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Tonali: Nuevo Mexican in Durham. A Gem!

Been reading great things about Tonali in the Triangle.dining newsgroup and decided to give it a try yesterday for lunch. It's near the South Square area at 3642 Shannon Road.

A wonderful experience all around. Terrific service. Nice, colorful ambience. And food was great. I wanted the fish tacos, but the chef came out personally to explain that his daily delivery of fish(grouper)didn't meet his standards that morning and suggested shrimp instead. Couldn't have been fresher. 3 tacos on double tortillas which were so chuck full that it easily made 6 tacos for $5.50. A deal! My husband had a wonderful chicken soup with avocado. Deep, rich flavor. Mango drink was great as well -not sugary for once. Prices are more than reasonable. At night, they offer three entrees --at least for now. Menu changes weekly. I hear that the chef used to be sous chef at Four Square -- so this is in a totally different class from the El Rodeo clones and those "authentic" taquerias that are shooting up all over.

The location is a challenge (really out of the way) but this is a place to seek out and support.

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  1. this is interesting news - thanks for the head's up...

    1. really good to read - will have to try it

      1. Absolutely delicious dinner last night. Little chip and guac amuse, smokey chicken and avocado soup, salad of endives, fried potatoes, and boiled egg, fried grouper tacos, al pastor tacos, and mussels with chorizo. Top notch across the board. Very inspired presentation and much higher quality of ingredients than you'd typically find (including lots of local farms produce and locally produced cheeses). Tamarind drink was also great.

        Plain and simple, dude needs to raise his prices. Perhaps not Jibarra prices, but there are plenty of hack mexican places around that charge more than $5.50 for 3 tacos. Sure it's really nice to get such a meal for so little money, but that can't work for him very long.

        He also should get at least a permit to sell beer. When we asked, it sounded as if he had no intention of getting one. That would also be a mistake. Besides the fact that it certainly makes a meal a nicer experience, he's again leaving money on the table. Our table of 4 would have likely spent at least another $25 or more if he offered beer.

        In a little place like that, every penny counts and I really want to see this guy do well.

        1. I echo all the accolades here for chef Andre. I've been to Tonali twice now, and everything off the menu has been clean tasting, freshly prepared, beautifully presented, and delicious. I have the smokey-flavored soup withe pulled chicken and avocado - there was a ton of it and it was delicious. The chicken tacos, the steak tacos were above and beyond, and each plate comes with its own little treasure trove of unique and pretty tasty things (pickled radish sometimes, a dollop of homemade guacamole, or just a tiny, beautifully dressed salad). I can remember three different kinds of salsas, all wonderful. And the best two dishes, I think, were the mussel and chorizo soup (insanely good - especially the broth - and he even brought bread to dip it in) and the grouper tacos.
          My only two disappointments - the tortillas themselves that the tacos came in fell apart easily, making it a challenge to get all the goodies inside. And I agree with Detlef - they need to serve at least beer. Both nights I and my parties would have stayed longer and dabbled more had we had some cerveza to wash it all down with.
          Support the place - we're lucky to have it!

          1. Absolutely Incredible experience!! Is the best food that we have in Durham since I don't know how long, everything was delicious and fresh, I think the smoky flavor soup called caldo is the best and the service is awesome, very nice and kind people serving and taking care of you all the time. I agree with the raise of prices is too much quality for so low prices.

            1. Fellow Hounds,

              Just paid a quick visit to Tonali. Very nice overall. I wasn't too hungry, so I didn't sample menu items as extensively as I otherwise would have. Their tortillas (handmade) were wonderful - I ordered fish tacos and a huarache. Very friendly service. Owner/chef also very friendly. Very endearing place. I hope it does well. I will surely visit again soon.

              My one criticism is - I wish their salsas had a bit more of a kick. Obviously not habanero hot (it would alienate too many), but just with a nice bite and a bit more flavor. I suspect if customers ask for this, they will deliver. I didn't voice my concern - being Mexican, I thought my comment would be considered to be too far off from the tastes of the median restaurant goer in the area. But if you do agree with my assessment, I invite you to communicate your opinion to the owner/chef - who's very interested in learning from the experience of his diners.

                  1. re: oneway

                    It means bring your own bottle, and no, you can't do it. I'm actually rather certain that you can't do that at any NC restaurant that doesn't have a beer/wine permit.

