Charlotte has a taco problem.
Taco spots in Charlotte usually fall into two camps.
The first camp is the cult of authenticity you'll find on the most obnoxious parts of your Twitter feed. These folks rant like zealots about how this or that Central Avenue strip mall Mexican restaurant is the greatest thing on earth. They're likely to blame gentrification and whatever new restaurant opened most recently for why their favorite Mexican restaurant is floundering.
The second is the Taco Tuesday camp, spots that are just good enough to appeal to bored Southenders looking for cheap, repetitive garbage. See Taco Mama [1.6], which will crush it in Dilworth despite being irredeemably awful. Taco Mama thrives for the same reason RuRu's in Myer's Park or SouthBound in Southend thrives: tacos are cheap, and the target demo for these restaurants is easily pleased.
In the midst of this, a third breed is rising. If I have to read the word "funky" in one more PR puff piece for Velvet Taco [8.9] or White Duck Taco, I'm going to start a GoFundMe to send all these writers back to j school.
The flavor fusions and pop art aesthetics of Velvet and White Duck are the logical progression for a culinary scene where Cabo Fish Taco was once king of quirk.
What should hypothetically connect these three Fallout factions is that tacos are meant to be flavorful and full of personality. The key is in the spices. Chili powder, cumin, paprika, onion powder, garlic salt, ground pepper, brown sugar, oregano, red pepper flakes. Blend any combination of them at the levels you prefer. It doesn't matter what else you shove onto the taco. If you're not on your spice game, you've got nothing.
That's why Velvet Taco is so stunning despite most of their dishes not resembling tacos whatsoever.
And that's where White Duck Taco slips. For all the fun artwork, creative fusions, and quintessential Asheville vibe, a dearth of meaningful spice and texture blends makes for a boring meal.
It's the culinary version of a Tinder bio with The Office quotes, desperately trying to mask its lacking personality with all the curated quirk of a 2008 Zooey Deschanel movie character.
White Duck Taco sits next to a storage facility in Belmont. This neighborhood is getting a lot of love lately, from the stunning Ace No. 3 [7.7] to the formidable Sweet Lew's BBQ to whatever Optimist Hall is limping to the media with this week.
I'll bet you a buffalo nickel in five years, it's one of the hottest food neighborhoods in Charlotte.
The interior is colorful and pop. I appreciate that they resisted some of the tackier urges of Charlotte interior restaurant design. The simple pink, green, and yellow bases make the space feel firm, modern, and bright.
The waitstaff was helpful and friendly. I took their recommendations and ordered the mole roasted duck, bangkok shrimp, and shrimp and grits. I also grabbed an order of chips and queso, a dish so dear to me I named my cat after it.
With a drink and tip, my total was $22. All my food was out in under five minutes. I like speedy service, but this was troublingly fast. Good food takes time, and more importantly, fresh food takes time.
There is no taste whatsoever to the queso. Not an ounce of spice or seasoning could be detected. The chips were stale and some were chewy, and they didn't have enough salt or chili powder.
The mole roasted duck was a very visually appealing dish. The greens, pinks, reds, and whites give off an aura of freshness. I just wish it tasted as good as it looked. The crema mixes well enough with the fruits, but the lettuce and the duck are soggy. This gives the texture profile a sort of mushiness. There's also no variance in heat. Everything is lukewarm. Serving the duck hotter, or even warming up the sauce, would make this dish a lot more dynamic.
The shrimp and grits is significantly closer, but still a miss. Again, the initial bite comes with no variance in texture or heat. It's all mush, like eating room temperature cat food. Bacon, which usually adds a crunch to dishes, does nothing here due to being cooked with poor timing (if it was cooked at all). The shrimp itself is alright, but again suffers from underseasoning. The grits are the best thing I ate the entire trip. They're buttery and not too creamy, very southern. I'd honestly eat a bowl of just the grits. But there's only a small smear of grits on the bottom of the taco, so it's over before you really start to enjoy it.
The bangkok shrimp has a fascinating aioli and glaze. It's a winning combo. But what's the deal with these cukes? I know they're a standard ingredient to a bangkok shrimp, but could they not dice them, or at least slice them thinner? Or maybe saute them? Anything besides dumping a pile of plain ass cukes all over my shrimp taco. The plating is horrible, making it look worse than it tastes. I struggled to get a good photo until I realized it was because this is not a good dish.
As I was dining, a dad next to me sat down with his young daughter.
He was trying to convince her to try new foods. She, obviously a picky eater, refused. He told her about all the stuff she'd miss out on in life if she didn't learn to try new things.
If only she'd tried the food, she'd realize there's nothing to be afraid of at White Duck Taco, because none of it tastes like anything anyway.
I think this spot will be a hit with the Taco Tuesday camp. It's good enough to sneak under most flavor palates, a low impact and low effort meal. The auténtico crowd will blame places like White Duck when every Mexican restaurant in east Charlotte becomes part of an entertainment district. And the motherfunkers in the foodie space will be entertained long enough for a Del Taco to open, or something.
And the taco problem rolls on.