The city of Durham has a vibrant Hispanic community—Latinos make up 14 percent of its population. Immigrants from countries like Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala have made the Bull City their home and brought along their native cuisines. As a Hispanic, I enjoy exploring the many layers of our cultural entity, food notwithstanding. Latin American cuisine, after all, is more than tacos and burritos. A visit to these humble restaurants—where I can order in Spanish and enjoy cheap, quick, hearty food—always brings me closer to home. Ten minutes from East Campus, off N. Roxboro Street, there are four restaurants within walking distance that serve different types of Hispanic cuisine.
Taqueria y Birrieria Los Comales
This hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant has no-frills, cheap Mexican food. Come here if you want authentic—the Spanish menu is difficult to understand, even for a native speaker like myself—and the food is spicy. Vegetarians beware: the only dishes without meat are the quesadillas and tortillas. I ordered tacos de azada (steak), pastor (pork cooked with pineapple) and chicharrón (pork rinds simmered in green tomato sauce).
Pros: Salsa bar has 12 toppings (including cilantro, fresh tomatillo sauce and a delicious cole slaw). Tortillas are very fresh. Good selection of Mexican staples, including some traditional Mexican hangover cures like menudo soup, served only on the weekends.
Cons: The azada and pastor were a bit tough, while the chicharrón had a very mushy texture. Decorations were kitschy (faux plants, giant sombreros and ESPN Deportes in the background).
Price: $1.50 - $2.00 per taco
La Monarca Michoacana
Why go for 31 flavors when here you have 42? This Mexican ice cream and popsicle parlor carries unusual concoctions like pine nut, mango chili and cheese. All very creamy and refreshing. This place is a true Durham gem and a favorite of the Bull City’s Hispanic community.
Pros: Tequila ice cream. Need I say more? Goes spectacularly well with mango sorbet. Staff was very patient. Generous portions.
Cons: Flavors aren’t labeled.
Price: $3.75 for two scoops
An entire wall filled with colorful, enormous pastries and fresh bread greets you upon entry. I asked the staff for recommendations, and they suggested bread filled with goat cheese and jalapeños topped with sesame seeds. It was the perfect snack. I also bought milhojas (a dessert similar to a puff pastry, topped with powdered sugar) and a coconut covered and raspberry filled pastry—also delicious.
Pros: The pastries are huge. Offers a rare glance at desserts and bread, a seldom seen side of Latin American cuisine.
Cons: No seating. Prices are not listed.
Price: $5.00 total for all three items purchased
Mami Nora’s Rotisserie
This Peruvian restaurant cooks probably the best rotisserie chicken you will ever eat. Seasoned for 24 hours, the meat is slightly smoky and extremely flavorful and juicy—a secret recipe the owners have never revealed. The meal comes with two sides; with nine options to choose from (ranging from fried green plantains to yucca fries), you cannot go wrong. I ordered black beans, rice and sweet plantains. The restaurant also makes ceviche (a South American staple of raw fish marinated in lemon juice and spices) on Saturdays and Sundays.
Pros: The rice—slightly sticky and short grain, just like I’d eat at home. The chicken, of course. The sweet plantains were delicious—crunchy and caramelized on the outside and soft on the inside.
Cons: The beans were oddly flavored, too much lemon and salt for my taste. The sauces served with the chicken were OK.
1/4 chicken with 2 sides: $5.75 dark meat, $6.25 white meat.
Full chicken: $13.50