Bartenders pour and mix more than 30 tequilas as chefs craft elegant Tex-Mex dishes that follow Yucatán traditions. Upscale entrees range from pan-seared duck breast with roasted poblano-mashed potatoes to marinated steak swathed in pasilla and ancho chilies in hefty quesadillas. A sea of crystals cascades down a spiral-shaped chandelier that dangles above the fully stocked bar, where Cazadores and Patrón liquors head up an extensive tequila cache. Bartenders also craft numerous specialty margaritas, enhancing sips with such ingredients as fresh lime mixers and agave nectar. Patrons can feast eyes on multiple flat-screen TVs in the dining area, or venture to an outdoor patio to construct a canopy of tortilla chips that will guard against inclement weather.
Bright serapes, a tile-covered bar, and Aztec-style hangings immerse Sol Azteca Mexican Restaurant's diners in an infectiously festive atmosphere. Greg Cox of the News & Observer praised the sprawling menu of authentic Mexican standards enlivened by "pleasant surprises," drawing special attention to the chiles poblanos' "swirl of creamy, complex spicy flavors." Chefs adorn tender beef, chicken, pork, and shrimp with avocado and jalapeños while stuffing vegetarian combos with black beans, spinach, and potatoes. When the weather permits, a spacious patio opens up onto a scenic stand of trees, whose leaves wave enviously at their brethren basking in the taco salad's guacamole and crispy shell.
Just as Thomas Edison stumbled through useless prototypes of light bulbs and movie cameras before perfecting the phonograph, the alchemists at Qdoba Mexican Grill took 47 attempts before landing on the franchise's signature blend of three cheeses, known simply as queso. That attention to detail still pervades every aspect of the menu, as employees spend hours each day chopping, dicing, and simmering the fresh ingredients that find their way into burritos, taco salads, and grilled quesadillas. Beyond the marinated bites of chicken, beef, and pork and hand-crafted tortillas, cooks protect their ripe, fragile avocados from harm by smashing them into batches of fluffy guacamole.
Recently opened near the intersection of Interstate 40 and the Raleigh Beltline, Salsarita's speedily prepares all its taqueria-style Mexican meals fresh to order before customers' eyes before garnishing them with 16 saliva-stimulating condiments, such as jalapeños, cheese, two types of beans, and three kinds of salsas. Lunchers who are sick of flashing fake IDs to score free sloppy joes at the local middle school can instead savor a Salsarita's shrimp quesadilla ($5.19–$6.59), a steak burrito ($5.19–$6.59), or a zesty taco salad ($6.59) with a flurry of toppings atop a thick bed of beef. Salsarita's also caters to vegetarians with animal-absent versions of all its entrees. And for $1.99, patrons can upgrade lonely dishes to combo status, surrounding them with edible friends like a fountain drink, salsa, and stone-ground corn chips.
The chefs at Flying Burrito cultivate a spicy menu of mouth-watering Southwestern cuisine. The freighter of rolled cuisine, known as the flying burrito, swoops onto tables with a cargo-load of hand-pulled beef, pinto beans, salsa, melted cheese, sour cream, green onions, lettuce, and tomato ($7). Juan's avocado ensalada leads leafy compatriots to victory with fresh ahi tuna or shrimp, and avocado, red peppers, tomato, green onions, queso fresco, and mixed greens served in a flour tortilla shell with lemon-cilantro vinaigrette or jalapeño ranch dressing ($9). The crispy fried-fish tacos accommodate two flour or corn tortillas slathered in yucatan slaw, habanero mayo, lettuce, and tomato ($7), and the Azteca enchiladas sing a vegetarian ballad of broccoli, zucchini, squash, carrots, melted cheese, black beans, mashed sweet potatoes, and a choice of red mole or spicy vegetarian green chili ($8). Stodgy palates receive a wakeup call when confronted with the sweet burrito⎯-a fried, cheesecake-filled tortilla topped with cinnamon, sugar, chocolate syrup, and two scoops of vanilla ice cream ($5).