos in the Triangle, filled with sweet and spicy Korean barbecue and coleslaw.
2512 University Drive, Durham. 919-873-3033 or nuvotaco.com
Born as Nanataco but rebranded when the torch of the property was passed a few years ago, this local take on quick, laid-back Mexican eateries will win the hearts of even the Chipotles’ most ardent enemies. Look for tacos like duck, fried calamari, and fried green tomatoes, as well as the world’s best $ 5 margarita.
Que Chula artisanal tacos and tequila bar
149 W. Franklin St., Suite 110, Chapel Hill. 919-903-8000 or quechulatacos.com
“Artisanal taco” can be a disturbing phrase for taco lovers, as it often means a taco that’s too tough, long on expensive toppings, and running out of flavor. This relatively new Chapel Hill spot lives up to its name, taking classic street tacos and wrapping them in freshly made tortillas that are worth looking for at a restaurant. Maybe there is still hope for Franklin Street.
Taqueria El Toro
3601 Junction Blvd., Raleigh. 919-661-5676 or facebook.com/taqueriaeltororaleigh
Located next to the bustling Toro Market in South Raleigh, this is one of the city’s most popular taquerias and the perfect place to start any local taco visit. It is also home to one of Raleigh’s best salsa bars.
1110 Mercantile Drive, Building 6, Suite 120, Raleigh. 919-439-1177 or torchystacos.com/location/midtown-east
Raleigh has claimed the only North Carolina location of this Texas taco shop with a fanatic following. The only thing bigger than Torchy’s menu is the tacos themselves, with varieties going way beyond the classics. The tacos include a smoked beef brisket, jerk chicken, and one with a tie of cheddar sausage and jalapenos.
This story was originally published October 4, 2021 6:00 a.m.