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Jul 4, 2012 10:26 PM

Mateo, downtown Durham

I'm eagerly awaiting the opening of Mateo. To my mind, there's no bigger hole in the Durham food scene than Spanish. (Top notch Italian would run a close second.) Just noticed Mateo has a twitter feed, and there's a rudimentary website online:

No menu posted yet, but I have high hopes for this place. They've tweeted some pics of the evolving interior, and it looks like it's coming along. Some nice lighting in place, along with a very Durhamesque stamped tin ceiling.

The webpage promises an opening of Summer 2012, so hopefully they won't be too far off schedule.

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  1. If it will be summer 2012, I'd imagine they are going to be shooting to closer to labor day. Taberna is the only thing right now in central durham serving anything resembling Spanish food. I think Spanish food is lacking throughout the triangle. The thing with Mateos is seeing what the menu will be like as the concept is Spanish tapas with a southern influence which to me just says small plates. To be fair, Chef Kelley did take a week or so long trip with Ashley Christiansen and some others over to Spain and hit up some big players like Arzak and Mugaritz as well as the pintxos and tapas places of Madrid and Barcelona. The thing that people don't get in the states is the tapas is more than just the food. Aside from that yes we are lacking places that do Paella right or cabrito or roasted suckling pig or cocido.

    To note, there are a priveledged few who have been shown the proposed menu and been sworn to secrecy. I am not one of those lucky few.

    1. Very interesting! Looks to me like this will be an exciting new place! I'm really looking forward to trying them!

      1. Whenever my eyes see "small plates" or "tapas" it registers in my brain as "big bill." But I'll try to keep an open mind...

        21 Replies
        1. re: bbqme

          It's unfortunate, but it's often true. We get tapas all wrong here, starting with where they are served. Here tapas is restaurant fare, where in Spain, it's pub-grub. I don't think I spent more than $5 for a tapa in Spain, and the vast majority were just a couple a bucks. I've rarely seen a tapa for less than $8 in the States. I don't understand why the true Spanish formula isn't imported here. Wines by the glass, inexpensive finger food, what's not to like?

          1. re: dinersaurus

            because the materials used in the tapas of spain are fresh and closer to the source and the economy is different there... *shrugs* I don't know.

            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

              Or maybe because people are used to eating huge portions in the USA and don't get the whole idea of just having a few bites with a glass of wine? Also shrugging and saying "I don't know." But I agree with you that it is unfortunate.

              1. re: LulusMom

                But is a few bites offered as a choice anywhere? Not that I know of.

                1. re: bbqme

                  Agreed. But a place that calls itself a tapas place (which I don't think Mateo is planning to do) should.

                  1. re: LulusMom


                    The website says it all.. mateostapas ;-) He is taking the concept of tapas and the concept of southern cuisine and going to try and mix the two in some fashion.

                    1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                      Huh, you're absolutely right if it says that. I was very much under the impression that they were trying to do a regular Spanish menu.

                  2. re: bbqme

                    What is 6 plates offering? I wanted to add that another factor that often doesn't add to the tapas culture here is that tapas were born and brought up in spain. You can literally find hundreds of tapas bars in a given radius. It's like finding places here that serve beer or fast food also the layout of cities in most of the US aren't conducive to walking around to go to a bunch of tapas places. A lot of it is cultural and how the civilization came into being I think.

                  3. re: LulusMom

                    I'm sure that you're right, culture has a lot to do with it as we're just not used to it or expect it here. But, any bar that offered up a number of $1 or $2 bites with drinks would get my business. And these bites need not be terribly fancy or expensive to make. Many of the pinxtos that I've encountered weren't very complicated and looked like they would be pretty cheap to create in bulk.

                    Anyway, I wish Chef Kelly the best with the new venture. I love Vin Rouge and am anxious to see his concept. But, being a restaurant, he'll have to pay the bills, so while I bet he'll make some tasty things, it still won't be the tapas experience that those da** Spanards (my envy is coming out here) get to take for granted at their favorite local watering hole.

                2. re: dinersaurus

                  I haven't eaten there yet so I can't tell you how the food is, but Vinos Finos y Picada in North Raleigh seems to have "real" tapas. The menu's not huge but it's a start and the dishes are inexpensive.

                  1. re: libeerian

                    I agree. I have not eaten there but a lot of their offerings and especially the bacon wrapped dates.. I have seen in other places.

                    Dinersaurus - yes spanish tapas and pintxos are always simple and fresh..

