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The "New" Taqueria Lopez, post-3/08, Durham, NC

As has been discussed on the blog CookingEatingDurham, Taqueria Lopez is aggressively trying to brand itself as, well, more than a taqueria.

The new menu came out in the past week or so and it is daunting. It's not a Tex-Mex restaurant, thankfully, but this menu seems to be taking a step in that direction. Often times "all things to all people" isn't the best way to go. The menu is very large and somewhat confusing. Many dishes appear in strange categories. There are combinations, platillos, beef/chicken/pork, fajita, and breakfast sections to name just a few. Is the cooking still pretty solid? Yes, but my visit today was a bit underwhelming.

I eat at Lopez quite frequently, perhaps every two weeks on average. I've enjoyed watching it steadily improve. At first it was good but terribly disorganized and slow. Although language has always been a problem there, in 2008 I've had numerous very tasty and quick meals there. It even became something of a study/hang out spot for me.

I ordered the chorizo eggs. While what I had wasn't objectionable, it also wasn't as good as I might have imagined. They do such a nice job within the simple constraints of tacos, I thought they'd be able to pull the same with Mexican breakfast. The eggs were scrambled with some chorizo strewn throughout. Rather than creamy eggs, however, these were cooked nearly to the point of rubberiness. Also, the normally generous helping of the restaurant's delicious beans was reduced to literally about three tablespoons. The addition of some salsa and the always-tasty tortillas made it such that I still enjoyed my plate. Still, for $6.89 plus tax and tip, I got probably two scrambled eggs, an ounce or two of chorizo, a few bites of beans, and a little puck of rice. The value proposition just wasn't quite as compelling.

Finally, one of the greatest culinary tragedies in my nearly four years in Durham. The salsa bar is gone!!!!!! No!!!!! The salsa bar was pretty much the reason I went to Lopez so often. With the chips, the wonderful nopales salsa, many fond memories were made. No longer. I spoke to the owner about this and he explained to me the story.

Apparently, a health inspector (everyone knows they're no fun), a new one, had an issue with it. Something about the lack of circulating air or something. So it's been 86'd. I'm just a bit skeptical, however, because on the menu they now sell many of their salsas for 79 cents each. Interesting. Perhaps too many people were just getting a couple tacos and they were losing money on the bar. Considering most of the other taquerias have similar salsa bars (if not as good) I wonder why Lopez in particular was singled out. Regardless of why, it's a tragedy.

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  1. Man that's a bummer. I haven't been in the past month probablly. Last time I went with some co workers I ordered the my usual 3 tacos and a coke, I really need to learn "the kind in the bottle" in Spanish, it would save me some grief. The waitress was pushing a the taco "special" which I had spied a sample of on the way in, the plate wrapped in plastic like you see at Torreros. I was 3 hard shell tortillas with the usual rice and beans sides. I stuck to my guns but one of the guys in my group wasn't really paying attention (add the language barrier in there too) and he got stuck with the special, not good.

    1. I felt much the same way. Their confusing combo platters seem like an imitation of Torero's or El rodeo. I was excited to hear about all-day-breakfast, but $6.89 sounds pretty expensive for what you actually get. Disappointing about the salsa bar!

      1. Disappointing to hear about the salsa bar at Lopez, I've been going there a lot lately. However, I recently found a great little taqueria in Cary near my workplace that has an EXCELLENT salsa bar - lots of really fresh cliantro, lime wedges, slaw, and various salsas including a great salsa verde.

        Its called "Taqueria Rancho Grande" and its at 1400 SE Maynard Road, in the same plaza as "Viva Thai".

        There is other discussion about Rancho Grande here:

        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/477754

        1. for awesome mexican breakfast as early as 9am! check out La Fondita, between big lots and compare...

          huevos rancheros, huevos a la mexicana, huevos con corizo
          Pollo machacado with egg, chilaquiles with egg
          awesome caldos!

          nice sized plates with beans, rice and salad...2 plates and 2 cafes generally run us about 13.00

          1. Just went to Tacqueria Lopez for the second time since the change (probably 10th overall) and have mixed feelings. The salsa bar was there, but with only two salsas (a green jalapeno one and an orangish one). Chips are now brought to the table (cold, with a burnt taste) and a flask of bland red salsa. Pico de gallo is available and as good as ever, but costs 79 cents extra. Everything seemed to need salt, which actually is a pretty good thing compared to most Mexican places.

            Still, it's a dirt cheap lunch (nearly everything is under $7). Refried beans were good, rice was cold. Tortillas are still home made and they bring quite a few. The waitresses don't speak English, but pointing to the now-huge menu works OK for ordering. They quit putting pineapple bits in the fajitas, thank goodness.

            For the size of the menu and the seemingly expanded number of tables, there wasn't anybody there (literally) at lunchtime on a weekday.

