Before becoming the proprietors of Villa Del Mar Mexican Grill, Marcos and Mary Medina traveled all over Mexico to find recipes that would supplement their old-fashioned family culinary traditions. One of their two children might deliver the chips and salsa or hand-smashed guacamole that precede signature dishes such as the mole poblano: chicken in a housemade sauce with seven types of chilies and seven types of spices. Diners use their hands or a rope-and-pulley system made out of straw sleeves and napkin holders to lift bites of silverware-free fare including fried corn sope with chorizo, pausing only to sip limonada made with freshly squeezed lime juice and pure-cane sugar.
The bright-orange and yellow walls hold a plethora of Mexican-style art and old photographs. They have been painted to appear as though patches of brick are peeking through, giving the space a welcoming, rustic feel.
From the Spanish word meaning the appetizer, La Botana references itself as "a modest little restaurant with big flavors." Modest is right. With its vegetarian menu alone boasting more than 25 dishes, the eatery was named the Readers' Choice for Best Mexican Food in 2011 by the Winston-Salem Journal, among a slew of other awards.
The full menu, which is rife with mole-slathered entrees, sizzling fajitas, and lime-infused seafood, comprises multiple regions of Mexico, including Guadalupe, Nuevo Leon, and Oaxaca. North Carolina craft beers are also available to wash down spicy morsels or put out small table fires caused by rubbing your hands in anticipation.
Hass avocados, cilantro, and fresh lime juice are just a few ingredients diners might recognize as a chef whips up guacamole right before their eyes at Poblano's Mexican Bar & Grill. From the restaurant's grill come specialty dishes including the alambre mixto, a dish typically found in Mexico City that combines grilled steak, chicken, shrimp, and chorizo with grilled peppers, pineapples, and melted cheese. The taqueria offers up five suggestions for specialty tacos that include carne asada, pork carnitas, shrimp, sliced pork, and grilled fish. Poblano's also delivers fresh flavors via catering for special events such as luncheons, parties, or the day fifth graders win their citizenship by reciting the preamble to the Constitution.
El Vallarta’s festively decorated eateries offer up a menu of authentic, chef-crafted Mexican standards and build-your-own combo platters. The massive Cielo, Mar, & Tierra plate ($14.95) traverses the menu’s annals by land and sea with mounds of grilled shrimp, chicken, and carne asada that captain tortilla vehicles crewed by a choice of guacamole, rice and beans, and pico de gallo. Six burritos built by the kitchen’s culinary wizards include the cheesesteak burrito ($9.75), which tempts stomachs to tackle its bursting-with-beef, rice-laden interior and make it say "uncle" before slathering it in sour cream. Tasty staples such as tamales ($6.45) and enchiladas ($6.45) supplement main courses. Drink in a chameleon-hiding-on-a-rainbow’s worth of colors in El Vallarta’s gaily decorated dining areas, where pink and yellow chairs add splashes of style to rustic, exposed-brick kitchen enclosures.
On Val Panizzut's first visit to his wife’s Mexican hometown, the co-owner of The Prickly Pear vowed he would name his first restaurant after the delicious fruit borne from cacti. Today, the fruition of that fruit-inspired idea offers expansive views of Lake Norman from its generous windows or patio seats, as well a menu of Mexican cuisine. Not content with just offering traditional tacos and burritos, the kitchen crafts modern Mexican dishes that have earned it numerous local press mentions. They pair the usual flavors of cotija cheese, chipotles and cilantro with, for example, fruits such as pear, mango, and pineapple, all in an effort to add savory, piquant, or sweet depth to shrimp dishes and adobo-rubbed chicken. To augment the adventurous atmosphere, live musical acts entertain guests on Thursday and Sunday nights—but they never say in advance exactly where in the restaurant they’ll hide as they play.
Owner Dalton Espaillat can be stubborn when it comes to what he allows in his kitchen at Three Amigos Mexican Grill and Cantina. He won’t permit premade sauces, or anything but the freshest vegetables and meats. He insists that the previous day’s rice, beans, and stove be discarded, and that new batches be whipped up in their stead. Dalton’s team of skilled chefs is more than happy to oblige, nimbly folding their ingredients into Mexican specialties lauded by reporters from CBS Charlotte as the best in town. The culinary team also specializes in traditional seafood dishes such as camarones a la diabla, loaded with plump shrimp. The kitchen staff extends their culinary expertise to a sweeping array of enchiladas—including the enchiladas poblanas with mole that reporters from Creative Loafing praised as “boldly complex” and “densely flavored.”
Come nightfall, the chefs turn their attention to a late-night menu of Dominican specialties, from empanadas to chimi burgers—ideal snacks after a long night of dancing or rustling oxen. Customers await their meals out in the lively dining room, clinking glasses of micheladas and freshly squeezed margaritas.