                    1. re: detlefchef

                      I know that Asheboro is dry (not sure if it's the county or the city) and you can BYOB. Does the resto still have to have a permit for that?

                1. Hey guys, it's Sant but for me reason the new board is balking when I try to longin so I had to re-register.

                  Anyway, I want to add to the Tonali accolades. The food is great. The chicken soup was wonderfully fresh and the tacos were several notches higher due to the tasty toppings that came with it. I agree with Dhound that the salso needs to be spicier. My only complaint is that the menu thus far is rather modest in scope. I hope to soon see moles and such on the menu. I think that will occur. The owner/chef came out to talk to us and was most gracious and when I told him my mom-in-law was from the Yucatan he said that he planned to have pibil on the menu soon.

                  Besides, I'm going to go back often because I'm in love with the hostess. She is smoking hot and that oh so sexy accent!

                  1. This restaurant is absolutely fabulous! I hope the chef/owner doesn't listen to you all and raise his prices because it sure is nice to be able to get such great food at prices I can actually afford. Jibarra is good - but who can go there very often? Tonali will be at least a weekly habit from here on out! I had the Sopes de Tinga and the Dulce de Leche Creme Brulee, and tasted the soup. It was all excellent. Forget about the alcohol issue - with food this good you won't miss it! I hear on Saturdays they do regional dishes, can't wait to try some of them.

                    1. I have been to Tonali twice this week. I went last Sunday with a friend of mine who used to work with Andre. We had the mussel stew with chorizo (fabulous) and the grouper tacos. The stew had a great kick to it and the salsa for the tacos were great as well. My only wish regarding his tacos would be for him to have some more options that are not breaded. We also were served some fresh fruit prior to our meal.

                      Yesterday I had the chicken sandwich with homemade bread and the tomatoes/avocados/ goat cheese with a nice spicy sauce. This sauce also was presented with the free tortilla chips that were provided. My friends got the steak tacos and the prickly pear tacos and were very pleased as well. The mango drink was great as well - not too sweet.

                      Sant - I agree that the hostess/ waitress is delightful and very pretty.

                      I highly recommend this place.

                      4 of us ate for less than $30 yesterday including our non alcoholic drinks. With tip it was still less than $ 40.

                      1. Not really much to add here except to repeat the praise. 5 of us went last night about 8pm and closed the place down a bit after 9. Total bill before tip was $44. My fish tacos were brilliant and everybody else's dishes (ceviche, mixed green salad, beef sandwich...) got great reviews. We asked the waitress enough questions to pull out the chef (Andre, I think) and he mentioned he's been in NC 20 years and was the sous chef at 4 Square and also worked at some other high end places.

                        We were raving about the salsa, and he said that it included roasted cactus fruit and roasted garlic, and that they were continuing to spice it up until they heard some complaints about the heat. We encouraged him to up the fire a bit but wow, what a great taste. We regularly dine at the taquerias (Miranda's, Super, Superior, Mi Puebla) but it is nice to have such a great higher-end high-value place as well. As another plus it is quite close to our house!

                        1. Just found out that Tonali has gotten their ABC permit and is now serving wine! No beer or spirits yet, and no word on the quality of the wine selection, but the fact that they have some is a move in a positive direction and bodes well for their remaining open for the long run.

                          1. Just back from lunch at Tonali - my first long awaited visit.

                            Our meals were outstanding. I had their shrimp "fajitas" - which were open faced fresh tortillas topped with shrimp, onions and peppers in a light adobe sauce - accompanied by mexican rice, a corn salad and green salad. One friend had their beef steak tacos while the other had the sirloin atop masa cakes stuffed with beans. I can't say enough good things about our meals - everyone loved their food.

                            They do have their ABC permit but are currently selling wine only - one of the waiters gave my friends the impression that this would change to a full service bar eventually. They already have the set up for the bar on premises - so hopefully this will happen.

                            1. I am glad that Tonali is getting rotated back up on this board. They are really puting out some great food at a great price. I think that thier opening period sort of turned a number of people off of them because of service issues, but I think that it is definitely worth a visit. I am glad that they are finally going to start serving alcohol. Not so much for my benefit, although I did miss having a beer with dinner, but because they are so reasonanly priced that I can't see how they could ever make it without alcohol sales.

