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Posted by DID 19 Sep 2011 44 Comments

Nanataco is a nod to the traditional taqueria made more palatable for gringos from Scott Howell of Nana’s. Bright yellow walls, chalkboard menus, open garage doors, picnic tables – all make this an inviting space.

Nanataco offers burritos, nachos, tortas, salads, quesadillas, tacos, etc. They have a classic meat and a dirty meat menu. Their classic meats include garlic beef, pork butt, chicken, beef tongue, chorizo and grilled veggies. The dirty meats are duck confit, pork belly, hog jowl and lamb cheeks (these have an upcharge of 75 cents). You have a choice of corn or flour tortillas. Nanataco also has a salsa bar with cilantro, limes, jalapenos, radishes and three salsas – verde, chipotle and fresca.

I went with an order of 3 tacos for $6 – hog jowl, lamb cheeks and pork belly on corn. You can also add a side of beans and rice for $1.50. All of the tacos came on nice thick, seemingly housemade tortillas and topped with iceberg lettuce and tomato. I’m a taco traditionalist and just need cilantro and a squeeze of lime, but the lettuce/tomato was easy enough to remove. Hog jowl was my favorite – lean, not-too-greasy hunks of flavorful pork. The lamb cheeks taco was really unique – finely minced meat strongly spiced with cumin (I’m guessing) and peppers. If you dig lamb, you’ll be into these tacos. The pork belly was my least favorite, small hunks of dry pork belly lacking that rich, slow-roasted flavor that I’ve come to associate with pork belly.

Sitting with a table of sharers, I was also able to try the guacamole, fish tacos, a duck confit taco and a garlic beef taco. All of these were excellent. The fish tacos have large hunks of fried, flakey white fish topped with an excellent mango salsa. And the beef and duck tacos were overflowing with juicy meat and richly satisfying. Note: We did find a large bone in one of the duck confit tacos.

Nanataco offers a selection of bottled beers and $5 margaritas every day. We ordered margaritas both on the rocks and frozen and honestly, neither were great. Both tasted like a mix or just too much sour. Maybe this is due to first week and maybe due to the fact that we were there just an hour before closing on a Friday night. We also tried the mojito and it too seemed to be from a mix with only a sprig of fresh mint as a garnish. Will be interested to try them again.

Open just over a week, Nanataco still has some kinks to work out (a wrong drink delivery, guac came out long after food, wrong order) – but the staff is friendly, on it and quick to correct any mistakes.

Though I still prefer the tacos at La Vaquita just up the road for flavor and value, Nanataco does offer indoor seating and beer/cocktails. With its cool atmosphere and friendly staff, Nanataco is a nice addition to this side of town.

2512 University Dr
Durham, NC 27707
(919) 489-8226
Tue-Thu, Sun 11 am – 9 pm
Fri-Sat 11 am – 10 pm


  • DA said:

    We tried it out on Friday night. All of the food was fine, and the pricing was fairly inexpensive, but I’m just not sure I’d ever pick this one over any of the other 10 taquerias within 4-5 miles. Maybe they’re using better ingredients (OK, they’re definitely using better ingredients), and it’s probably more accessible to people who don’t speak Spanish or know much about authentic taquerias, but those are the only benefits I can think of.

    Also, the beer selection needs some help. Only mass-produced Mexican lagers. Nice nod to authenticity guys, but I’d rather drink good craft beer.


  • CJ said:

    I don’t like to be hard on places in their first week, but with the great taco scene in Durham, Nanataco is going to have to try harder. My margarita took 20 minutes, the grilled vegetable quesadilla was greasy, the pork tacos were so dry, and I am 99% sure the “sour cream” they gave me was mayonnaise. Even with booze, it just didn’t beat the Hope Valley Chubby’s when it came to flavor and service. We were pretty disappointed, but I do think we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and try it again so we can sample other parts of the menu.


  • Emily said:

    We also gave Nanataco a go this weekend. The interior is cheerful and charming and the staff were also – which goes a long way on a rainy night!

