A taco is a three-bite moment of joy. A moment of discovery, of nostalgia. A moment to sweat from the heat before taking another bite.
National Taco Day is Tuesday, making it National Taco Tuesday, as if you ever need an excuse to seek out tacos.
To name the very best tacos in all of the Triangle is a staggering impossibility. The tacos trucks that line busy streets in Durham and Raleigh, the strip mall icons and family owned restaurants that have served for generations, the modern downtown joints — all make up an exciting and rich local taco scene.
If our BBQ scene is a tie to our past, our taco scene is perhaps a reflection of where we’re heading and the central role North Carolina’s Latin American community plays in the state’s culinary landscape. Looking at our taco scene is a glimpse at who we are and how we’re growing in every direction.
Here are 22 of the Triangle’s most popular, most influential and most outlandishly delicious taquerias, food trucks and restaurants, together merely scratching the surface of all that there is to offer in the local taco scene.
3434 Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh. 919-594-1719 or broncotacosraleigh.com
One of Raleigh’s newest taquerias, Bronco Tacos opened in May and is already playing the hits. The taco menu is wide ranging, from spicy cochinita to fried fish and griddled shrimp. Bronco also has vegetarian tacos like mushroom and serves the trendiest taco in the land, the flat-top fried quesabirria tacos with consome for dipping.
711 W. Rosemary St., Suite 2315, Carrboro. 919-933-8226 or carrburritos.com
Situated at the fuzzy border between Carrboro and Chapel Hill, this beloved neighborhood spot has fed UNC students and locals for more than 20 years. You don’t last a generation in Carrboro without doing everything right, and the tacos are at the top of that list for Carrburritos.
106 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh. 919-835-3593 or centroraleigh.com
One of downtown Raleigh’s best restaurants, Centro has pared down its menu in the wake of the pandemic, but the tacos remain stellar. Freshly made corn and flour tortillas, filled with either fried salmon, grilled steak or bright orange cochinita pibil, honor tacos as the composed dishes they are.
2330 Bale St. Suite 100, Raleigh. 919-594-1930 or chidotaco.com
This spot will remind you how much fun it is to eat tacos. The dining room is brightly lit from skylights overhead, the micheladas are large and refreshing, and there is a taco for everyone. While the classics are solid and the pineapple is nicely charred for the al pastor, Chido is a place to consider ordering something new. There’s shrimp grilled with mezcal, or a pair of chile relleno tacos, where the peppers are stuffed with steak and cheese.
4711 Hope Valley Road, Durham. 919-489-4636 or chubbystacos.com
2444 Wycliff Road, Raleigh. 919-781-4480
There’s no way around it, Chubby’s is a Triangle institution. It’s like a friend you can always count on, except it’s the comforting embrace of a taco. It’s one thing to promise the World’s Greatest Salsa Bar, as Chubby’s does, and deliver it, which Chubby’s also does, with freshly made and spicy options that make any taco pop.
1920 Perry St., Durham. 919-286-1875 or cosmiccantina.com
128 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill. 919-960-3955
There are legions of Cosmic Cantina loyalists whose love for late night burritos was born as students at Duke or UNC. While the burritos are often the draw, Cosmic Cantinas tacos are familiar and reliable and among the most economical in the Triangle.
911 S. 5th St., Smithfield. 919-938-0338 or facebook.com/crazytacossmithfieldnc
Truly a taco paradise, where the picnic tables are shaded by palapa umbrellas, Crazy Tacos likely has the widest draw of any taqueria in the Triangle. The small, outdoor-only taco shop is just off of Interstate 95, and travelers heading north or south regularly make a point to stop in Smithfield just for the tacos.
4910 Hillsborough Road, Durham. 919-309-9390 or eljefecitofoodtruck.com
This popular taco truck recently opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Durham. The toppings are the familiar mix of chorizo or chicken, but everything else goes beyond the classic topping of cilantro and chopped onion. When it’s on the menu, al pastor is done with green apple instead of pineapple, roasted cauliflower is balanced with goat cheese and Romesco sauce.
1952 S. Horner Blvd., Sanford. 919-353-2548 or fondalupita.com
About an hour outside the Triangle, Fonda Lupita has become one of North Carolina’s hottest dining destinations after landing on Eater’s list of the best new restaurants in the country last year. It’s no wonder, everything is fresh and vibrant, spicy and succulent, with fillings like al pastor, shrimp, asada and pollo asado, served in pillowy tortillas that were rolled and griddled that morning.
7713 Lead Mine Road, Suite 39, Raleigh. 919-846-5478 or gonzatacosytequila.com
2100 Hillsborough St., Raleigh. 919-268-8965
1849 S. Main St., Wake Forest. 919-205-2500
525-105 New Waverly Place, Cary. 919-653-7310
One of the Triangle’s busiest restaurant groups, Gonza is always lively, and you’ll want margaritas by the pitcher. This is a place for shrimp tacos topped with slaw, rich braised short ribs, or for true indulgence, scallops and pork belly.