                              1. Allow me to preface my comments with the following disclaimer: My experiences with the food and service at Tonali have all been positive,

                                Why would a restaurant carry wine and not beer? Beer with Mexican food is a classic combination. In fact, most people, I would wager, tend to associate Mexican cuisine with wine last of all, if at all. The first association would be with a margarita and then with beer. It's not like there's a different liquor license for beer and wine...is there?

                                This decision just doesn't make sense to me. How hard is it to sell beer? Just carry bottles. Carry a couple of NC brands, a couple of Mexican beers (I like Negro Modelo.), definately carry a good IPA since hoppy beers pair well with spicy foods, and maybe something light, like Sam Adams Light and you're done.

                                1. I went back to Tonali last night for dinner with 2 friends. Two of us had their tortilla soup with chicken and a little roasted corn - very creamy and flavorful - delicious.

                                  My two friends had their sirloin with peppers and masa cakes - very long name to the dish which I can't remember. They both loved their entrees. I had what they described as "Tonali's version of paella" - was full of shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops and chorizo - delicious.

                                  We had a glass of their Spanish rioja which was very good - $6/glass. They have 4 red wines listed on the menu and 1 white - the rioja was the least expensive, I believe.

                                  Snapper and duck tacos were two of their specials. A nearby table ordered the duck - a plate full of shredded meat and I don't know what else. He said it was delicious.

                                  Am going back for lunch next week with some co-workers, one of whom is from Peru and is fluent in Spanish. Maybe then I can ask him to find out what their future plans for alcohol are.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Jeanne

                                    I mad their tortilla soup too and it is sublime. The addition of herbe sainte (sic) is something unique that I had not had before.

                                  2. Have been to Tonali maybe a dozen times. The food has been outstanding each and every time.
                                    Parsley

                                    1. I was at Tonali last night with a few friends and all agreed it was fantastic. The service was great. Not only were there no delays, but the timing was very precise: a waiter informed me that my St Louis pork tacos were ready just as I was finishing my (shared) mussel and chorizo stew.

                                      Speaking of which, both those dishes were sublime. The tacos came with a guava and prickly pear bbq sauce, which was amongst the best I've ever tasted. The tacos themselves were small, but packed with more than enough tender and tasty meat to leave me very satisfied. A glass of mango agua fresca complemented the meal well and as has been said before, tasted of fresh mango rather than processed sugar.

                                      Mussels and chorizo were not a combination I'd had (or thought of) before. Both in texture and taste, they work together surprisingly well. The slightly tart broth contained peppers and onions, making the entire stew a strange and wonderful example of what would happen if you picked up Belgium and dropped it somewhere in Mexico.

                                      I finished the meal off with a dulce de leche creme brulee, which was good, but not quite up to the standard of the rest of the meal.

                                      Other people I was with all enjoyed their food very much. The beef dishes were cooked to a delightful tenderness whilst still being very much on the medium-rare side of life. The mashed potatoes that came with one dish (sorry, can't remember) were divine. One of my friends had the special (I believe it was a red snapper dish) and said it was excellent.

                                      We came away with a new conception of modern Mexican food, a subtle taste of cilantro in all our mouths and a determination to return soon.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: termite

                                        Mussels and Chorizo is actually a rather traditional spanish combination that I've had at a bunch of tapas places, FWIW. Of course, the chorizo itself is typically different that what you'll find in Mexican cuisine (cured rather than fresh). I've had it there and think they do a great job with the dish.

                                        1. re: detlefchef

                                          interestingly, the Federal had a very similar dish on the menu yesterday.

                                          Traditional or not, it was new to me and I agree: they do a great job.

                                      2. I'll gladly go back for another gander, but earlier this week I had a very one-dimensional special: a shredded chicken dish with tortillas and chile de arbol. I had already eaten too much of the complementary chips, so I wasn't expecting a big bowlful of chips with some chicken pieces and cheese for my main meal.

                                        My wife's Sincronizada and the teaser "amuse" were both wonderful. My horchata was okay...a little light and not chalky the way I like it. Ricey, you know.

                                        Service was very good, though I wondered if the waiter's hearty recommendation of the special was for real...or more of a kitchen push.

                                        I'm eager to go back, but not because I was blown away. I'm happy to give it another shake.

                                        1. They have a bar set up. I think they're waiting on licenses.

                                          By the way, the complementary chips are unusually good.

