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A taste of home 

click to enlarge Not spicy enough? Many Latino restaurants offer entire salad bars of salsas, peppers and condiments to top their dishes. - PHOTO BY LISSA GOTWALS
  • Photo by Lissa Gotwals
  • Not spicy enough? Many Latino restaurants offer entire salad bars of salsas, peppers and condiments to top their dishes.
There is a pleasure to be gained from authentic, regional cooking that goes beyond the food itself. It is found in the sweet accents of the people who greet you at the door, in cherished photos on the walls that celebrate a place once called home, in the mysterious condiments that grace the table. It's like taking a trip and never leaving home. Think barbecue. What would a stranger from outside Eastern North Carolina, upon walking into Clyde Cooper's in Raleigh, make of squirt bottles filled with vinegar and peppers, a handful of fried pork rinds served up with every order, and tea so sweet it makes you cringe? Hopefully, they'd take a look around at the pictures of old Raleigh, and the regulars at the counter, and the folks who look like they were born behind it, and say there must be something good here to eat. And you know they'd be right.

That's the way to look at the down-home Latino restaurants that have sprung up all over the Triangle. For their regular customers, with murals and maps and travel posters, they're a taste of home. And they offer the rest of us the opportunity to better understand what life back home is like.

Then there's the food. I remember going into my first one eight or nine years ago and marveling at a shrimp cocktail served in a giant, fluted soda fountain glass swimming with camerones and cocktail sauce, and then trying a rich sopa de mariscos. Both were divine--fresh, homemade and distinctive. I was hooked.

We hope this issue takes away just enough of the mystery to entice you to try one or two of these restaurants. And if you're still uncertain, just look at the barbacoa as someone else's 'cue. --Richard Hart

¡Muy Rico!
The Triangle is becoming rich in native Latino restaurants that embrace real flavor and feel like home by Besha Rodell

Tequila pleasures
Some tequilas are for drunken marauders, and some are for connoisseurs by Besha Rodell

Beyond beer
There are lots of wines that go as well with spicy Latino food as beer, our intrepid WineBeat writer reports by Arturo Ciompi

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