Handy North Raleigh eats

Includes Gonza’s Tacos Y Tequila and Fork and Barrel, Raleigh, NC

I like foods you can take in hand, hold and eat — no utensils required. Very efficient. And they’re often cute, to boot. Witness: Piebird’s hand pies. Cupcakes. Brownies. And tacos and sandwiches, of course.

Gonza’s Tacos y Tequila

I can’t believe I didn’t hear about this place until it had already been open for two months! And in my own stomping grounds — North Raleigh. For shame!

My friend Erica treated me to a taco birthday lunch, and I liked it so much I returned a few days later for Sunday brunch.

Apparently there are ties between Gonza’s and Dos Taquitos. A former DT manager now runs and/or owns Gonza’s, I believe?

The eateries definitely have similar vibes. Funky, fun. But Gonza’s decor and ambience are a bit more classy and updated, and not quite as hectic and dark as the original Dos Taquitos.

Admittedly, I haven’t eaten at DT in quite a while, so it’s probably time I revisited. But Gonza’s food is fresher and brighter and more interesting than the last few meals I had at Dos Taquitos.

For lunch I had three mini — and yes, oh-so-cute — tacos filled with roasted and grilled veggies like squashes, sweet potato, peppers, nopales and beans. Something — maybe the pico de gallo, maybe not — gave them a little kick. And the melted cheese under the veggies at the bottom of the taco was a nice change from the usual cold shreds on top.

The mini salad served alongside in a crimped taco shell included the usual lettuce-and-tomato combo, but also refreshing, colorful touches like apple, oranges, jicama and avocado.

Even the chips and chunky salsa were better than normal.

I’m sorry to report that I was having such a good time with family and friends at brunch on Sunday that I didn’t take a single photo. But my huevos rancheros were some of the best I’ve ever eaten, and the tequila-spiked horchata was muy, muy bueno.

And I still have dinner to look forward to …

Fork and Barrel

Bad name, huh? In fact, every time I’ve driven by over the last few months I kind of smirked. The moniker plus the fact that it’s yet one more pub-with-food in a tavern-saturated market made me keep driving on by. It’s also in one of those seemingly cursed locations whether no restaurant lasts very long.

So I really wasn’t that excited when my friend Donna suggested we go to Fork and Barrel based on a friend’s recommendations. Well guess what? My suppositions were all wrong.

Check out the menu on the website. Things are just a cut above. Yes, they have nachos — but topped with interesting ingredients like chile braised chicken and cotija cheese. Cheese dip, sure — but with melted leeks, chorizo, manchego, etc. Or how about a muffaletta?

I got a good ol’ grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, which were comforting and satisfying, but far from boring. Fontina — such a great melting cheese — and brie were a great combo, and the roasted tomatoes and shallots added a slightly sweet, rich moistness. The bread was hearty, and the entire thing was expertly grilled and not too greasy or messy. Altogether a pretty-near-perfect grilled cheese experience. (The soup, despite the odd color translated by my iPhone camera in a dim environment, was also delicious.)

Donna had the seared tuna tacos, which are listed as an appetizer but were plenty large enough for a meal. They looked wonderful, and her gushing enthusiasm confirmed they must have been.

Other plusses: It’s right down the street from me, it doesn’t have 25 blaring TVs tuned to different sports channels, it was comfortable and homey feeling, and the clientele seemed more interested in enjoying themselves and their food than drinking and hooking up.

I’ll be back.

About atarheeltastes

I'm a passionate foodie who started this "temporary" blog during a gustatory tour of Tuscany. I decided to continue, since I love to dream about, plan for, prepare, eat and write about food!
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