                                          1. "Based on all these posts it seems very hit and miss. " - I just re-read every post - am I missing something?

                                            And the article you wrote for Duke's paper (The Chronicle) is a little misleading - menus items "$12 or less" - may be true at lunch but not for dinner. While they do have the $12 or less entrees on the dinner menu, my paella was $16. I'd suspect the duck and snapper were more than $12 also.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Jeanne

                                              When Tonali opened (and even up until a month or so ago), entrees were indeed, $12 or less. I go about every month, and Feb's menu with the duck and snapper was a bit of a surprise.

                                              (I like Tonali a lot. I think they were running the margin of understaffed on Fri night last time I went.)

                                            2. I feel like somehow I went to a different restaurant than the rest of you. I went last night, and while I didn't dislike it, I found little to make me want to go back. First the chips and salsa - the chips were fried flour tortillas, pretty standard of their type, but after having read how great the salsa is, I was shocked. It tasted like a can of tomato sauce - one little chopped tomato was my only proof that it wasn't. No spice at all, nothing fresh tasting about it. I actually wonder if they ran out of the normal stuff and just got something at the local grocery store.

                                              I wanted to try a variety of things and ended up getting 3 appetizers (I don't eat any pork, and little red meat, and that limited the choices a heck of a lot). The portions are huge and the prices are small, and I ended up eating only about half of what I ordered. I started with the cauliflower and mushroom tacos. Interesting idea, and not at all bad, but it got a bit samey after the first few bites. And I found the preponderance (sp??) of fruit/sweet flavors in all 3 things I ordered a little strange. The fruit salsa was okay ... but not really up my alley. The fact that it also came with the braised chicken tacos probably didn't help my overall feeling about the food, but I probably should have realized I was ordering 2 things which were too similar. The braised chicken itself was fairly tasty, but again, not thrilled with the fruit salsa. My third appetizer was the potato cakes. These *tasted* delicious, but the frying was really bad - the consistency was sort of like over-cooked tofu - very chewy. I liked the sauce they were served on, but the small salad in the middle was once again way too sweet for my tastes. But again, this could just be bad ordering on my part, rereading the above posts, I wish I'd gotten the soup.

                                              I had a glass of wine (tempr.) which seemed like maybe it was a little past its prime, but what can you expect at 6.50 a glass, I guess. The service was wonderful - very attentive and helpful. Like an earlier poster, I'd love to see mole or two on the menu. I was expecting (and hoping) to love this place, and maybe my expectations were just a little too high. I really like the idea of what they're trying to do.

                                              20 Replies
                                              1. re: LulusMom

                                                does tonali have veggie offerings? the only proof is the cauliflower and mushrooms tacos i read about above.

                                                1. re: kristiep

                                                  Funnily enough, I just went again last night. There are very few vegetarian offerings. Maybe one or two appetizers, and I don't remember seeing a single entree, although there *might* have been one.

                                                  I liked the place better this time. I again went with just appetizers - the soup, which was a gazpacho with crab ceviche was wonderful. I also got the fish tacos. The frying of the fish was perfect, and the salsa verde that came with it was good, but it had mango in it, and after the soup (which also had some fruit in it) the fruit was starting to get a little cloying. I think this place has real potential, but for me it isn't there yet.

                                                  1. re: LulusMom

                                                    Is the vibe any better yet? When I went the first time they really hadn't gotten their act together yet and it was a pretty awful dining experience. So I went back months later for lunch, which was fine, but the place just felt dead to me.

                                                    1. re: suse

                                                      Vibe isn't their high point, thats for sure. But it was *slightly* warmer in atmo than it had been when I went before, and I have to say the service was good and very pleasant. But it still has the feel of a room that isn't really a restaurant parading as one.

                                                      1. re: LulusMom

                                                        Thanks for that feedback. You know how for some people it's all about the service - for me it's all about the vibe. While I like good food, since I like to cook, when I go out, I want to feel like I'm out and about. Had a beer on the porch at the James Joyce last night with a friend, split their giant lox/brown bread appetizer and while it is by a road, the view of Durham is great and there is good people watching on the porch and right next door at the Fed. That's more my idea of a fun night out - even though it's not super chowhoundy.

