How to Find Authentic Mexican Food and a Michelada in Durham

It’s National Michelada Day, and you want a really great michelada, but you also want good (aka authentic) Mexican food. However, you’re in Durham, North Carolina, which makes it a little bit of a challenge. After growing up in Los Angeles and Mexico, then spending eighteen of your adult years in Austin, and one year in San Antonio, you kind of took these things for granted. It’s possible one of the bona fide taquerias will have a michelada, except these places rarely have a website. It’s a gamble.

Michelada in Durham, NC
The michelada that saved my sad
cheese enchilada experience.

There’s a hip taco place in Durham, which actually happens to have really tasty lengua tacos just the way you like them. Moist, tender, flavorful, and falling apart. And you think, if they can get lengua right, surely, they have a michelada? They just rebranded their website. They have mojitos, margaritas, and milkshakes, but there’s no sign of a michelada on the menu.

You text your one Mexican friend in town—she’s from Guanajuato, and she runs a catering business and makes her own salsa, which she sells at the farmers market and various gourmet grocery stores. But she doesn’t know where to find a michelada in Durham either. She wishes you luck. The situation is grim.

After a lot of desperate Googling, you locate one place in town that has a michelada on the menu. The fact that it’s $7 should be a red flag, but you’re obsessed. You want a michelada at all costs. There are so many other red flags on the menu: entirely too many menu items, a whole section dedicated to burritos, a lunch plate called “Speedy Gonzales,” chimichangas, and the ever-mysterious “ACP.” 

You see, you’re looking for authentic Mexican food⁠—like, literally, the kind you find IN Mexico. So one’s experience really depends on expectations. There are days when you’re actually craving a crispy taco, and Taco Bell fills that need almost better than any authentic Mexican restaurant could. Sometimes, you’re in the mood for Mexican nouveau fusion, and you’re like yeah, please top my steak taco with pickled red onion, cucumber, fennel, and horseradish sauce.

But you’re committed to following through with this restaurant. You’ll give it a chance. Even if there are mostly white people eating inside; there is a table of old-school Mexicanos watching the game on the television above the bar. If they can handle it, so can you.

Most of the menu items looked unappetizing. Some of the higher priced options looked promising, but $7 into a michelada, you need to stay on budget. So you go with the cheese enchiladas, with a side of beans and rice.

You know better than to expect queso fresco, panela, or oaxaca. You know most places are decent enough to use at least monterey jack. Even white cheddar is passable. But the cheese is oddly reminiscent of Kraft’s White American Singles. It’s possible they used a better cheese, and that you were already of the mindset that all the food was terrible, no matter what, and you’d made a serious mistake in choosing to go there. It didn’t help that the salsa was extra watery.

The sad cheese enchilada. (Actually, this is a photo of one of their beef enchiladas that someone posted to Yelp. But you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference from looking at it.)

At least, the michelada was fairly legitimate. Okay, so you’re not enough of an expert to say exactly what was in it, but it seems to be the right mix of spiciness, tomato juice, and other seasonings, and there are bits of black pepper floating in the bottom of the mug. You shed a few tears into your michelada, and overall it, it cancels out your sad cheese experience.

Know of a good place in Durham to get authentic Mexican food AND a michelada? Let me know before I go insane from withdrawal.

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