    Our food came out very quickly, followed by our margaritas. I had the three tacos, all garlic beef. They were quite good on their own! My dining companion had the three tacos – one shredded pork, the other two chicken. The pork was also delicious, however, the chicken wasn’t very flavorful. (It was very tender and well cooked, though.) Two of the salsas were great, although the salsa fresca left something to be desired. All of the components were there, but there was something missing – some spice, lime, or some ingredient just to tie everything together.

    The margaritas weren’t very good at all. They simply tasted sour and bitter. I’m sure with the feedback, these will improve over time!

    Worth noting – unless you are starving, hold off on ordering the basket of chips. Food comes out of the kitchen very fast and these aren’t necessary to hold you over. The meals come out with a handful of chips and you can get your own salsa at the bar!

    I, too, am hard-pressed to look further than La Vaquita for an authentic meal and friendly service. I would definitely go back to try it again if I am with a group and we want to sit down inside to enjoy our tacos and cocktails!


  • DGM said:

    We went a few days ago….The margaritas were pretty bad, very sour with not much sweetness. Everything else was pretty solid, I really enjoyed the burrito and the salsas…..and my wife really liked the fish tacos.

    The question is….will they stand up against Chubby’s or La Vaquita?


  • BurgerF said:

    I had the fish tacos, which were lovely. The guacamole was too bland and none of the salsas I tried had any kick. Spice it up please, Nanataco!

    The margarita I had there was lovely.

    I have never understood the hype around Chubby’s and think Nanataco is far superior.


  • postcard from durham: nanataco « Daily Devil said:

    [...] line of restaurants in this locale. Maybe this one will work, everyone loves tacos. Here’s a review from Carpe Durham, whose opinions are usually spot on. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailMoreStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe [...]

  • Naurnie said:

    I dug it. I really liked the house chorizo tacos… they’re my fave.


  • elsie said:

    I stopped by Nanataco on night #1. Reading the comments above, I feel obliged to say that I really liked the margarita (rocks) — to me it is a “mature” margarita — tart, dry. Very good.


    C replies on September 26th, 2011 at 4:45 pm:

    agree with the poster who liked the margarita (rocks). went on Saturday, and thought the margarita was refreshing (and an absolute bargain at $5). appreciated that it was not cloyingly sweet – by no means did we think it was too sour.
    we had a variety of tacos. the braised meats (tongue, lamb cheeks, etc) were all tender and appropriatly unctuous but lacked depth of flavor. liberal application of condiments did the trick, but would urge the guys in the kitchen to keep tinkering. thumbs up on the chorizo – plenty of flavor there. same for the beans – tried pinto and black – both were nicely seasoned and could easily stand on their own with some rice as nice, cool weather comfort food.
    best i’ve ever said about chubbies is that it beats Moe’s … nanataco is on track to up the bar on easy, affordable mex-ish food considerably.


  • owr said:

    Went this past weekend. We were impressed with the garlic steak burrito and the chorizo fundido, but were really impressed with the mexican chocolate milkshake (with bananas added). We also had the chicken tacos but found them fairly bland. Overall, though, good food and good atmosphere.


  • beebs said:

    Went yesterday afternoon (3 pm) for the fish tacos, which were good (grilled corn tortillas instead of fried; both are an option) — Black beans were good, well cooked. However, must say the rice accompaniment was NOT cooked through — crunchy! And not meant to be! They have to learn how to cook the rice.


  • christian said:

    I stop to take a look at nanataco i though the tacos were good but the had a big mistake the tortillas are not handmade they just buy it at probably in an hispanic store the only good authentic mexican restaurant is la salamandra im a frecuent customer and i decide to take a look at nanatacos but it wasn’t good i think everybody should try la salamandra instead of nanatacos


    lmarie replies on September 28th, 2011 at 8:34 pm:

    Not that many restaurants make corn tortillas by hand and if you’re so worried about where they bought it, why not ask?? Also, punctuation is your friend.


    lbd replies on September 28th, 2011 at 9:25 pm:

    Just a wild guess but I think christian might be affiliated with La Salamandra? Nanataco’s tortillas are made in house.


    DGM replies on September 28th, 2011 at 9:47 pm:

    Im sorry, but I would take Nanataco over La Salamandra any day.