                                                        1. re: suse

                                                          I totally understand. I love to cook too, but having a young child, it means a lot to me to go out and have dinner without her (and therefore able to eat with both hands!), and the vibe matters a lot. I just want to be able to feel comfortable sitting lazily over a glass of wine or whatever in a nice place. That place is not Tonali, in my mind. Like you, I don't need it to be fancy, just comfortable and with a feeling like there is some life happening around me. I've been in the West End Wine Bar when we were just about the only patrons, and yet still it had a nice cozy feeling to it.

                                                    2. re: LulusMom

                                                      I was there a couple nights ago, and had that gazpacho, also. Was that fruit??? I kept getting sweet bites that, while not unpleasant, were definitely distracting. I assumed it was a remarkably sweet yellow tomato, but could see it being mango or some such. The soup was wonderful, overall, though. He was a bit heavy on the lobster oil atop, but not so much so that it wasn't still delicious.

                                                      I had the snapper, as well, which was also delicious, but could've used a heavier hand on the olives and capers and a lighter hand on the oil that dressed the greens beneath.

                                                      Our salsa with our chips that night was fresh. It's never terribly spicy, always very simple and subtle. I like more flash to my salsa, but "flash" and "Tonali" just don't go together in my mind, so I enjoy it for what it is.

                                                      My friend and I were the only two there from opening until when we left at 6:30. That made me sad.

                                                      As for vibe, suse, it's very subdued.

                                                      I love this place, and find it utterly charming. I sure hope it makes it.

                                                      Alison

                                                      1. re: abowes

                                                        I kind of guessed that the fruit was maybe a little bit of papaya or something else similarly tropical in the soup. I thought the soup was just wonderful.

                                                        Unfortunately I'm really really not a fan of the salsa. Once again I thought it just tasted like canned tomatoes. I'd Love for this place to be as good in reality as it is in my imagination - enough so that I went again having been very underwhelmed the first time.

                                                        I got there around 6, and was the only table but things picked up a bit soon after. Not full, but almost half the tables were taken within the hour.

                                                      2. re: LulusMom

                                                        i went tonight. there were two veggie appetizers, the cauliflower and mushroom tacos and the salad. actually, i guess there were three, including the gazpacho. i ended up having the baja fish tacos (occasionally i eat fish). they were made with really nice, fresh ingredients and i appreciated the salad on the side that i could add to them. i thought the appetizers aka first courses were more than enough food. there were not any veggie second courses. they should fix this.

                                                        1. re: kristiep

                                                          Finally stopped in last night. They've done a nice job with the decorating and expanded their menu...a bit. I would have enjoyed more choices, personally. My wife had a carne asada meal which was good but the meat didn't have much flavor. I had the fish tacos and there were quite tasty though still not as good as you find on the west coast.

                                                          The service left much to be desired. The dining room was only about 1/3 full (7PM Sat night) and it took forever for our entrees to be served. One couple actually gave up and walked out.

                                                          Tonali is trying to do something a bit different and would like for them to succeed but I doubt I'll return for the foreseeable future. Guess I'll continue with La Fiesta, La Hacienda, the Los Trey Mageyes chain, and the El Rodeo chain. Oh well.

                                                          1. re: jsb23nc

                                                            El Rodeo? You gotta be kidding...

                                                            1. re: termite

                                                              El Rodeo is my least favorite of all the ones I listed but it's larger menu and better service would put it above Tonali in my mind, unfortunately.

                                                              1. re: jsb23nc

                                                                the service seems to vary. Our's has been fine both the times we've been there. It's strange how variable they seem to be. Still, it's class above El Rodeo...

                                                                1. re: termite

                                                                  Yes, the restaurant aims to be a "class above El Rodeo." And, Tonali *is* in food presentation, flavors/taste, restaurant interior design, and use of homemade chips and fresh ingredients. But, as I stated earlier, if your service is not good and your menu is not varied enough, I won't be spending my money at your restaurant.

                                                                  So, again, I'd choose La Fiesta, La Hacienda, Los Trey Magueyes, and even El Rodeo before returning to Tonali. (Oh, and I miss Coyote Cafe in Cary.)

                                                                  1. re: jsb23nc

                                                                    <sigh>. What Tonali needs is some love from foodies. We should go there and tell them what we feel isn't right, while encouraging the good things (eg the great food!).