                    1. re: libeerian

                      I've went to Vinos Finos y Picada a few times last year. It looks like they have changed the menu a bit. I had a charcuterie plate which was decent. I've had better but this was acceptable. I tried an empanada, but don't see the variety on the current menu - it was just ok. Nice pastry, but the rest lacked flavor. The atmosphere is cozy yet has some sophistication. Some spots are private, some are more social. Nice spot to have a glass, nibble and socialize. If you do want a quiet chat, check their events first. We got caught in the midst of Tango lessons and that changed the dynamics of the spot a bit! Service at that time was pleasant and friendly but lacking knowledge about the menu. That was a few months after they had opened, so I suspect the staff has gained experience.

                      That said, I'd go again.

                      1. re: libeerian

                        I have heard many good things about Tasca Brava in Raleigh. Not just tapas, but I understand that you can just order them if you like.


                        1. re: meatn3

                          We have, too. Just waiting for the right time to get a sitter and head over there.

                          1. re: meatn3

                            OH GOOD GOD. This is my first really critical review, I think. Bad. Bad. Bad. Experience.

                            We went to Tasca Brava last night. My first - and last - time.

                            Just to start, the entire experience took forever --- we were there from 8:15 - 11:15. If you asked for bread - even have to ask 3 times - you are SOL. The only thing you can get is water they want to push on you. "Still" does not equal tap water, which equals another charge on your bill.

                            As far as wine goes, we were told my selection was a "killer" but I had to hunt the guy down to get a second glass and he never came back to the table to refill anyone's wine glasses.

                            So, you should imagine that a place that uses copious amounts of salt in EVERYTHING, you would imagine the purpose is to get your to drink more. But, in reality, they just want to cover up the flavors and make you so damn thirsty.

                            The waiter/owner never answered honestly to a direct question unless you are ready to hear a 10 minute dissertation about how something is being made, but miserably fails.

                            As far as the food goes, one appetizer of 4 shrimp arrived in sauce and on crostada, but -- for some freaking reason still had the shell on it, as well as all of the little shrimp feet. So that means having to peel it and getting the sauce all over your fingers, etc. The melted cheese in bread appetizer was so salty that it was basically inedible.

                            The empanadas were the appetizer special. But not so special after all. They were the size of a half-dollar and deep fried in some vastly inferior pastry. The beef - of which I ordered one chicken and one beef, but got 2 beefs - was so spicy it was inedible, and on top of it, I had specifically asked this for my entree, but was brought out early with the other appetizers. Later, it is my opinion, the same empanadas were put back in the deep fryer to reheat. That is what it tasted like,anyway, for the 2 bites I had before setting them aside. At 10:30 at night having ordered not a long time after we got there at 8:15.

                            We were a table of 6. My BF ordered the pork tenderloin with rice and goat cheese sauce. The pork DEFINITELY WAS NOT MADE THE DAY OF SERVICE. I tasted as well and it tasted like it was 2 days ago. To make us wait almost 2 hours for the entree and to get an entree that was so obviously pre-made and dry is the most pathetic experience I have ever had. It was utterly dry and tough and -- well, I don't know what else to say about how miserable it was.

                            The replacement grouper, though in taste better, there was every indication of it having been pre-made as well. So, if everything is pre-made, why did this night from hell take 3 hours? Take me out of my misery and give me the bill. BUT WAIT - THERE IS MORE....

                            Basically, I am putting up with no service, hours of waiting, lousy food, but I am not putting up with the request of an itemized bill.

                            So, for our table of 6, the over-charging was $378, including a 20% gratuity from a persona that took forever and insulted us and left us thirsty and starving and never brought us the semblance of a snack of bread while we were waiting interminably. This bill must have included a 150% sitting tax.

                            Although everyone had an entree except for me, the idea of basically charging me $60 for 2 glasses of wine and 4 shrimp with shells on it is the epitome of horrible customer service and trying to figure out ways to run customers out of his restaurant. (My BF's point of view from a fellow past-restauranteur of the waiter/owner is "I cannot trust anybody and I want to push and BS all my customers and forget about getting a precise answer about your food or bill. I am the fox, you are the chicken. Come in and get devoured. See you next time."

                            I love to go out to eat and enjoy almost any type of cuisine. I think this is the first critical review I have posted. I can be extremely forgiving, especially when the restaurant makes amends in some way with their customer service. That was not at all the case here. Not even a little bit.

                            The reason why we did this review is either to improve the restaurant or to warn you about it. Now you know what you get. Feel free to say I am wrong.

                            1. re: Tehama

                              What a horrid evening.

                              I still have never gotten around to trying them. The wait, over billing and attitude you experienced does not make me inclined to move them to the top of my "to try" list.

                              1. re: Tehama

                                Ummm why is this in a post about Mateo's? I think I would have tried Tasca Brava back about 5-6 years ago when they had a huge menu and weren't on Glenwood South.