    JMD replies on October 1st, 2011 at 11:36 am:

    I’m sorry, but I would take La Salamandra over Nanataco any day.


  • LK said:

    What about vegetarian options?


    C replies on October 4th, 2011 at 1:54 pm:

    veggie options, if memory serves, are grilled veggies, vegetarian black beans, guacamole. No tofu … but i bet if the demand is there, they will add it … we went for a second visit on saturday afternoon. they’ve continued to refine the margaritas. Fresh lime juice, fresh OJ and tequila. really refreshing and just the right balance of sweet and tart. my husband had the big daddy’s burrito (hog jowl, chorizo and some kind of beef, i think?) and the pork and beef had a lot more flavor than on our first visit (when we sampled an assortment of tacos). i tried the chicken mole. the breast meat was a little dry (as is often the case with rotisserie chicken) but that’s my only nit to pick – the chicken was flavorful (a hint of smoke, i think) and the mole sauce was pretty darn good for a taco joint – just a touch of heat, lots of nice, warm spices and for sure some dark chocolate notes in there. ridiculously priced at $8 for half a chicken, rick and beans, corn tortillas and some tortilla chips. it feels like this place is very much on an upward trajectory … next question will be whether, unlike rockwood and fish shack, they can maintain the quality over time. i certainly hope so!


  • Blue Law said:

    This is great! Lets take all the Roxboro Rd. restaurants and make them easily accessible!! No need for Super Taqueria, Mama Nori’s (I grabbed some to-go on a brief stop in town, and took it to friend four hours away..good sh*t), or that one place with all the mirrors and the salsa bar, kitty-korner from the dollar store (?los comales?).

    I’m glad Durham has a Mexican place for white people now.

    No need for the pinches güeros go where the menu isn’t in English.

    I’m in S.A. TX ..where your uhmm FLOUR tortillas hit the grill right before your food does. Yes, they’re full of lard and delicious.

    On Tuesday, if you buy a whole chicken for 12.99 with 2 sides and homemade tortillas..you get a half a chicken for free.

    It might be Organically Labeled Local Chicken even, like the herd of them in my neighbor’s yard. My dog will bring me home one soon for testing.

    but as an afterthought
    I wish I had a chicken liver/caramelized onion Rockwood Pizza right now.


    Blue Law replies on October 6th, 2011 at 5:56 am:

    Note: This is just commentary. I have not tried the food at this establishment. It is prolly’ pu-rty good. Nanas is one of the best in Durham.


  • lmarie said:

    There are plenty of us who very much enjoy the Roxboro restaurants. God forbid people actually try multiple restaurants in Durham and then comment about them – what an odd concept on a food blog. Save your racist rant for another website Blue Law.


    judas_escargot replies on October 6th, 2011 at 10:36 am:

    What was racist about it?


    Nines replies on October 6th, 2011 at 3:26 pm:

    I think the implication that white people won’t go eat at the other Mexican places around town could very well be considered a racist statement.


    judas_escargot replies on October 7th, 2011 at 7:53 am:

    Seems a bit hyper-sensitive, but okay I’ll buy it.

    lbd replies on October 8th, 2011 at 9:11 am:

    Racist maybe but probably true. I love the places on Roxboro Street but there have been times when telling (trying to enlighten) others about them I will get a “look” from some folks. The look usually conveys “you’re crazy and I’m never setting foot in any of those places”. Sad but true.

    Blue Law replies on October 8th, 2011 at 11:10 am:

    Ha! If any racism was implied it was directed towards Caucasians, and they deserve it, pinche güero.

    With that logic, you probably think anyone who didn’t vote for Obama is racist.

    Nines replies on October 8th, 2011 at 10:06 pm:

    Ibd – maybe that just means you need better friends.

    Blue – I don’t understand your logic. Comparing your original statement about Nanataco to your statement about Obama says to me that you are saying that, just like not everyone who voted against Obama did so because he is black, not every white person who avoids the other Mexican places around town does it because they are run by Hispanic people. So, if that isn’t the reason, why would Nanataco be a place for white people?

