SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — It’s become a part of the dining lexicon for — well, ever. But tacos are no longer only held in adoration on Tuesdays.
At least not with Port City Taste Taco Week — an inaugural event that kicked off Friday, Oct. 27, and lasts through Sunday, Nov. 5.
Taco week has been discussed by the PCT crew — made up of media partners Port City Daily, the Penguin 98.3, and the Dude 93.7 — for a while now. PCT already encapsulates the region’s official Restaurant Weeks in late winter, Burger Week in late spring, and Craft Cocktail Week in early fall.
So why tacos? Well, why not? It’s the perfect handheld, a vessel that can hold a variety of toppings. With more than 30 tacos highlighted during Taco Week, there is something for every palate to enjoy.
Vegans and vegetarians: also check.
The 18 eateries involved are spread across southeastern North Carolina, from Leland to downtown, midtown to Wrightsville Beach. Chefs and kitchen staff have put forth original ideas to move beyond the mere Americanized version of the taco: ground beef, cheese, lettuce, sour cream. Though, to be fair, that’s offered too.
But for Drew Stanley, the chef at the newly rebranded Flying Machine Oyster Bar, he wanted to push the limits of flavor and elevate the casual taco to a new treat.
“I was trying to think outside the box,” he told Port City Daily Friday.
Stanley has poached lobster in mezcal (smoky tequila) and butter. Into a flour shell, it’s topped with cactus and lobster roe salsa verde, finished with cilantro-lime slaw and a prickly-pear hot sauce.
He said the goal was to balance the richness of the shellfish, with other light flavors.
“The row adds an umami,” he said, “while the cactus brings out the earthiness of the tomatillos and slaw cools it all off.”
Stanley also makes multiple hot sauces in house since the restaurant transitioned into an oyster bar earlier in the fall. One variety contains Fresno peppers, a milder heat.
“I basically ferment the peppers and a few other things and process it into the hot sauce with spices and garlic — it’s not too vinegary-based either,” he said.
That is used as the base of the prickly pear cactus version, which he hand-picked.
“They bring bitterness to the sauce and round out the spice a little bit,” he said.
Multiple fish tacos are available during taco week as well: K-38 is offering a Low-Country fried-flounder version, while Shaka Taco has on special its Togarashi tuna tacos.
Shrimp tacos are aplenty as well, including a Kung Pao version at Bluewater Grill, blending two regional cuisines: Asian and Mexican. It’s topped with cabbage, mango salsa and lime.
Sealevel City Vegan Diner is challenging one’s palate on traditional seafood. The plant-based restaurant has become a haven for vegan and vegetarian diners. On the menu this week are Baja shrimp and banana fish tacos.
The “shrimp” is really made of mung beans, while the banana “fish” is a banana blossom — a large flower pod that grows at the end of bananas.
“We are a 100% vegan diner so we don’t source anything that ever had eyeballs,” according to Kelsey Gibbs, who owns the restaurant with Scott Key. “Our banana fish tacos use banana blossoms as the fish because of the perfect white flaky texture.”
Gibbs said two of three items on Taco Week’s menu were already popular among diners, one being the “shrimp,” the other the lentil tacos.
“We churched up our usual lentil tacos by adding fresh fried corn shells and housemade nacho cheese,” she said.
The restaurant uses organic lentils, chosen due to its more environmentally friendly farming processes — use of less water and antibiotics.
“And no one is getting heart disease by eating too many lentils,” Gibbs said.
The mixture has seeds and rolled oats added, then combined with fresh vegetables. The crew makes a housemade taco seasoning and sauce.
Fried avocado tacos also are on two menus for Taco Week: at Dram Tree Tavern in the Greenfield Lake area and at Si! Senor in Porters Neck.
Owned by Alex Zarazoga, Si! Senor also features an al pastor taco variety ($13) and Americano (that traditional ground beef version from childhood) for $12.
His other restaurant, Chignon! Taqueria in Leland, is also participating in Taco Week. It features select $2.99 tacos, including barbacoa. Braised beef is the restaurant’s most popular variety, according to Zarazoga. He talked to Port City Daily earlier in the week about opening a Chignon! in Wilmington in the former Catawba Brewing space by December (read more here).
Other traditional Mexican taquerias are participating this week as well. San Felipe, La Tapatia and Tortilleria y Taqueria Carolinas have street tacos, huaraches (corn tortilla sandwiches) and quesabirria tacos on special. Birria is the consommé created by slow-cooking beef marinated in adobo, often with vinegar, dried chiles, garlic, herbs and spices. Taco shells then are soaked in the broth, grilled, filled with the shredded meat and served with a side of the consomme for dipping.
The best part of Taco Week is participants don’t need coupons, special passwords, or tickets. Just head to one of the listed businesses, ask for the special taco week menu and indulge.
See all menus below; click on the business name to access the menu.
Beer Barrio | Pulled pork taco, $8; coconut cobia ceviche, $12
Marina Grill | Shrimp tacos, $17
Shaka Taco | Togarashi taco, $6.95
Chingon! Taqueria | $2.99 select tacos
San Felipe | Street tacos combo, $16.49
CAM Cafe | Carnitas taco, $13
Dram Tree Tavern | Fried avocado tacos, $8; jerk chicken tacos, $10; barbacoa tacos, $12
K-38 | Low-Country flounder taco, $12
La Tapatia | Street combo tacos, $9.99
Sealevel City Vegan Diner | Baja shrimp, $16; taco dinner supreme, $15; banana fish tacos, $17
Tortilleria y Taqueria Carolinas | Quesabirria tacos, $3.75 ea.; Mexican street tacos $3-$3.75 ea.; ceviche tostadas, $5 ea.; huarache, $12 ea.; homemade corn tortillas, $4.50 a pack
Wrightsville Beach/North Wilmington
Bluewater Waterfront Grill | Kung Pao shrimp taco, $16
Ceviche’s | Braised Jerk chicken, $20; Jerk cabbage tacos, $16
Flying Machine Oyster Bar | Mezcal and Butter Poached Lobster Tacos, $17
Oceanic | Blackened salmon taco, $16
Poe’s Tavern | Tuna tacos, $17.99; brisket tacos, $16.99
Si! Señor | Al pastor, $13; Americano, $12; avocado frita, $13
Solstice Kitchen + Cocktails | Braised beef taco, $17; black bean taco, $17
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