Take a culinary -- and cultural -- trip to Mexico City at Greenville's Totopos Street Food and Tequila. You don't need a passport or a reservation, just a sense of adventure and a big appetite.
"The concept is an impression of daily life in Mexico City," said Miguel Araiza, a Mexico City native and one of the owners of Totopos.
The restaurant and bar brings to Greenville a glimpse of the modern metropolis that embraces its folklore, colonial architecture and masked wrestlers known as luchadores. The decor includes iconic logos for metro stops, lighted stars, a traditional Tree of Life clay sculpture decorated in a nontraditional way, and Mexican lottery tickets. In a plate glass window hangs a curtain of wooden children’s toys – tops and the ball-and-cup toys called baleros -- that are available in street markets in Mexico City. (In fact, the adjacent large photo is of the market stall where Araiza bought the toys, with the help of his sons, who also are pictured.)
"Mexico is more than sombreros and serapes," Araiza said as he led a tour of the colorful restaurant, cantina and outdoor dining area.
With a menu focused on Mexico City's diverse street foods, Totopos honors the many culinary influences that have converged in the capital city over hundreds of years.
"Totopos" means corn tortilla chips in the Aztec language, and you're going to need plenty for the Trio of Guacamoles: original chunky with avocado and cilantro; another with the addition of bacon, mango and chiles; and one that's Mexico-City inspired with pickled jalapeno and cheese garnished with a chicharron (a pork skin chip). Araiza said the chicharron traditionally are used for dipping in Mexico City, so ask your server for more of them if you want to be more authentic.
There's also chilaquiles, a casserole made with grilled chicken and totopos cooked in a creamy tomatillo sauce. It's Mexico City comfort food, Araiza said.
Al Pastor tacos are a popular item cooked and sold on food carts in Mexico City, Araiza said. Although the dish is prepared in the Totopos kitchen, the pork has an authentic taste after being marinated in adobo sauce and then grilled over an open flame and served with grilled pineapple and cilantro.
Vegetarian options include tacos with charbroiled fresh local vegetables, brussels spouts, fried cheese and pico de gallo; a chopped salad with Jamaica vinaigrette; and vegetarian enchiladas with black bean cream sauce.
And because Chef Miguel Cuevas is from the coastal city of Acapulco, the Totopos menu features seafood dishes including Mahi Mahi Tacos and a Trio of Cerviches with shrimp, mahi mahi and scallops each prepared a different way.
The menu includes fare you're familiar with at other Mexican restaurants -- like tacos, quesadillas, iron skillet fajitas and enchiladas -- but Araiza said they may be prepared in a different way, the way the food would taste in Mexico City. You'll see dishes featuring such ingredients as chile morita salsa, shredded chicken tinga, organic blue corn tortillas, citrus-serrano onions and almond-tomato-dried chile sauce. The menu notes the components of each dish, and the wait staff are knowledgeable about everything they serve.
For dessert, Totopos serves Madagascar vanilla Limoncello creme brulee; guava flan; a sorbet trio with lime, mango and wild berries; and fried plantain, a typical Mexico City street dessert, served with vanilla ice cream, cinnamon, sweet cream and condensed milk.
At lunch, Totopos offers Tortilla Soup and Black Bean Soup, tacos, quesadillas and a torta with ciabatta bread, refried beans, guacamole, cheese, lettuce, pico de gallo with a choice of three meats. A lunch trio for $8.95 includes a choice of taco, enchilada, soup or salad.
Brunch is offered until 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, featuring mimosa cocktails and breakfast fare including Quesadilla a la Mexicana, a flour tortilla with scrambled eggs, pico de galalo, cheese, lettuce and guacamole; Huevos Rancheros; and breakfast burritos.
On the kids menu are a steak taco, cheese nachos or chicken quesadilla served with rice, beans, soft drink and ice cream for $5.95.
Even if you're not hungry, stop in for a cocktail in the colorful cantina with its brash, witty decor highlighted by a wall display of Lucha Libre masks. The bar offers Mexican and locally crafted beers. A variety of margaritas are concocted with fresh-squeezed juices, 100 percent blue agave tequilas and agave nectar. Try the house specialty Totopos margarita made with orange and lime juices or La Watermelon containing fresh watermelon juice and spicy powder on the rim.
“We also have tequila flights available and we encourage guests to try a family (a blanco, a reposado and an añejo) from the same brand,” Araiza said. The flight includes a sangrita chaser, which is a spicy, tomato-based drink that’s common in Mexico and complements the tequilas.
Araiza and Totopos' other owners, Joel Ibarra and Salvador Alvarez, also operate another Totopos location in Cary.
Jane Welborn Hudson, a native of Greenville, wrote The Daily Reflector's Hot Dish restaurant column for 12 years and the Greensboro News & Record's Short Orders restaurant column for 8 years.
Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Totopos Street Food and Tequila
Address: 3130 Evans St. in the Lynncroft Shopping Center (the former location of University Chophouse)
Hours: Lunch is served from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily. Dinner service begins at 5 p.m. and the restaurant closes at 9:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, at 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 8:30 p.m. Sundays.
Prices -- Lunch from $4.95 to $13.95
Brunch from $9.95 to $10.99; the regular menu also is offered
Dinner from $8 to $19.50