If you’re a foodie in the Raleigh area, you’d have likely heard about High Horse, a restaurant from Top Chef alum Katsuji Tanabe that opened up in late 2019 at City Market. A stylish and trendy restaurant that focused on wood-fired dishes and brought a new LA sensibility to our food scene. However, timing is everything in life and the ensuing COVID pandemic took out many of our local restaurants, including High Horse. Fast forward three years later and Chef Tanabe was going to be making a comeback with the new A’Verde Cocina and Tequila Library in Cary. I had a pretty good feeling of what to expect after a pop-up dinner months earlier but was curious to see what he would do with a new space further out from downtown Raleigh.
A’Verde is located in a busy plaza right next to the popular Seol Grille (Korean BBQ) restaurant. Renovated from an old Wild Wing Cafe space, A’Verde has a somewhat utilitarian feel from the outside along with a nice, covered side patio. Inside, you’ll be greeted by some hostesses up front. Music leaking out from the speakers overhead, bar area with lounge to the left, and a large, open dining room in front of you. There’s a loud and lively feel to the space with a lot of activity and energy! Colors are predominantly spring greens and organic browns giving the space a garden-type feel.
As a more upscale Mexican restaurant, A’Verde has a creative and fun cocktail list, similar to High Horse. Choose from quirky, tongue-in-cheek names like Sponsor Me, #TakeMeBack alluding to Chef Tanabe’s Mexican roots. But what I can tell you for sure is that his cocktails tend to lean towards fruity and aromatic along with some visual flair. The Sponsor Me (Tanqueray, St. Elder, tequila, lime, lavender) comes with some dry ice and bubbles like a witch’s cauldron right in front of you. The #TakeMeBack mixes up passionfruit, tequila, sour mix, a wine float along with a mango-chile paleta dunked inside, a fun and filling cocktail. As you can guess, Chef Katsuji likes to show off a bit as you’ll find as you dine across the menu.
The menu at A’Verde is not wildly different for a Mexican restaurant offering tacos and enchiladas along with a handful of signature items. Given his part Asian heritage, Chef Katsuji also rolls in some Asian flavors and dishes such as the adobo fried rice, but the menu is primarily upscale Mexican. Over the course of my visits, I had the chance to try out a fun ceviche tostada. Marinated chunks of ahi tuna, serrano chiles, and lime juice layered between two crispy tostada shells. It’s a fun and substantial starter that gets your palate ready for the rest of the meal. But the big winner is A’verde’s Grandma’s cornbread which is a moist cornbread cooked up in a cast-iron pan and served up with honey-truffle butter, wonderful stuff!
For mains, A’Verde’s tacos are quite good, served on thick, soft blue corn tortillas with a good selection of sauces and fillings on the side. Enjoyed their pork belly tacos which were quite filling! On the list of showy dishes is the Ribeye, Shrimp and Bacon fajeetas (sic) which are finished table-side. A large cast-iron platter filled with the meats is seared with a flourish of flames and fire before serving. It’s a substantial entree but not substantially different than what’s served elsewhere.
Now if you’ve gotten this far in the meal and still have some appetite left, you won’t want to miss A’Verde’s desserts! Inexpensively priced at under $10, choose from an ube flan, tres leches cake, and the outrageous churros with nutella. The churros will easily serve two people and features a bowl of crisp, freshly fried churro pieces on top of a scoop of vanilla ice cream and served with a shower of nutella strings on top. A fun finish to your meal at A’Verde, that’s for sure, check out the video below!
While I will certainly miss High Horse, A’Verde offers some similar experiences but in a very different vibe. Given its location, A’Verde Cocina has a more suburban feel but also more authentic given Chef Katsuji’s background. The staff wears Mexican blouses and the decor highlights the experience as upscale Mexican, similar to what you might get at Centro in downtown Raleigh or maybe the old Jose and Sons. That being said, I still had a bit of a challenge wrapping my head around the prices for entrees at A’Verde which are on the high side. But if you enjoy higher-end Mexican eats and want some food and performance flair, you’ll enjoy your meal at A’Verde Cocina and Tequila Library. A’Verde now also serves brunch on the weekends if you want to try it out outside of dinner hours, enjoy!