Food » First Bite

The joys of Dos Taquitos in Raleigh

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"Naked baby, your table is ready. Naked baby, your table is ready."

Alas, I'm holding the fuzzy caterpillar, so I must wait to join the crowd of diners inside Dos Taquitos.

Stuffed animals and naked baby dolls are among the items you might cradle while waiting for a table on a busy night (and most nights are). The popular Mexican eatery's whimsical approach to keeping track of waiting diners sets the tone for an evening there. Located in a shopping center next to a Food Lion on Creedmoor Road, the restaurant's décor is early Mexican flea market explosion, with scarves, beads, statues, Day of the Dead decorations, scrawled graffiti accents and twinkling, albeit dim, lights filling the dining area inside and out.

The restaurant has been on the Raleigh scene for about 20 years, and it is easy to see why. It offers food that tastes authentic and fresh. It is part of the Salamanca family's collection of restaurants, and they obviously know what they're doing. Carlos Salamanca owns Dos Taquitos. His brother, Gonza, operates Gonza's Tacos y Tequila a couple of miles away on Lead Mine Road, and niece Angela Salamanca runs Centro in downtown Raleigh.

As a typical night progresses at Dos Taquitos, the noise level rises to match the visual din. Latin music plays throughout as diners chat and laugh, filling the place with an energetic, happy sound as bandana-wearing servers navigate between tables. The gravitational pull at the center of this bustling atmosphere is Dos Taquitos' food.

Throughout the menu, the dominating trait is freshness. Dipping into salsa and guacamole or biting into a piping hot empanada conjures visions of someone in the kitchen chopping fresh vegetables or marinating locally produced meat. (One server told me "Every ingredient is fresh. Nothing we serve comes from a can except the base for one of the sauces.")

Make sure you try the empanadas. Years ago in another town, a favorite lunch spot of mine was a restaurant that served nothing but empanadas, with dozens of fillings. The empanadas at Dos Taquitos would be at home there. The dough shell is perfectly fried, creating a satisfying crunch as you bite into it to discover flaky layers inside. The filling varies—beef, chicken, veggies, etc.—but it is secondary to the exquisiteness of the shell.

The filling Enchiladas de Puebla features three tortillas stuffed with, respectively, black beans, shredded chicken and flavorful steak, accompanied by rice and beans. Each enchilada is adorned with its own Mexican flag color: one with red sauce, one with white sour cream and one with green guacamole.

Las carnitas is another satisfying choice. The dish features large chunks of braised, fork-tender pork. You should be aware though that the menu's spiciness ratings tend to overestimate the dish's heat content, so ask the kitchen to crank it up if you want it to pack a serious punch.

In any form offered, the carne asada is worth tasting. I can't detect all of the ingredients Dos Taquitos uses in its marinade for the steak, but the flavor sings with notes of sweetness, tartness and spiciness. It is excellent as an entrée but also enjoyable as a filling in tacos, enchiladas or other menu options.

Leave room for dessert. The Miguelitos de Guayaba is an indulgent way to cap your meal. It features guava inside a crisp pastry alongside vanilla ice cream and guava sauce. The kitchen also has a nice touch with flan, sticking the landing on the texture, which is creamy, not rubbery.

Dos Taquitos is a worthy destination. It's slightly more expensive, but the quality of the ingredients makes it worth the trip. Just be prepared to cradle a naked baby before you get a table.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Full house."

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