A friend and I recently visited Virgil’s Original Taqueria for a Monday night pick-me-up. What better way to do so than with tacos and tequila? First open for business in early April in the Salisbury Street building in downtown Raleigh, Virgil’s Tacos joins Level Up Kitchen and Barcadium, right above, as well as Linus and Pepper’s just next door. Virgil’s is the newest of Raleigh restauranteur Jon Seelbinder’s restaurant family, Local Icon Hospitality. Both the building and the interior of Virgil’s speaks clean, industrial and retro. The storefront of Virgil’s doubles as a glass garage door, and the large wall seen by customers upon entrance is covered in artificial grass. In the back of the narrow restaurant, flashes a neon “El Bano” sign. The vibe is cool-casual, yet fun and bright. The new joint aims to offer not only tacos and margaritas, but authentic Mexican street snacks and comfort food. On their menu, you’ll find classics like carne asada steak tacos, but also unconventional twists on trendy ingredients like fried avocado.
On to the food! Before deciding on drinks, I ordered a glass of water only to find a strand of blonde hair floating in my glass (I have black hair). When I told the server, she dismissed it with a laugh and reappeared with a new glass without apologizing. Problem solved, but my friend and I still felt the wait staff’s indifference a tad unsettling. Anywho, having heard wonderful things about their drinks and bar specials, we both opted to start off with blackberry margaritas, their seasonal offering as recommended by the waitress. Probably one of my highlights of the night, the margarita was refreshing, light and not overly sugary as margaritas can easily be – a perfect start to the evening. The drinks definitely lived up to their reputation.
After we got our drinks, about 20 minutes went by until the server came back to take our order, although we noticed she had visited the table next to us with some frequency. When she did return to our table, we ordered two al pastor tacos for my friend, a carne asada taco and an al pastor taco, both for myself. My friend, being allergic to corn, asked for flour tortillas but was quickly told of their gluten-free menu – meaning only corn tortillas. Frustratingly, we had to push back putting in our order for another while, while my friend had to decide on an alternative. She eventually had to ask for a deconstructed al pastor taco over a side of arroz verde (green rice). I personally thought this was irksome because nowhere on the website nor the menu was there mention of the kitchen being “gluten-free only.” While I commend them on their efforts to cater to the gluten-free community, I think there should’ve been at least some sort of note on the menu.
Poor communication aside, the tacos were terrific. One taco will set you back $4, as will a side of rice. My favorite of the night, the carne asada taco, consisted of well-done (but not over cooked) skirt steak, chimichurri, guajillo chili, onion, and cilantro. The onions were crisp, the chimichurri was very fresh, and the steak was perfectly tender without lacking any of the flavor. The al pastor was equally delicious with charred pork loin, pineapple, pickled jalapeno, adobo, onion, and cilantro. For spicy food lovers, this is a winner. Sweetness from the pineapple, a spicy, tart kick from the jalapeno, and savory juicy pork loin in hearty adobo made this taco come together nicely. My friend commented that the arroz verde was a good side as well. Freshly chopped scallions and cilantro mixed throughout the rice was the perfect complement to her rich and spicy deconstructed al pastor. Everything we ordered was wonderful, fresh, and the colorful flavors of the ingredients truly came through.
When it was time for the checks, my friend and I were disappointed to see that the margaritas were much pricier than we expected. The margarita on its own was $9, but to our surprise, the ‘seasonal blackberry’ was an added $2, making each margarita $11. With yet another lack of mention on the menu nor a heads’ up from the server, this ended our experience at Virgil’s on a sour note. Overall, I’m sad to say I most likely won’t be back. Although Virgil’s truly serves up some quality, authentic tacos, the lackluster service was unfortunately off-putting.
Joanne Wu is an avid foodie and can often be found coffee shop hopping around the Triangle. Coming from a rural Taiwanese background, she loves all things scratch-made in the kitchen and locally sourced. When she’s not dining her way through the Triangle, politics is her other passion. Joanne currently works in downtown Raleigh in State government. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram at @joannewuu.