Pacino Mancillas connects cultures for a living, as co-leader of Charlotte’s AC&M multicultural marketing agency. But when he wants a taste of the culture he grew up in, he heads to Tacos El Regio on East W.T. Harris Boulevard for a meal that takes him back home to Monterrey, Mexico.
Monterrey, nestled at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountains near the U.S. border, has food traditions noticeably different from other parts of Mexico, Mancillas says.
Take tacos, for instance. Pork tacos are a signature, the meat cooked on a revolving vertical spit called a trompo.
“It’s shaped like a child’s spinning top, a trompo in Spanish,” Mancillas says. “What’s called al pastor elsewhere in Mexico we call trompo.”
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A mild adobo chili marinade tints the pork bright red. Succulent morsels are arranged with bits of pineapple plus grilled onions on tiny corn tortillas. Or you can order a quesadilla-like variation with cheese on a tortilla made with wheat flour, much larger. The different sizes are essential, Mancillas says, to produce the proper Monterrey “taste ratios” of tortilla to filling.
Monterrey-born brothers Alberto and David Turuda (ages 28 and 34, respectively) run El Regio; their mother, Aida Garcia, helps out at the cash register along with their father, Jesus Turuda, who hand-makes the restaurant’s chorizo sausage.
El Regio is only open Thursday through Sunday. “On Tuesday, we are out buying ingredients, then Wednesday we prep everything,” Alberto Turuda says.
Beef barbacoa is slow-cooked overnight for spicy Tacos Tlaquepaque (pronounced “tuh-lah-keh-pah-keh”). Tacos Piratas feature mild steak and cheese filling with avocado slices decorating the folded flour tortilla.
It’s down-home food, nothing fancy. Imagine a Carolina traveler finding a country ham biscuit far from the South.
Says Mancillas: “As immigrants, we are always seeking the perfect tortilla. One of the strongest connections we have to our memories of home is to flavor.” He pauses for a moment. “It’s not so much finding the tortilla that is important, but the people we meet along the way.”
Tom Hanchett is consulting historian with Levine Museum of the New South: firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t miss the Museum’s new exhibition, ¡NUEVOlution! Latinos and the New South.
Tacos El Regio
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday-Sunday.
Location: 8829 E. W.T. Harris Blvd. (just off Albemarle Road, behind Dollar General).