  • C said:

    speaking of Rockwood Pizza, am I the only one who thinks the quality at Pop’s Backdoor has slippped? sometimes it’s still pretty good, other times it’s a soggy mess, and i can discern no pattern to the swings in quality. We’ve had much better luck with PiePushers … and they are slinging pies out of a damn truck for god’s sake.


    Donny replies on October 7th, 2011 at 2:42 pm:

    The last time I ate at Pop’s downtown I counted over 7 times where I saw an employee in the kitchen either eating, touching their face or playing with a cell phone. The last time I ate at Pop’s backdoor the pizza I received from the surly staff member was sub par at best. I’m eager to try out Rockwood.


    Nines replies on October 7th, 2011 at 4:34 pm:

    If you are going to try our Rockwood, you are going to need a time machine.


    Pizzamyfav replies on October 12th, 2011 at 2:40 pm:

    I thought I was the only one who has had horrible experiences at Pop’s Backdoor b/c everyone raves about it! Not only is the service awful, but yes, the pizza is always soggy and messy. The last time I was there they forgot part of my order. after I asked them where it was (20 minutes later), they resubmitted my order and 55 minutes after I put in my original order, it f-i-n-a-l-l-y came out. The part that put me over the top was the server never apologized and made me feel like it was my problem they didn’t put in my whole order to begin with… I wouldn’t go back there if they gave their pizza away for free.

    The good news is, “the real” Pop’s still has it going for them- I am a big fan of that place.


    Heather replies on November 10th, 2011 at 7:53 pm:

    I agree…one of the most over-rated restaurants in Durham, I have gone back 3 maybe 4 times wanting it to be good…but sadly the food is always disappointing and there seems to be a strange staff culture. And what exactly is “the real” Pop’s?


  • christina said:

    We went to Nanotaco last night around 7:30 pm for the first time. It was VERY busy. We waited around 30 mins for our food, but I think we knew this would happen based on how busy it was. I think the establishment is very attractive on the inside, but the delivery system is slightly flawed. They had one server who had to shout everyone’s name to bring them their food – I just felt awful for the server who was in a frenzy for the whole time I was there. It was definitely not his fault – the restaurant was loud-ish and most people couldn’t hear their names being called.

    I think they need to work on designing how they serve individuals. Maybe make it more similar to how Q-shack does it, or hire more servers.

    As far as the food – I really wanted to LOVE it. I’m a huge fan of Nana’s and tacos in general. These aren’t bad, but aren’t amazing either. Maybe coming from Austin,TX, I have a bit of a taco bias.

    Here’s what I ate:

    3 tacos (all came with pico and lettuce on top):

    rotisserie chicken – this was the blandest. Would not get that again.

    garlic steak – mine had huge chunks of fat in it. Too big to chew. basically cartilage. I couldn’t finish that one.

    Pulled pork – this was the best!! It tasted delicious.

    I also got rice and beans. I appreciated they had veggie black beans for vegetarians. The rice was ok.

    I loved all three of their salsa – the pico de gallo was well seasoned and not bland. The red one had a very smokey, unique flavor. The salsa verde was creamy and yummy.

    My SO and I would probably go back at a quieter time and try different things. There burritos looked great.


    Nines replies on October 10th, 2011 at 11:32 am:

    We also stopped by on Saturday and did not account for the type of crowd that tends to visit eating establishments after the beerfest. In hindsight, it was a bad time to go.


    christina replies on October 13th, 2011 at 11:30 am:

    Good point!


  • LJW said:

    The tortas are amazing! The jalapeno mayo has just the right kick and I love the fresh cilantro they add on the sandwich. I like it best with pork butt or chicken. And for $6 its easily two meals.


