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Let’s Taco ‘Bout It

Posted On March 13, 2017

No matter how you fill it, fold it, griddle it, or stuff it—Mexican food is a pants-bursting pile of deliciousness. Hold onto your tortillas. We’re stacking up some of the best tacos Wilmington has to offer.

By FANNY SLATER

Blue Surf Café 

We all love Blue Surf for its lively character and all-day lineup of artistic island fare, but many returning customers are strictly on (surf) board for the Mexican-flavored menu items. This beachy spot screams cold beer and tacos. For breakfast, Blue Surf deconstructs the classic handheld meal a la Huevos Rancheros. Blue Surf’s spin includes two sunny side eggs, corn tortillas, and swell sauce with your choice of fixin’s. I recommend the Castro style: pulled pork, jalapenos, black beans, cheddar, cilantro, onions, and sriracha. When lunch (or dinnertime) arrives, it’s all about the Baja Tacos. Choose from juicy chicken, plump shrimp, or flaky mahi and they’ll top it with crunchy cabbage, cilantro, and more of that righteous swell sauce. 910-523-5362, bluesurfcafe.com

Cape Fear Seafood Company 

Cape Fear Seafood Company has repeatedly earned MVP for its killer fresh catch, but have you tried it in taco form? Sure, you can order up Saltimbocca and have your fish cradled in prosciutto and drizzled with a mixture of lemon beurre blanc. But wouldn’t you rather have it fried to perfection and smothered in mango salsa and sour cream? Touché. When it comes to fish tacos, CFSC has nailed the art of turning regional seafood into a Mexican masterpiece. The crunchy shrimp are mouthwatering, but for something on the lighter side—opt for the Grilled Shrimp Tacos. No matter which version you choose, they all sport a fresh black bean and corn salad that add a pop of freshness to every bite. capefearseafoodcompany.com

Carolina Ale House

From salads to French dips to hot wings, a solid sports bar should always entertain plates for every palate. Carolina Ale House knows what’s up, as their menu offers its very own section for our favorite food of the day: tacos. Nothing goes better with their epic spread of draft beer than Caribbean Fish Tacos. These Cali-influenced wraps are stuffed with grilled (or hand-battered) Pacific cod and showered with spicy mayo, slaw, pico de gallo, and mango salsa. If island-style is your thing, the crispy breaded shrimp tacos with sweet and zippy fruit salsa will do your body good. For non-seafood lovers, Ale House has the Grilled Chicken Tacos ready on deck with crumbly queso fresco, pico, and sweet, made-in-house apple coleslaw. 910-791-9393, carolinaalehouse.com

Catch the Food Truck

Seafood staple Catch Restaurant sparked the hype for chef Keith Rhodes’ modern seaside cuisine, but it was Catch the Food Truck that spread the joy all over town. When loyal Catch enthusiasts realized they could get those fresh flavors through a casual takeout window—they came running. The food is a true expression of Rhodes’ coastal creativity with local dishes ranging from North Carolina Backfin Crab Cake Sliders to Crispy Fried Brussel Sprouts perfumed with sea salt and parmesan. But the majority of the menu is blaring with inventive, internationally-inspired tacos. Not feeling the fish? Check out the melt-in-your-mouth Grilled Korean Beef Short Rib Tacos. For a taste of Rhodes’ signature soulful seafood—the Crispy Lemon Pepper Flounder or spicy Blackened Tuna Tacos are out of this world. catchthefoodtruck.com

Ceviche’s 

One look at the outside of this vivacious seafood shack and you’ll want to quit your job and sip mojitos all day long. And what goes famously with beachy rum drinks? Tacos, of course. Ceviche’s namesake is also bragged on for being the shining star, but the vibrant Caribbean-inspired tacos have without a doubt earned a spot on this stage. Early on in the day, start off with the Breakfast Tacos packed with scrambled eggs, salsa fresca, avocado, cheese, citrus cream, and your choice of bacon or chorizo. Step up your heat game at lunch with the Blackened Corvina Tacos exploding with tuna, pickled cabbage, jalapeno aioli, creamy avocado, and a sweet pineapple salsa. 910-256-3131, wbceviche.com

El Cerro Grande Mexican Restaurant

For casual Mexican fare with an elevated feel, El Cerro has got you covered all over the board. As well as a friendly face offering a round of margaritas, your party is consistently greeted with freshly fried, perfectly salted corn tortilla chips and classic salsa. While you’re browsing your abundant options at one of their many locations, order up several sides of the queso dip for a comforting pre-meal treat. The menu describes El Cerro’s tacos as being “tortillas full of happiness” and I don’t disagree. The fillings here are far from average, but don’t worry—credible Mexican tacos (on corn tortillas with chopped onions and cilantro) are available too. For a kick, try the ChoriPollo with chicken, spicy chorizo, and cheese and for a crunch—the Dos Equis beer battered shrimp or tilapia are outstanding. elcerrogranderestaurant.com