220 E. Six Forks Road, Raleigh. 919-600-9449 or instagram.com/gymtacos
3701 Hillsborough St., Raleigh. 919-615-1366
It’s easy to find Gym Tacos, the bright orange truck with the long line snaking through a gas station parking lot. In just a few years, Gym has become a Raleigh taco phenomenon and this year added a brick-and-mortar location on HIllsborough Street. Lengua lovers take note, beef tongue tacos are only offered on the weekends. With the brick-and-mortar, Gym also added beers and drinks to pair with some of the best tacos in town.
4112 Pleasant Valley Road, Raleigh. 919-571-1188 or joseandsons.com
A uniquely North Carolina restaurant, Jose & Sons is the second generation story for one of the Triangle’s most influential restaurant families. Brothers Charlie and Hector Ibarra come from the family that helped found multiple El Rodeo locations in Raleigh. With Jose & Sons, named for their father, they take classic Mexican dishes and update them with Southern ingredients. Coupled with their other restaurant, The Cortez, and the vast talent of chef Oscar Diaz, it’s one of the most powerful restaurant ideas in the modern South.
3325 N. Roxboro Road, Durham. 919-220-3588
You’ll see towering stacks of freshly made corn tortillas and plastic trays of conchas fly out of this grocery store, butcher shop, bakery and tortilleria built in a former car dealership. The tacos are among the best in Durham, with tomatoey chicken tinga a standout order.
2700 Chapel Hill Road, Durham. 919-402-0209 or lavaquitadurham.com
Known for the large fiberglass cow on top of the building, but famous for its tacos, La Vaquita is the first name in Durham taquerias. Settle in for a wait, as it’s often busy, but crispy carnitas this tasty are worth waiting for. Also, when available, cochintia pibil studded with habaneros and picked onions is an easy order for those craving heat.
4524 Old Wake Forest Road, Raleigh. 919-872-6012 or facebook.com/loscuatesraleighnc
Just beyond the Beltline in the corner shop of a strip mall is one of North Raleigh’s top taquerias. The tacos come small or large, which matters more for what comes on them, than the size of the tortillas, with small getting the traditional cilantro and onion treatment and large topped with pico and guacamole.
5420 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham. namudurham.com
One of the Triangle’s most beautiful and tranquil restaurant spaces, the former artist campus of Straw Valley, is the scene of one of Durham’s most fun restaurants. Namu is a beer garden, a coffee shop and the purveyor of the Triangle’s top Korean tacos, filled with sweet and spicy Korean barbecue and slaw.
2512 University Drive, Durham. 919-873-3033 or nuvotaco.com
Born as Nanataco but rebranded as the ownership torch was passed a couple years ago, this local take on fast casual Mexican restaurants will win the hearts of even the most ardent Chipotle haters. Look for tacos like duck, fried calamari and fried green tomatoes, plus the world’s greatest $5 margarita.
149 W. Franklin St., Suite 110, Chapel Hill. 919-903-8000 or quechulatacos.com
“Craft taco” can be a concerning phrase for taco lovers, because it often means an overly fussy taco, long on expensive toppings and short on flavor. This relatively new Chapel Hill spot lives up to its name, though, taking classic street tacos and wrapping them in freshly made tortillas worth seeking out in a restaurant. Maybe there’s hope for Franklin Street yet.
927 W. Morgan St., Raleigh. 919-322-4144 or soultacorva.com/raleigh
Born in Richmond, Va, this wildly popular and trail-blazing taqueria was once blessed by the mayor of Flavortown himself, appearing on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. Soul Taco owners Trey Owens, Ari Augenbaum and Nar Hovnanian brought their soul food taqueria to Raleigh earlier this year, serving a menu of tacos Nashville style hot chicken, shrimp Po Boys and even a jambalaya chicken tinga.
2842 N. Roxboro St., Durham. 919-220-9884
North Roxboro Road in Durham is a corridor of excellent taco shops and trucks and Super Taqueria might be the best among them, particularly for carne asada fans.
3601 Junction Blvd., Raleigh. 919-661-5676 or facebook.com/taqueriaeltororaleigh
Located next door to the busy Toro Market in South Raleigh, this is one of the city’s most popular taquerias and the ideal place to start any local taco tour. Also home to one of Raleigh’s premier salsa bars.
1110 Mercantile Drive, Building 6, Suite 120, Raleigh. 919-439-1177 or torchystacos.com/location/midtown-east
Raleigh claimed the only North Carolina location of this Texas taco shop with a fanatical following. The only thing larger than Torchy’s menu is the tacos themselves, with varieties straying far beyond the classics. Tacos include smoked beef brisket, jerk chicken and one with a jalapeno cheddar sausage link.