When you talk about Mexican and Latin American fare, Gonza Tacos y Tequila has been a long-time favorite up in N. Raleigh. But its location was just too far away to make it worthwhile to me for a visit. Flash-forward to this past week and this rapidly expanding Mexican chain has finally moved downtown in a brand spanking new location at the Aloft Hotel. So it was time to FINALLY see what Gonza Tacos y Tequila is all about…
Located on a busy corner of Hillsborough Street, parking is quite limited for a visit but be aware that Gonza has a retail/hotel private lot behind the building off of Maiden Lane. Once you find parking, you’ll be dazzled by what lies behind the doors of Gonza. An innocuous and discrete frontage opens into a kaleidoscope of colors and decor.
The rustic interior is amped up with an Andy Warhol-like Dia de los Muertos portraiture, modern wine bar area and a turquoise blue mural behind the bar. Bright star-shaped lights twinkle above and the front face of Gonza opens up to the sidewalk outside. Very well-designed space with a lot of color and charm.
I grab a seat at the bar and peruse the lunch menu which is pretty tight. I order up some queso ($5) and carnitas tacos ($11). Chips and salsa are also brought out for lunch and it’s a solid rendition. Looking around the Gonza dining room, the place is already quite busy in their 2nd week of being opened so I’m guessing they must have a pretty good reputation!
My tacos come out next, served on a long platter with leaf underneath and a side of rice. The tacos come with a single corn tortilla and are nicely stuffed but a bit small. Sprinkle of onion and cilantro on top with a side of green tomatilla sauce. The tacos are tasty with some fattiness underneath which I’d expect for carnitas. Pretty basic and par for the course, the rice is made with a bit of cilantro (I think) and corn for some extra flavor and color.
Service at the bar was excellent but hey, I was sitting with their marketing manager so no shock there and I was unexpectedly comp’ed for my lunch. In the end, I like what they’re doing here but need to come back for a re-visit and see if they’re willing to push the food and spice envelope a bit more. And for lunch it was a bit pricey for what you get but the lease here has got to be some money, eh?
My concern is that when you get a great-looking place like they new Gonza Tacos, the food and flavors get sanitized a bit to appeal to a broader, upscale audience. And Latin American food needs to have a punch of earthiness, spice and flavors in my opinion. So right now Gonza is getting four stars for me leaning on their decor and service more than their food. We’ll see how visit #2 plays out!