Fish Bites

Two rules here. First, don’t let the name fool you. The fish here certainly does not bite. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite as Fish Bites is notorious for some of the most bodacious seafood around. Two, don’t judge this book by its cover, because what it lacks in a glamorous exterior it makes up for with straight-outta-the-water catch, and live Maine lobsters ready to be steamed and buttered. But onto the reason I’ve gathered you all here today: the tacos. Fish Bites serves up these flour-tortilla-wrapped goodies with generous portions of shrimp, cod, tilapia, chicken, or fresh catch cooked up any way you like. The toppings are kept simple with crunchy shredded lettuce and mild cheddar jack cheese—but Fish Bites takes home the gold in the condiment game with their zesty peach ginger salsa. 910-791-1117, fishbitesseafood.com

Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn

You’ve seen the bumper stickers. Around here, Flaming Amy’s is more of a trendy salsa sanctuary than a casual Mexi-American fusion restaurant.  Their fun, funky offerings and over-stuffed burritos have held a special place in Wilmingtonian’s hearts for almost twenty years. Whether you’re a famished family or a thirsty tattooed group looking to sip PBR’s on the porch—this eccentric spot is just as welcoming (and delivers just as much personality) as its owners. For the tacos, pick your choice of a grilled filling and go a la carte for something light, or platter-style for a substantial feast. To give each bite a real Flaming Amy’s feel, scan the menu for signature sauces to add on (like the Hasslehoff jalapeno tartar sauce) and then belly up to the (salsa) bar to inspect their massive, untraditional variety. flamingamysburritobarn.com

Islands Fresh Mexican Grill

Although this tasty and affordable quick-serve restaurant is popular among regulars, I still believe it’s seriously underrated. Islands has, without a doubt, the best dinner deal in town thanks to their nightly dollar tacos. One dollar! C’mon, you can’t beat that. The tacos and toppings are expertly fresh, and all the high-quality food is made-to-order before your eyes. Garnish that with a tropical atmosphere, an eco-friendly attitude, and a stellar salsa bar and you’ll keep coming back for more. Start with a soft or crispy tortilla, pick three toppings, one protein (the spicy chicken is a top seller), and one sauce and you’ll be in taco heaven. Choose from a handful of different Islands all around town to get your grub on. islandsfreshmexgrill.com

K Bueno Cocina

Since we’re talking tacos, we had to make one more stop on the Live Eat Surf tortilla tour. K-Bueno Cocina is a topnotch, modernized commissary kitchen responsible for K38, Tower 7, and Las Olas’ essential menu items like the legendarily drinkable baja salsa, chips, corn tortillas, and more. The taco spread here is a bit more traditional than its alters—baring more simplistic dishes like Roadside Tacos (grilled or pulled chicken, carne asada, or ground beef) topped with lettuce, roma tomatoes, and mixed cheese. For something from the ocean, there’s also the Baja Fish and Citrus Shrimp Tacos which—thanks to garnishes like California chile sauce, avocado, and cilantro lime vinaigrette—boasts a Cali-style attitude. 910-395-0220, liveeatsurf.com

K-38

Taco Tuesday isn’t a trendy new concept for Oleander Drive’s K38 location. This Mexican grill was established in 1993 and has continued to season their customers’ hearts with love (and chilies and spices from the Southwest) ever since. Recognized for being one of the hippest Baja-themed restaurants around town, K38 proudly puts out a phenomenal selection of Cali-fresh flavors. Check out their take on Baja Fish Tacos featuring golden Dos Equis beer battered cod and yogurt ranch. Can’t decide on crunchy or soft? Give the Salsa Verde Pulled Chicken and Ground Beef Tacos in a Blanket a whirl: two hard shell tacos cradled in grilled flour tortillas. Other signature outside-the-box items include the BBQ Pulled Chicken Tacos with crisp, cayenne-scented tobacco onions and ranch. liveeatsurf.com

La Costa Mexican Restaurant 

You can’t go wrong with fresh hard shell tacos. La Costa is widely recognized for doling out satisfying burritos, tacos, enchiladas and more with a side of friendly, attentive service. It’s the superior ingredients that help La Costa’s cuisine top the charts. The following are just two of the house favorites, but the list goes on. For a sprinkle of tradition, order the Tacos Mexicanas (two soft corn tortillas with steak, chicken, or carnitas). Got seafood on the brain? Try the Tacos del Mar with fish or shrimp draped in a Mexican style tartar sauce, shredded lettuce, and pico de gallo. Want a deal of a meal? Browse the extensive menu for one of the combination platters where you can get tacos, tamales, and chimichangas all on one plate. lacostanc.com

La Güera Taqueria Restaurant

On my hunt for topnotch tacos, I discovered a hidden gem tucked away in a small shopping center off Gordon Road, who was serving up some of the most authentic Mexican around. La Güera has been slinging tasty eats for years, and is celebrated among those who have been lucky enough to find them. The tacos, particularly, are known for being nothing short of outrageous. Everything is made-to-order and fresh as can be. Did I mention homemade corn tortillas on the bottom and traditional toppings on the top (like chopped onion and fluffy cilantro)? House favorites include the al pastor and carnitas—but you really can’t go wrong with anything on this reliably delicious menu. 910-392-6682, lagueranc.com

