"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

'Covers the campus like the magnolias'
"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

Winston-Salem’s favorite Mexican restaurant

Xcaret’s menu fits the bill if you’re searching for flavor and reasonable pricing!
A sizzling cast iron of chicken, shrimp, vegetable and steak fajitas sit on the table at Xcaret Mexican Grill and Cantina. (Courtesy of Melina Traiforos)

When you first walk into Xcaret Mexican Grill and Cantina on Fourth Street, dozens of art pieces vie for your attention. Starburst piñatas cascade from the ceiling, 3-foot-tall masks depicting places from London to Mexico City command the walls and a swirling desert landscape on canvas announcing “Xcaret!” hangs in the back — lest you forget where you’re dining. 

Some of the art is functional: every booth, bar chair and table for two is covered in hand-painted Mexican folk art from Monterrey, Mexico. According to Chris Ariza, Xcaret’s manager, the decorations and furniture were flown in by the original owner from Mexico when the restaurant opened six years ago, replacing Downtown Thai & Pho after it moved next door. 

Ariza’s favorite painting is of a glamorous 1940s actress next to the left hand window.

“I like her eyes, how she watches you,” he said.

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If you’re not an art buff but still fancy a spot for cheap margaritas with friends — the perfect small town cantina — Xcaret’s menu beats Arriba and Mi Pueblo by a mile. Although he was only promoted to manager six months ago, Ariza has been waiting tables at Xcaret for four years — long enough to witness its evolution from your run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant to a bustling business with customers from Greensboro and High Point.

During Ariza’s time, Xcaret has solidified its list of fan favorite dishes, such as traditional arroz con pollo and the California burrito, which is as big as your head and smothered in queso. But there are also some additional adventurous menu items. The birria ramen, a dish that combines flavorful birria broth with Korean and Japanese noodles, is generating buzz among foodies for its innovative fusion of Latin and Asian flavors. Recently, Xcaret added a Sunday brunch offering huevos rancheros and mimosas.

Ariza’s favorite painting in the restaurant looms distinctively inside Xcaret Mexican Grill and Cantina. (Courtesy of Melina Traiforos)

In addition, Xcaret has upped its beverage game for readers over 21, transitioning from a generic house margarita option to a multi-page drink menu with wine, beer and signature cocktails. They offer a rotating list of specials — the Jimador pitcher and watermelon paloma were featured on the Saturday I went. Personally, I went with the mojito, which was refreshing and lacked an overly sweet aftertaste. 

The kitchen’s signature dish is birria tacos, made by braising goat or beef in an adobo with dried spices before cooking it in consomé, or broth. The flour tortillas are soaked in the spicy broth, fried and stuffed with meat, Oaxaca cheese and cilantro. Finally, they are served with a side of more broth for dipping. The result is a warm, savory dish that melts in your mouth when done right — trust me when I say this place does it right. 

One of my favorite touches were the homemade flour tortillas. You can just tell when a tortilla was rolled by hand instead of coming from a plastic bag. It’s thin, flaky and slightly stretchy to ensure no fajita peppers or chunks of meat go cascading from your wrap. I was shocked to see that level of attention from a mid-priced Mexican restaurant, which usually gets your order wrong and serves the chicken still clucking.

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