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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The chefs at San Luis III devote nearly two entire pages of their menu to seafood specialties, from tangy shrimp cocktails with fresh cilantro and jalapeños to crunchy tacos bursting with catfish ceviche. They also extend their culinary expertise toward more than 10 varieties of fajitas, grilling up chicken, beef, and veggies on sizzling skillets. And the chefs are experts when it comes to Mexican classics such as burritos, quesadillas, and enchiladas, nimbly crafting dishes with fresh ingredients, colorful vegetables, and housemade salsas. To complement the array of traditional Mexican dishes, the restaurant's bartenders dole out frosty glasses of imported drafts and fruity margaritas.