The atmosphere inside a’Verde Cocina + Tequila Bar feels markedly different than the other Mexican restaurants around Cary, North Carolina. For chef Katsuji Tanabe, that’s the point. “A lot of people ask me where the rice and beans are, or why every dish isn’t covered in cheese,” says the Mexico City-raised chef who has competed on Top Chef and worked in kitchens in L.A., Chicago, and Las Vegas over the span of his career. “I wanted to make a restaurant that feels like you’re in Mexico City. Not all the restaurants there have chicken quesadillas or Mexican music playing in the background.”
What you will find on the menu: dishes like root vegetable enchiladas, al pastor cauliflower, and Tanabe’s broiled North Carolina trout, inspired by the fish he ate during his childhood in Mexico. “In places like Acapulco, you’ll be sitting on the beach, and a fisherman will just come up to you and ask what kind of fish you want,” Tanabe says. “Most of the fish there is served with either a green chili rub, or a red chili rub, or sometimes both. For this dish we use North Carolina trout and two different adobos. It’s not spicy, it’s just flavorful.” Much of that flavor can be credited to Tanabe’s method of curing the fish in saltwater for two to four hours before cooking.
While the fish is great on its own, Tanabe serves it with a side of tortillas, just like he ate it growing up. “In Mexico,” he says, “they give you tortillas with every meal.” Another side option: Tanabe’s blistered, herby okra.