La Tapatia

The name may not immediately ring a bell, but this wonderfully unfussy eatery is most definitely not the new kid in town. La Tapatia has been stealthily dishing out simple, straightforward Mexican flavors at their purest for almost a decade. Start off with the warm, toasty yellow corn chips and chunky and rustic house salsa, and then bring on the tacos. No frills here—as it’s all about delicate, earthy homemade corn tortillas, a protein, and an authentic sprinkling of grassy cilantro and sharp white onions. The Carnitas (juicy, shredded pork) accompanied by a dab of tangy salsa is on point. Another true depiction of cultural cuisine: the chili-marinated Al Pastor (crispy bits of garlicky pork shoulder) where the taco’s fatty meat is perfectly balanced by a tart squeeze of lime.  910-397-7707, latapatia.net

Poe’s Tavern

Salty, sandy towns are a shoe-in for crowds craving tacos, and Wrightsville Beach is no exception. Thanks to a new(ish) kid on the shore, Poe’s Tavern is hauling in their seafood from Mott’s down the road—the fish tacos here are an absolute must-have. The eclectic pub grub, solid craft beer selection, and bustling outdoor patio also draw in the masses. The Spiced Yellowfin Tuna is simply prepared and skillfully seared. Each bite has a zip from pineapple relish and a crunch from shredded cabbage. The creamy chipotle sour cream offers one more additional stop in flavortown. If you feel like staying on land and keeping up the fiery pace, the Buffalo Shrimp Taco with Marinated Bacon-Blue Cheese Cole Slaw is a fan favorite. 910-509-2739, poestavern.com

San Juan Café 

Offering some of the finest and most authentic Latin American Cuisine in Wilmington, San Juan is a must-try when you’re craving the savory flavors of countries like Colombia, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. If you’re hungry belly is feeling finicky, you’re in luck. Enter San Juan Tacos. This feast comes with three tacos (chicken, steak, pan seared tilapia, or sautéed veggies), red beans, rice, and the zesty fixin’s like cilantro-lime crema. One bite into the big bold flavors of this modern, exotic eatery and you’ll feel like you’ve taken a one-way trip to a land where plantains are king and sangria is queen. Get your taco (ish) fix at brunch with the Huevos Rancheros: two over-easy eggs on grilled corn tortillas with black beans, fiery crumbled sausage, cotija cheese, and creamy guacamole. 910-790-8661, sanjuancafenc.com

Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar

It’s impossible to deny that Shuckin’ Shack is a piece of paradise. The stress-free, shades-on environment embodies everything locals, vacationers, and tourists long for on extended sunburnt summer days. And if there’s one thing that never goes out of season—it’s tacos. Both Shuckin’ Shack locations pride themselves on putting out darn good catch and doing it a variety of different ways. For the tacos, select one of several ocean-fresh proteins (tuna, mahi, shrimp, or oysters) and order it up via, well, whatever style you’re in the mood for. Blackened is a big seller, but you can never go wrong with dropping things in a fryer. It’s freshened up with citrusy pico de gallo on top and chips, salsa, and sour cream on the side. theshuckinshack.com

Taqueria Los Portales

If you’re looking for the real deal, roadside-stand Mexican food that’s unquestionably homemade and as close to Tijuana as you can find in North Carolina—Los Portales is soon to be your jam. From the sauce bar of robust salsas to the earthy, handheld corn tortillas and abundance of authentic taco fillings (beef cheek, anyone?), it’s no surprise customers rave that this restaurant is at the top of their game. Los Portales may appear to be in a hole in the wall, but real foodies know that means they’re in for a treat (particularly when it comes to Mexican fare). For an extraordinarily delicious and beefy bite, the chorizo tacos—stuffed to the brim and dotted with onions and cilantro—are a spicy delicacy. 910-799-5255, taquerialosportales.com

Tower 7

What’s more satisfying when you step off the beach than a chilled lager with a lime dropped in and a pile of tacos? Although this islandy café gets its namesake from a west coast lifeguard stand on the PCH—lucky for Wrightsville Beachers, when we wipe our sandy toes and head down Lumina Ave, we come upon a piece of California. One of the Live Eat Surf brand’s babies—Tower 7 is just as easily a favorite spot for locals as it is for vacationers looking for a post-swell nosh. This beachy joint houses all kinds of tacos, but it’s the fresh catch patrons crave here. Go for the Malibu Shrimp Taco with grilled Santa Fe Shrimp, salsa fresca, shaved red cabbage, and jack cheese. Say surf’s up to their two fish taco options, or shake things up with the Blackened Tuna Taco featuring sweet pickled red onions. 910-256-8585, liveeatsurf.com

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