            10 Replies
            1. re: GoWVU

              Do yourself a favor and go over to Los Comales and order yourself a gordita-- or two if your really hungry. Unlike Lopez, be prepared to wait because they get busy at lunch but it's well worth it. Man, what a revelation this has been for me. As much as I like their tacos their gorditas are out of this world.

              1. re: bbqme

                Hmmmm. I've been through a health inspection or two, and with all due respect, that's bull(#&^. Their setup was fine, and I am sad that they changed it. They're probably just trying to figure out how to make money at what they're doing. One of the things we can do is let them know how unique it was and how much we miss it! Haven't tried the new menu, but will soon.

                1. re: josephin

                  I've made it very clear I want the salsa bar back. The problem is that most of the staff, except for the owner, don't really speak English. Therefore they look at me like I've got three heads (as opposed to the usual two).

                2. re: bbqme

                  I second bbqme's sentiment. Go to Los Comales, and order a gordita al pastor, or a huarache al cachete, or a corn quesadilla al barbacoa borrego. And make sure to add a papusa (awesome). But be prepared to never visit Lopez again.

                  1. re: sweetmung

                    What's the current scoop? Anyone been back lately?

                    I'm especially wondering about the mariachi band, which USED to play once a month, but calling to ask them helped not at all.

                    1. re: josephin

                      If you're after a mariachi band, check out El Custalteco (sp?) on Garrett Rd. I think they play Thursdays. Can anyone confirm that? They have good pupusas.

                      1. re: suse

                        El Cuscatleco - I copied and pasted that from their web site so it was spelled right. Now if I could only pronounce it, lol.

                        We went on either a Friday or Saturday a few months back and they had the mariachi band warming up when we left (we got there around 6:30, if I recall correctly).

                        Here's their menu:

                        http://www.elcuscatleco.com/menu.htm

                        1. re: suse

                          The mariachi band is definitely at El Custalteco is definitely there on Friday nights. Can be rather loud in the smallish space.

                      2. re: sweetmung

                        I agree that Taqueria Lopez has gone downhill since the menu expanded and the condiments bar disappeared.

                        I only realized the condiments bar was no more when I was served chips and salsa at the table then I turned around (I was seated facing the front door) to see there were diners at tables where the condiment bar used to be located.

                        The food is mediocre although it is still predominantly patronized by Mexicans. Portions might be big but the quality and authenticity? has gone and I won't be returning until things change (for the better I hope).

                        1. re: Chow Penguin

                          My co workers and I ate at the "old" Lopez quite a bit but have not been since the switch up. We went yesterday and were let down. Change it back, if we wanted El Rodeo we would have gone to El Rodeo. They might want to have more than one waitress too. I saw a large party get up and leave without getting their food because they had to get back to work. I'll agree it was really slow, 3 tacos really shouldn't take that long.

                  2. I agree with the main post about the salsa bar- sad to see it go, and I do hope something can be done to bring it back. Also, yes, the breakfast is pricey.

                    That said, I disagree with many of the complaints below. Yes, they've expanded the menu, but they still have the traditional fare as well. Plus, as one poster said below, you can't beat that price. I went for lunch today and got the fajita lunch special. Cost something like $6.50. For that, I got all the chips I could want, fresh tortillas, a mixture of beef, chicken & shrimp for the fajita, fresh guacamole, great other veggies, as well as rice and beans. You can't get that at El Rodeo or certainly not at the on- or near-Duke-campus price ripoffs like Armadillo Grill or Chipotle. This place rocks. And 20 lunch specials under $6? Call me a believer...
                    http://tacolopez.bravehost.com

                    Also, there's been a myth circulating on the internet that the original owner moved to the "Best Burrito" place across the street. However, the Lopez family most certainly is still there. Not sure where that started.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: affinis

                      I drove past Taqueria Lopez this past Friday night and there was a banner up on the storefront that read, "NOW OPEN". It also looked like there was a neon light in the window promoting espresso.

                      Is Lopez no more?!

                      1. re: ToothTooth

                        The have also taken down the Taqueria Lopez sign. The space is definitely in some sort of transition.

                        1. re: Lucydevil

                          Just had lunch there today (Jan 24, 2009) for the first time and was hoping for a decent meal based on some of the posts. I'm sorry to report that I was incredibly. Apparently the Taqueria Lopez is under "new management" and is now called Restaurant Lopez. I also heard one of the proprietors talking about moving locations soon, as the rent has been increased. I'm quite familiar with Austin, Texas "Tex Mex" and was desperately hoping for some great Queso (dip), fresh Pico de Gallo and decent burritos, etc. What we got took FOREVER (more than 45 minutes with only 6 other people in the restaurant), one dish was completely wrong, the temperature was off (some hot items were hot, others completely cold), the pico was mostly onions and cilantro--barely a tomato to be found, only one of the three agua frescas (they translate them as "fresh water") was available and the beans looked and tasted like they came straight out of a can. I was so very disappointed....