While the S. Glenwood neighborhood has always been known for fun bars, lively clubs and friendly pubs, good food was always tougher to find. There are some half-decent options for dining but not as many as you would expect on this popular and busy street. So when I heard that Cortez Seafood + Cocktail was coming to S. Glenwood, I was pretty pumped! Brought to you by the Ibarra family that runs Jose and Sons along with several other Mexican restaurants in the area, Cortez would be taking over the old Helios space next to Solas. And since I live in the neighborhood, I was able to watch its build out over the months. Thankfully, I received and invite from the Ibarra family to preview Cortez Seafood as it was in its final shake-down run before its opening. And it was a great experience, here’s how it all went down!
Ambiance and interior at the Cortez Seafood + Cocktail, Raleigh
Heading on over to 413 S Glenwood, the first thing you’ll notice is that the patio area at Cortez Seafood has been opened up. Previously a wall of hedges to provide privacy, the lovely patio is now more visible from the street and sidewalk making for a more inviting destination and dining location. The staff at Cortez is decked out in more traditional black slacks and white shirts. I check in at the small hostess kiosk up front and head on over to the bar to wait for friends.
At the bar I get a chance to scan Cortez Seafood’s menu for the evening. Given it’s a friends and family night, there are no prices and it may not be the official menu for the public opening but it should give you a good idea about their food concept. Raw oysters, seafood salads, some larger plates and sides along with a short selection of wine, beer and cocktails! So you need to be a seafood lover outside of a handful of dishes with meat.
Cortez Seafood seats about 70 people in the dining room and on the patio. The dining room is clean and gives a Mediterranean feel with the turquoise leather bench seating, chamfered table tops and chairs along with speckled floor. It all feels very comfortable, open and stylish, very nicely done on the interior. With about 12 seats at the bar you’ve got some good seating options depending on the weather. My hungry friends show up ( including Kristen, @gadaboutfood) and we’re seated at a 4-top and ready to eat!
Food and menu at the Cortez Seafood + Cocktail, Raleigh
We start off with a plate of raw NC oysters on ice served with rose mignonette and cocktail sauce. These bivalves are beautifully briny with the pure taste of the ocean. Raleigh’s been on an oyster roll of late, don’t miss these! Our next small plate is the wonderful cold, poached shrimp. These plump shrimp are paired with tzatziki and some dill making for a bright and light bite, loved this fresh starter plate of shrimp. The dill really pops out on the palate and pairs perfectly with the seafood.
My friend has ordered up a beautiful mackerel gazpacho that’s full of color and texture. I’ve always been impressed with Chef Oscar’s food at Jose and Sons and I think you’ll see the same great preparation and plating here at Cortez Seafood. And it will be interesting to see what he comes up with, moving into a different category and cuisine of foods! But I have full faith he will dazzle your taste-buds like he usually does. The leche de tigre consists of yellow tail in an aji sauce and mixed with corn nuts, red onion, and avocado. Very creative and a bit creamy. We finish up with a yellowtail poke nori served with crunchy seaweed crackers, yum! All of Cortez’ cold plates are nicely balanced in terms of textures and colors along with taste, of course.
Now it’s on to the warm plates! At the table we’ve got the Mexrib sandwich (rib and pork shoulder patty) served with Carolina gold barbeque sauce and chips, it looks great. My seared mackerel is soft and tender on the tongue with a bit of crispy skin on top. I haven’t eaten a lot of mackerel, it’s usually considered an oily fish but the seared fish here is delicious and plays off nicely against the bright Carolina sunshine sauce. The warm potato salad and charred rapini are huge hits mixed with a bit of salty country ham and love the rapini topped with a soft poached egg.
Over the course of my meal at Cortez Seafood, you’ll notice the homage and tip of the hat to local NC ingredients. Which in my mind says, fresh! And the seafood preparation cuts across a swath of cuisine categories, playing with a lot of different styles and flavors. But all quite delicious.
We finish off with a dense and creamy creme brulee that’s perfect for a single person or a sharing couple. A really wonderful ending to our meal. The staff at Cortez Seafood is fairly new and working into their roles but they are well-trained and amenable. Again, I have no concerns here given my experience at many meals at Jose and Sons over the years. So a slow round of applause for the new Cortez Seafood + Cocktail! Love the concept, love the food and the great space. And while there may be a bit of menu overlap with what Vidrio is doing across the street, I think you’ll find the experience to be quite different here at this cozy little seafood eatery. Looking forward to my first visit after your official opening!