                                                                    Most days, I'd take a taqueria over any of the places you mentioned, and over Tonali, but when I feel like something different, I'd pick Tonali over any of them. I think if more people did the same, Tonali could be a standout place.

                                                                    1. re: termite

                                                                      Going to Tonail on Wed. as a group of 12. Looking forward to it.

                                                                      1. re: steveindurham

                                                                        I hope you enjoy it. Be patient with them. (Most of the time) it's worth it.

                                                                        Don't forget to report back after :)

                                                                    2. re: jsb23nc

                                                                      With all due respect, what those places offer is faux variety, putting ground beef on a hard sheel taco, a soft shell taco, or on a flour tortilla and calling it a burrito isn't really three different dishes, it's the same thing served three different ways.

                                                                      Tonali is a gem and I fear we will lose this place and be stuck with crap Tex-Mex or tacquerias (which are fine but talk about a limited menu).

                                                                      1. re: bbqme

                                                                        I'm sorry, but if we lose this "gem," it'll be because their service is so intermittently lousy that they've driven everybody away. I'm among the (apparently large) number of people who eagerly gave them a chance based on other glowing reports, but was turned off by the lousy service (and food which was, while pretty-good, not stellar enough to overcome the service).

                                                                        I keep watching the posts, hoping that I'll notice a decrease in the service complaints, but they keep on coming up. Maybe those of you who love Tonali need to start posting every time you have a successful meal there, to counterbalance the negative posts ;-)

                                                                      2. re: jsb23nc

                                                                        I keep seeing these posts about service - I've never had anything but prompt, courteous service. And they are very helpful with any questions one has. I was there last Thursday and the service was again quite good and the food delicious, as always.

                                                                        "La Fiesta, La Hacienda, Los Trey Magueyes, and even El Rodeo" over Tonali? There is no way these places can be compared to Tonali - you're talking Tex Mex compared to Mexican food - the types of food you find in the Yucatan and on the west coast of Mexico.

                                                      3. I figured I'd put my money where my mouth is (well, my partner's money. It was her turn to pay for dinner), so we went to Tonali tonight to give it another try.

                                                        I'm glad to say it stays on my Durham A-list.

                                                        First of all, the service was prompt, courteous and more than helpful. Just thought I'd get that out of the way before getting to the real treat: the food.

                                                        We started with chicken tacos with salsa verde. The chicken was cooked in some broth whose name I don't recall, and was tender and flavorful. The tacos were small, soft and full of their own wonderful tastes. The pink sweet pickled onions that came with the dish were a nice crunchy touch.

                                                        I had a chilli-rubbed pork tenderloin for my entree, served with mashed potatoes and some green I couldn't identify, sauteed with yummy mushrooms. The dish came with more tacos, which I had absolutely no idea what to do with (I never do). The meat was soft and very tasty. If I remember correctly, a friend of mine had the same dish the first time we went and I have to agree with him that the potatoes were some of the best I've tasted.

                                                        My partner had the carne asada, served with Tonali's signature thick oval tacos. She gave two thumbs up as well.

                                                        As a sidenote: the meals (incl the appetizer) were HUGE. We have three small lunches worth of food left over. Considering the quality of the meat, I'm surprised that the place isn't more expensive. Most people I know would consider one of their appetizers a full meal.

                                                        As has been pointed out before, the atmosphere isn't that great. As has also been pointed out, that can be changed by more hounds getting over there and livening the place up a bit.

                                                        Great food, good value. Now that they also serve beer, I see no reason not to recommend it to everyone.

                                                        Go forth and enjoy!

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: termite

                                                          Had a stellar meal there recently. The service was wonderful -- courteous and friendly. They make a real effort to please. My friend and I shared two entrees which they were only too happy to split for us. Very ample portions. We had the paella and steak tacos -- both bursting with flavor. Those pickled onions are addictive!

                                                          Prices are quite reasonable given the quality of the food.

                                                          I also really like the atmosphere -- colorful and simple. As far as I'm concerned Tonali remains a gem. I would really, really, really hate to lose this place. There is nothing else like it in the Triangle.

                                                        2. Went to Tonali last night with a group of 18. Everything was outstanding. We shared plates so I got to try a little of bit of everything. Very reasonable prices as well. I recommend everyone going and supporting this place. Servings are very large as others have mentioned. Here goes the menu from last night:

                                                          1st course
                                                          Salad with local farm organic mix greens with jicama, avocado and a papaya chile vinaigrette . An outstanding salad.

