Mexican food is not sexy. It will not get you laid. And you probably wouldn’t want to roll in the hay anyway after gorging on a combo No. 13 and a bucket of queso with greasy chips. But rice and refried beans goes great with a margarita, bloated belly be damned. Below are a few dishes we like to order when we’re downing Pacificos and palomas in the middle of the day.
Beef Barbacoa Platos
Zia Taqueria 1956-A Maybank Hwy. James Island (843) 406-8877 ziataco.com
While some City Paper staffers swear by Zia Taqueria’s torta — the bread’s killer — the beef barbacoa plate is not to be missed. The beef is tender, spicy, surprisingly tangy, and comes in a massive mound. If you play your cards right and scarf down more than your fair share of chips and salsa, you can easily have enough leftover for lunch the next day. That task will be made all the easier thanks to your choice of two sides; we recommend the borracho beans (pinto beans simmered with garlic, onion, carnitas, tomato, cilantro and Negra Modelo) and the Mexi-slaw (cabbage, green onion, and cilantro with a tangy dressing). And if you want to experience some heat, you’re going to love the pickled jalapeño relish on the side. It’s like sweet-and-sour fire.
Baja Fish and Carnitas Tacos
Mex 1 Coastal Cantina 817 St. Andrews Blvd. West Ashley (843) 751-4001 mex1coastalcantina.com
There are few things in life as disappointing as ordering tacos at a Mexican joint and getting back two tiddly tortillas topped with a couple measly shrimp and a sliver of red cabbage. Fortunately, the folks at Mex 1 serve up big tacos, the kind you only need two of. Even better, Mex 1 knows flavor. The Baja fish (beer-battered mahi, cabbage, lime crema, and cilantro-onion relish) is a big belly-loving creamy blast, while the carnitas (slow smoked pork, tomatillos, cilantro-onion relish, and queso fresca) sport a glorious heap of tender pig. And if you’re going to Mex 1, you absolutely have to grab one of their infused tequilas. We recommend trying the strawberry-cucumber and berry margaritas. Yum.
Migas Chorizo and Huevos Rancheros
Red Drum 803 Coleman Blvd. Mt. Pleasant (843) 849-0313 reddrumrestaurant.com
There’s not a weekend that goes by when we don’t bemoan the passing of Raul’s Taqueria. The late great North Charleston Mexican restaurant was one of the only joints in the Lowcountry to serve up a South of the Border breakfast, including the fabulous almond tamale and the even more fab rosemary pancakes. Sigh. Thankfully, Ben Berryhill’s Red Drum is still going strong, and their Tex-Mex brunch is a favorite. A hearty plate of Huevos Rancheros (two fried eggs, soft corn tortillas, ranchero sauce, refried beans, cheese, and crema) will defeat even the fiercest hangover. The house Red Voodoo Bloody Mary can lend a hand too. Another savory slab of wakeup is the Migas Chorizo, a plate of soft scrambled eggs, broken tortillas, chorizo, refried beans, cheese, and crema. A few bites in and all the ingredients coalesce into an ooey-gooey Mexican mess. And don’t forget the chile cheddar grits skillet, easily the best grits around.
at La Nortena
La Norteña 3760 Ashley Phosphate Road North Charleston (843) 760-1662 lanortenamexican.com
Like Miracle Whip, most folks seem to either love mole sauce or think it’s just plain weird tasting. They’re both right — the chocolate flavor just seems so unnatural for an entrée — but even haters should learn to embrace mole. La Nortena’s Carnitas Emoladas will help you. The mole gives the slow-cooked pork an almost decadent level of savoriness and earthy yum. Yes, you can put the carnitas in a tortilla, but why would you do that when you can just eat it as is?
Santi’s 1302 Meeting St. Downtown (843) 722-2633
Santi’s is a curious place. Located in a one-time Huddle House, this NoMo fave serves up a selection of South of the Border fare that doesn’t look all that different from La Ha’s or the countless other Mexican restaurants around here. You’ll find the same liquidy looking refried beans and the same rice, but there’s something different about Santi’s, and honestly, it’s difficult to describe. It just tastes better. Maybe it’s the grease. Seriously, when you order an entrée at Santi’s, the dish is usually outlined in a ring of clear orange liquid. And it gets in everything. And it’s heavy. Which is why we recommend the enchiladas verdes. The supernaturally green sauce cuts the grease with a slashing tang. And it doesn’t matter what you want inside your enchiladas — chicken, cheese, beef — the sauce can slice through them all.
Kimchi Beef, Tempura Avocado, Fried Chicken Tacos
Taco Boy 15 Center St. Folly Beach (843) 588-9761
217 Huger St. Downtown (843) 789-3333 tacoboy.net
When it comes to tacos in the Holy City, Taco Boy has long been the go-to spot for, dare we say it, upscale tacos. And their digs ain’t bad either. We love their downtown patio and who can resist a refreshing taco during a break from the sand and surf at Folly? While the platters at Taco Boy are the best way to get your money’s worth, the tacos are still pretty dang tempting. They’ve got a wide selection, of course, but a few somewhat recent additions really stand out: the kimchi beef, tempura avocado, and the fried chicken tacos. The kimchi has that signature fermented tang, the tempura avocado is creamy and fun, and the fried chicken tacos taste an awful lot like General Tso’s chicken.