                                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                  Ummm, if you read several posts back you will see that there had been some discussion about other tapas options in the Triangle. Tasca Brava was mentioned.

                                  Did you try it prior to the move to Glenwood South? How has the menu changed? What made it better at the old location?

                                  BTW, I heard a whisper that Ashley Christensen is looking at a few Glenwood South locations...any word?

                                  1. re: meatn3

                                    Oh didn't realize that. I knew there was a tapas discussion thread but thought it was separate. My apologies. I hadn't tried either time, but I thought I recall the menu being longer and a bit more authentic. I have no need to try it now since Mateo and given the review.

                                2. re: Tehama

                                  Tehama, sorry you had such a bad experience. Tasca Brava is certainly a wild card. It can be pretty good at times (my first experience there was great), others less so. The deal breaker for many seems to be the owner/maitre d/waiter/busboy/prima donna. His presence can be a bit... stiffing at times. It can make for a weird experience, which is why I'm in no hurry to return.

                                  On another note, after a few repeat trips now to Mateo, I love it.

                              2. re: libeerian

                                Thanks for the mention of Vinos Finos and the support. Hope you can come by and check out our updated menu. We are in Lafayette Village.

                          2. From my twitter friends in the know...

                            "And not to be outdone, Durham has had some updates to several ventures in the pipeline. The first is from the team over at Vin Rouge which will be opening Mateo Tapas, at the end of this month, first of August. Check out their website here. "

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                              I really, really, really hope they have some anchovy/boquerones pinxtos! Every tapas bar we went to in Spain had some kind of yummy, but simple, boquerones dish. I have tried to find marinated boquerones here in the U.S. without any luck, and ordering them online is very expensive!

                              The facebook pictures of the ham legs hanging from the ceiling got me very excited for their opening!

                            2. I feel like I heard August 8 was the opening (not sure if this is correct). Anyone going?

                              16 Replies
                              1. re: LulusMom

                                I'm interested in it for sure, but I'm apt to let the excitement die and try to figure out kid friendliness. (She's almost three so we only take her out for lunch and EARLY dinners, and never to places where we feel like we'd disturb people.)

                                1. re: LulusMom

                                  Does anyone know if it is, in fact, August 8th (today)? If so maybe already booked to the teeth, but I might take Lulu for an early dinner.

                                  1. re: LulusMom

                                    you can make a reservation on for tonight, so it looks like it. i'm headed there tomorrow night, let us know how it is!

                                    1. re: cervisiam

                                      If we go, we'll definitely report. Can't wait to hear what you think. How exciting.

                                      1. re: LulusMom

                                        Local food freak Joe Kwon posted a bunch of food pictures to his twitter account last evening. Seems that these photos are from yesterday's invitation only event, the second one that Mateo has hosted this week. Everything looks delicious. Just scroll backwards starting with this photo:


                                      2. re: cervisiam


                                        Do you already have plans with others or would you like to join my group at 615?

                                        1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                          oh! thank you for the offer - i'm taking a friend whose due date is this weekend, so it's her last hurrah. we have to go after our kids' bedtimes, so we may run into you all :)

                                          1. re: cervisiam

                                            I saw you there, but didn't want to interrupt. In fact, we were practically back to back as I was sitting at one of the middle row highboy tables with two others.

                                      3. re: LulusMom

                                        Yes they are open tonight. I'm going with a group tomorrow if I can put it on the books.

                                        1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                          We may be ships passing in the night, if I decide it is worth the drive on my own. LulusDad is out of town and the babysitter comes at 5 (and I promise her I'll be home by 7:30). Lulu turned her nose up at this for tonight, for whatever reason. Anyone know if they have a bar I can cuddle up to for dinner if I go on my own?

                                          1. re: LulusMom

                                            when i passed there two weeks ago and peered in the window, I think I remember seeing a bar in there. You may want to call this afternoon just to double check :)

                                              1. re: LulusMom

                                                Lulus Mom - Did you go? If not would you like to come tonight at 6:15?

                                                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                  I didn't end up going last night - Lulu was in the mood for middle eastern food, and so we took the easy route and went to Tallula's. I'm still considering going tonight, but unfortunately I'd likely be halfway through my dinner by 6;15 if I do. Babysitter expects me home by 7:30 which would mean leaving by 7:10 latest. But if i see you, I'll drop by to say hello to you and the lovely Mrs. BF. Thank you very much for the kind offer. I can't wait to hear what people think.

                                                  1. re: LulusMom

                                                    Mrs. BF won't be there. Going with others.

                                                    1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                      I ended up at Kitchen's bar. Can't wait to hear about mateo.