A delicious Veracruz-style seafood soup, brimming with fresh fish and shellfish,
is a surprise hit at Taqueria Lopez on Hillsborough Street in Durham.
The burnished Caldo de 7 Mares—“soup of the 7 seas”—comes to the table, bristling with antennas, spiky fins and claws. Plump langostinos crowd the peppery red-gold broth alongside small shrimp, succulent crab claws, mussels in the shell, and a meaty tilapia head. The fish and shellfish are sweet and fresh, the sopa de mariscos is briny, spiked with tomato and a touch of hot chile. No aioli, of course, but who cares when you’re eating an authentically delicious seafood soup that’s come almost a thousand miles from home?
Home would be Veracruz, on Mexico’s east coast, one of my favorite eating and hanging out cities. And even though owner Alberto Lopez serves great tacos, tortas, quesadillas, and the most flavorful handmade corn tortillas, it’s clear that his first love is the briny soups and other seafood that top the menu at the eight-month-old Taqueria Lopez in Durham. So even though I was dubious—how good could seafood be at a Mexican café occupying an ex-pizza joint in a nearly defunct shopping center?—I let Alberto talk me into ordering his heart’s delight. I loved the soup--and everything else we ordered, from tacos laden with savory chorizo and carne asada (grilled marinated beef) to the huge. frosty, salt-rimmed glasses of Tecate beer. Everyone else was drinking Micheladas—ice-cold beer laced with hot sauce, lime and Lea & Perrins—and next time I will too.
Two kinds of tacos--al pastor (with sweet and savory pork) and asada (with grilled
marinated beef)--are wrapped in homemade tortillas and garnished with cilantro,
onion, radish and a roasted serrano pepper.
Taqueria Lopez is one of five not-so-well-known Durham Latino eateries that appear in the September, 2007 issue of Gourmet. In “Carolina Cocina” (pp.31-36), contributing editor Colman Andrews sates his prodigious appetite sampling endless platters of barbacoa, tacos al pastor, sweet tamales stuffed with roasted chiles and white cheese, and much, much more. All this good food has come with the 570,000 Latinos who’ve moved to North Carolina over the last 20 years—and the cooks who’re dishing up memories of Oaxaca, Veracruz and other points south for their homesick customers.
There were very few anglos at Taqueria Lopez today, but I expect that will change. Here’s the info on the five Durham restaurants in “Carolina Cocina." And to read more about Vera Cruz, see Travel Diary--V eracruz in the Categories column. You might start with my trip to the fish market and a recipe for sea bass in tomatillo salsa.
2105 N. Roxboro Rd.
111 S. Alston St.
2842 N. Roxboro Rd.
3438 Hillsborough Rd.
Taqueria La Vaquita
2700 Chapel Hill Road