  • C said:

    So we went back for a third (maybe fourth?) visit on Friday night and were hugely disappointed. I had the (grilled) fish tacos – the approximately two ounces of nondescript white fish were bland and overcooked. Lettuce, poor quality tomatos and a bit of chopped pineapple and jalepeno salsa did nothing to redeem that awful fish. To make matters worse, the corn tortillas hadn’t been grilled or otherwise warmed, they were cold and unappealing – definately not made in house and mosat likely prepackaged. The black beans, which i have raved about on prior visits, were undistinguishable from progresso’s canned version. My husband had the big daddy’s burrito and said it was skimpier and far less tasty than the last time he ordered. Mostly filled with rice. The fresh salsa at the salsa bar was made with typical (pitiful) supermarket tomatoes, the fresh cucumber salad was limp and the margaritas have devolved into typical low budget mexican sour mix with a splash of tequila. The tortilla chips apppeared to be Lays’ finest. My fear is that scott howell is up the the same tricks as with Rockwood and Fish Shack – start strong then a quick descent into mediocrity. That would be a shame … Nanataco management take note – IT’s NOT TOO LATE but one more visit like that, and we’ll stick with Chubby’s – equally mediocre but closer to home and far less crowded. Oh and did i mention that they had the front overhead doors opened so that it was a brisk 55 degrees inside? not exactly conducive to a pleasant dinner – we sat bundled up in jackets and couldn’t wait to finish and leave.


  • Sharon said:

    Boy, do I miss the Fish Shack!! Ate at Nanataco once; only missed the Fish Shack more. Agree–Chubby’s and all the Roxboro Rd authentic taquerias are the better option.


  • maiz said:

    Went there the other night and don’t get why aome people are so high on this place, if you want tacos there’s nothing like La Vaquita and Burritos there’s is nothing like Cosmic Cantina!!! i guess i tried it because i live closer to nanataco but it is worth the trip to cosmic for a burrito and or a quesadilla.


  • Snapjack said:

    I have to agree this place has been a disaster since they closed down the pizza place. The Fish Shack was terrible too.


  • J_Ronn said:

    I really enjoy the Big Daddy burrito and the chorizo tacos.. oh, and the Mexican chocolate milkshake… yum!


  • lmarie said:

    We went this weekend (after a 6 month absence) and were happy with the changes to the menu and layout. The nachos are yummy :)

    I stopped in this afternoon to put in a to-go order. The restaurant was packed – full tables, long line – and I tried in vain to find a place to wait for my order. I finally gave up and waited up front only to be berated by the guy up front (wanna be hipster with over-sized glasses) to the point that I started crying. He asked me “what I wanted” and “why I was in the way.” When I told him that I had tried to wait elsewhere but kept getting run into and inquired where else I was supposed to go – this place is TINY – he didn’t have an acceptable answer and continued to treat me horribly. I have NEVER been talked to like that, especially not in a restaurant.

    Bottom line – poor service cannot be ignored and we will not be returning!! These guys need some serious training. When I go there, I know it will be crowded, busy, and I will get jostled – if I can accept that, why can’t their workers?


  • Katie said:

    I must say that despite driving past this place after living off of Hope Valley Road for almost 2 years, I just noticed it a few months ago. I have only been there 3 times, and every time I order the same thing. I get the rotisserie chicken torta and a Mexican chocolate milkshake. The first time I ordered the sandwich it was spicy, which is fine with me either way. On my second visit, I stopped strictly for a milkshake and I guess since it was so late at night they were “out” (whatever that means). The guy working at the counter, I believe his name is Robert, or something similar, did offer me a free soda instead, which I thought was very nice. The third visit I ordered another chicken torta and a milkshake. My sandwich was not nearly as spicy, and despite the bread kind of falling apart before I could take the second bite, it was still great. When I think of rotisserie chicken, I think of Boston Market. This was not at all like that. It was almost like crock pot chicken in a sort of tomato-y sauce. The milkshake is awesome, with its little chunks of chocolate and hint of cinnamon. I have yet to try the spicy version of this, but hope to on my next visit. From my personal experience the customer service is great, although I do feel slightly rushed when I am ordering, due to the long line behind me, but maybe that’s just me… My only complaint would be, agreeing with previous comments, that this place is extremely small and when you order something to go you feel as if you are in the way because there is really nowhere to stand and wait. Overall, I think this place is great and have heard from a friend that the duck tacos were very good. I will definitely return, and maybe for once try something different.


  • possible service said:

    Chicago Classifieds ads…

    Nanataco | Carpe Durham…

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