                                                          The soup was a shrimp and dungess crab meat bisque with yellow queen roasted corn and lobster oil. This bisque was full of shrimp and crab meat and was out of this world.

                                                          There were 5 entree choices. I sampled 3 - paella, vegetable quesadilla and chile relleno but I'll list all 5 here.

                                                          Did not try but looked great and the people who got it were pleased - Free range chicken breast wih organic mash potatoes with quelites (spinach with beans) and veracruz mole sauce

                                                          Also there was a pork special with kidney beans and other vegetables - it was the special so I didn't get the run down on this dsh.

                                                          Tried the follwoing which were all great:

                                                          Paella with NC shrimp, salmon and mussels with spanish rice and homemade chorizo. This was an outstanding dish in every way.

                                                          Chille relleno - poblano pepper with red flannel potatoes and Elodie white farmers cheese in a cascabel sauce (which is a small hot pepper)

                                                          Quesadilla de vegetables - Squash blossoms and grilled vegetable quesadilla with requeson (Spanish cheese) and green tomatillo salsa.

                                                          The chille relleno and quesadilla were great as well.

                                                          Didn't try dessert but they were offering Creme brulee con cajeta de celaya whic can be translated in google. Kind of cinammon mixture from what I can tell.

                                                          The other offering was a choclote brioche cake with piloncillo (mexican dark brown sugar)
                                                          anglaise and bananas flambe.

                                                          It was great evening and I recommend people supporting this place. Andre (the owner/chef) is really putting out amazing food at very reasonable prices.

                                                          1. My husband and I ate at Tonali tonight. The atmosphere, as others have mentioned, wasn't great - the cash register and ice machine should be moved elsewhere, but that was the only negative the entire evening.

                                                            Service was prompt and friendly, and our waiter even told us that they have $5 off coupons at Kroger.

                                                            We were excited to try the food, so we went a bit overboard with ordering. The chips and salsa were good, not the best, but far better than some.

                                                            Appetizers: I had the gazpacho with crab ceviche. I thought it was quite good and I liked it more than my gazpacho I make at home. My husband liked it okay but like others was turned off by the sweetness of it.

                                                            My husband had the fish tacos. They were truly amazing; the tortillas were wonderfully delicate with a great flavor. The fish was well fried and prepared, and the sides (roasted corn, salsa verde, cabbage, carrots) complimented the dish very well.

                                                            Main Meal: I had the pallea. It was great, but the chorizo and shrimp were too tough; I think they had been overcooked, but the flavors were so amazing that I was happy to overlook it.

                                                            My husband had the pork loin over queso mashed potatoes. It was really stunning. The presentation was wonderful, and the pork was perfectly tender. The mashed potatoes were perfect.

                                                            Overall, presentation of all meals was great - a cut above any other Mexican I've had in the area. We had beers, and my first beer was warm, which was disconcerting, but all subsequent beers were nicely cold.

                                                            Our meal, with tip, was $85 -- I didn't find it as cheap as others have mentioned, but it was definitely a good value. I think that as they improve the atmosphere, it will be even better. I would go back in a heart beat!

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: anne7134

                                                              Anne -glad you liked it. I'm going for lunch the next 2 Thursdays. I think Andre may be over taxed in the kitchen but he definitely is trying to do things right. He is a very nice man and inventive chef. He used to work with a friend of mine at Four Square.

                                                              1. re: anne7134

                                                                I had the pork and mashed potatoes Thursday evening, as well, and my friends kept making fun of me because of the look on my face and the happy noises I kept making. I used the fresh tortillas to sop up every last bit of goodness from the plate!

                                                                I had the gazpacho and the pork, drank water, no dessert, and my total before tip was $26. I was content. He did raise his prices - but, really, he had to! The prices before were too low to survive.

                                                                Alison

                                                              2. Just ducking in to say that I just got back from my first visit to Tonali and it was outstanding. Great, prompt service (even a free refill on the mango agua fresca) and outstanding food. I had the cauliflower and mushroom tacos and my husband had the chile relleno. Both were delicious-- the relleno had a nice complex flavor that was very well-balanaced. The tacos were great, nice strong mushroom flavor. We got full after just those relatively small dishes, so didn't have room to try the chocolate cake with banana flambe. Next time!